Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech came back from a 14-3 halftime deficit to beat Furman 24-17 with the Hokies' defense being the reason why VT still had a reasonable chance at doing so. Here's three takeaways from the defensive performance against Furman.
1. Pass Rush Gaining Confidence, Will Be Tested Much More vs. Duke
After a rough start against Boston College, Virginia Tech's pass rush has looked much improved over their past two games. With nine sacks in the past two games, the Hokies have not only gotten pressure but also been able to finish the job.
Part of that has been due to a young defensive line starting to play with more confidence. The other part has come from Bud Foster trusting his DBs more in coverage allowing for the defensive mastermind to come out. That was on display multiple times against ODU with even CB Jermaine Waller getting a sack.
However, the thing that makes the Furman performance more encouraging is how VT's defensive line appeared to be improved from their previous game with their pass rush. That showed as Emmanuel Belmar had 1.t sacks and DaShawn Crawford recorded his first career sack.
However, these performances have come against Old Dominion and Furman, not ACC teams like Duke and Miami that loom next.
While these signs have been encouraging, the pass defense as a whole will be tested by an improved Quentin Harris at Duke and a future All-ACC QB in Miami's Barren Williams.
Both have plenty of mobility to escape and will test VT's ability to not only get pressure and contain the QB but also get that QB down.
Of course, it seems like a safe bet that Bud Foster will mix in some blitzes given the improvements at cornerback but Foster will need his defensive line to step up and get pressure on their own. While they've done it against Furman and ODU, Duke and Miami will give us the answer as to whether it was taking advantage against weaker competition or true signs of improvement.
The one thing to watch in the lead up to next Friday, the health status of TyJuan Garbutt. Having a healthy Garbutt would make a big difference especially with Garbutt looking like the Hokies' most talented DE based on the tape, his past stats, and his athleticism.
2. Chamarri Conner Will Be a Playmaker For Years to Come
If you've been a TLP reader, you aren't surprised that Chamarri Conner has emerged as a playmaker on the Hokies' defense.
Conner was impressive on Saturday with 8 tackles (all but 1 unassisted) including one sack and a QB hurry on his way to earning our Defensive Hokie of the Game honors. The overall stats also show how Conner has emerged as one of the Hokies' most productive defenders with 17 tackles including 3 total for loss, 2 of which came for sacks.
Outside of Rayshard Ashby, there's no player who consistently has appeared to be in a position to make a play than Chamarri Conner so far this season. Time and time again, Conner has not only put himself in great positions but he's also been one of the best tacklers as shown by how he leads the Hokies with 15 solo tackles this season.
Conner has fit more of the linebacker mold than a nickelback safety, but he has looked more than competent in coverage with Conner making the plays he needs to whether in man or zone.
However, Conner's best moments came in the box and on the edge with the sophomore being a playmaker both on blitzes and run defense. Going forward, Bud Foster knows that he needs Conner, or whoever is in that position, to be a playmaker to optimize his defense as Conner was against Furman.
"We needed him to step up and he did a great job. He got some pressure off the edge, and then he made some really nice plays out in space. That’s what that position demands. When we are really good on defense, the nickel position is a playmaking spot," Foster said.
Right now, Conner looks like that playmaker that can make Foster's defense "really good."
3. Eli Adams Emerges as Second Starting DE With TyJuan Garbutt Out
Eli Adams may not have set the world on fire against Furman, but the redshirt freshman was solid in his first career start for the Hokies with 7 tackles and a QB hurry.
Yes, Adams didn't make a lot of big, highlight reel plays but at a position that has been a weakness with Garbutt out, Adams was consistent opposite a big performance against Emmanuel Belmar.
Again and again, Adams was one of the first there to make plays as shown by his 7 tackles. Meanwhile, the pass rush looked up to standard for the Hokies with both edges doing a great job of making sure the mobile Darren Grainger had no where to go, leading to multiple sacks.
Now Adams will face tougher tests going forward that will show us whether he should be the second starting DE or top backup DE dependent on Garbutt's return. One of the biggest concerns with Adams remains his diminutive size though if someone knows how to develop undersized DEs, it's Bud Foster and Charley Wiles with Adams' size being comparable to Corey Moore.
For now though, Adams looks like he can provide some consistency as the second starting DE while Garbutt and Zion DeBose recover from injury along with being the top backup upon Garbutt's return.