The Tech Lunch Pail is excited to announce the launch of the new TLP Insider subscription. Sign up for an account and get the best news, inside scoops, and analysis on the Hokies! Learn more

Chris Marve and Virginia Tech's Defense Have Been Better Than You Think

VT Defense Huddle 1 Marshall 2023 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

There has been plenty of criticism for both coordinators so far this season at Virginia Tech which is fair given the 1-3 start for the Hokies, the worst since 1991. Even with the rebuild, there's no doubt that Tech should be a better football team than this.

Tech's offense has been an inconsistent unit with flashes of greatness and lots of hot mess moments. Meanwhile, there has been plenty of frustration with a VT defense that has given up a few too many big runs to say the least along with some underperformance at places like DT and mike LB.

There is fair criticism to be made, but Chris Marve and VT's defense have been receiving about the same level of critique as the VT offense.

However, the fact of the matter is that Virginia Tech's defense has been the better unit by far and the numbers suggest they've been better than you think.

Let's start with the CFB-Graphs analytics where Virginia Tech ranks 22nd in defensive success rate including 15th in the pass and 43rd defending the run. While the Hokies have had their issues giving up a few really big plays on the ground, their play in the aggregate has been pretty good.

Next, Max Olson of The Athletic keeps track of this stat called "Stop Rate" which is the percentage of possessions where the defense prevents the offense from scoring. It's a fairly simple stat but one that maybe paints a better picture than scoring defense in some ways given how it factors in the # of possessions a defense faces.

The Hokies currently rank 44th in that metric stopping their opponents on 69.8% of their drives while allowing 1.89 points per drive. For comparison, they finished 59th last year stopping teams on 65.2% of drives while allowing 1.83 points per drive.

This paints the clear picture that Tech's defense is playing at a slightly higher level overall but also is having some worse lows than last year and allowing a slightly higher TD rate which makes sense given the fact that they've allowed 4 30+ yard runs in their past two games, three of which went for touchdown and the fourth which set up a touchdown.

While we've discussed how Tech needs to fix those big play issues, Marve deserves credit for what he has done overall with this unit. Tech is getting more stops than they did last year and while they have to stop allowing the long run, there's a lot that has been solid for VT overall.

Now let's note another important detail here, Virginia Tech's defense is tied with USC for third with the highest number of defensive possessions that a team has faced this season. Only UMASS who has played 5 games and FIU have had their defenses on the field more.

That volume of drives is how you get a unit that is ranked 70th nationally in scoring defense despite stopping teams at a higher rate than many of the defenses ranked ahead of them in scoring defense.

Tech's offense has used lots of tempo which has forced Tech's defense on the field more often than not. That means a more tired unit a lot of the time especially given how many 3 and outs we've seen or what we saw at Marshall when VT had seven straight drives during which they had no more than 1 first down.

Pushing tempo and having higher-scoring games inevitably because your defense is more tired and out there more isn't a problem when you're at USC with Caleb Williams leading that offense but this is far from that for the Hokies. Despite an offense that should be looking to slow their tempo down and shorten games, Tech's defense has fought well through all of those challenges of tiredness and teams getting lots of additional chances against them.

That hurt Tech's defensive numbers naturally given the higher volume of drives they're facing and also means that they have a more tired unit going out there than most teams. Even with that, Tech's defense still has kept fighting and done better than the volumetric stats suggest.

Another positive has been Tech's pass defense which has been arguably the biggest strength of this team so far. That shows in the data as they rank second in passing yards per game allowed and 12th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Now the first could be partially written off as teams going after the weaker run defense, but the latter points to a solid pass defense that is making teams somewhat one-dimensional and not allowing big gains through the air.

This shouldn't be a surprise given what Tech has at cornerback, but with the injuries at safety and great youth past the starters in the secondary, this group deserves a good amount of credit. Some of Tech's linebackers have also been good in coverage especially the STAR linebackers along with Keli Lawson.

Obviously, there are a couple of big areas where Tech must do better including third-down defense and preventing the really big plays. The Hokies have clear issues at mike LB and with their depth at safety that have been problematic while their DTs have largely underperformed though Pheldarius Payne showed that Tech may be slowly getting things together there. Could Payne be the spark that the rest of the DTs need to find their form? We'll see.

Meanwhile, VT has been willing to use guys like Mansoor Delane and Derrick Canteen at safety to help with their safety struggles while also going down the depth chart to Jayden McDonald to see if someone can step up at mike LB. In a time when coaches can get stuck on an underperforming starter, Marve deserves credit for taking a chance and seeing if someone else can step up.

Despite those issues, the Hokies' defense has done a lot of things pretty well while Chris Marve has seemed to get his defense to improve as games progress as we saw against Purdue and Marshall. In those 2 games, Tech only allowed 7 points in each of the second halves of those games despite an offense that largely sputtered in the final 30 minutes especially against Purdue.

The fact that Tech's defense was able to keep fighting even as their offense was giving them nothing for much of the second half at Marshall and all of the second half vs. Purdue also shows a lot of resiliency and mental toughness. The fight is clearly there and Tech's players and coaches deserve credit for that.

So there is fair reason for criticism of Chris Marve for a unit that still has not played its best football yet through four games.

However, I also think he and this VT defense deserve some credit, especially given the offensive mess that the Hokies have making VT's defense play almost perfect if they want to win at a time where perfect defense is almost impossible with how offensive football has evolved. They haven't been perfect, but they have given Tech chances in games where they probably shouldn't have had a chance given the struggles of their offense.

You must login in order to comment on this post.
Loading Indicator