Virginia Tech's defensive play proved more crucial than you would want facing a Richmond, but Tech's defense did their job holding the Spiders to only 10 points on their way to a 21-10 victory over Richmond. Here's 3 of my defensive takeaways from Tech's win over Richmond.
1. LB Play Continues to Stand Out
Virginia Tech's linebackers have seen their play jump under new LBs coach Jack Tyler with Dax Hollifield standing out at his natural mike linebacker and Alan Tisdale continuing his progression at backer.
Hollifield was our Defensive Hokie of the Game after he had 8 tackles including 1 for loss while Tisdale has rounded out his game from being an athletic pass coverage LB first to being a really good run defender as well. Both players continue to be dynamic guys who, outside of the first quarter against WVU, have been extremely good throughout the season and look like All-ACC caliber guys.
Tech has shown confidence in both Hollifield and Tisdale to be the field general at linebacker from Hollifield being that guy at mike linebacker to Tech trusting Tisdale when they want to go with a pass defense heavy dime package to get their top 3 cornerbacks on the field.
Additionally, Tech's linebacker depth that was a concern has shown some promise especially veteran backup Keshon Artis who had his first career sacks against Richmond and has 5 tackles including 2 for loss this season. Dean Ferguson has also played fairly well when given the opportunity as he establishes himself more and more as the future for Tech at linebacker after the LB era of Hollifield, Tisdale, and Artis.
Linebacker play has been a major reason why Tech's defense has taken a big step forward in 2021 led by the play of Hollifield who has shown All-ACC First or Second Team potential.
2. Rush Defense Has Work to Do After Sleepy Performance
Richmond embraced the rushing attack once Joe Mancuso went out after the first play and while the Hokies' rush defense wasn't terrible, it wasn't as good as hoped.
The Spiders' top 2 running backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry while Richmond average 4.4 yards per carry as a whole in what was a solid ground performance for them. While Tech's defense was able to avoid breaking and limited the points, the Hokies gave up way more yards on the ground than you'd want against an FCS opponent.
Now there's no doubt that Tech's defense has improved significantly especially with aforementioned improved LB play, but Tech's defensive line play didn't feel the sharpest on a day where the Hokies seemed to be sleepwalking. There's no doubt that the unit has all the talent in the world, but they showed that they can get caught sleepwalking even if it was fortunately against Richmond.
Of course, there's no doubt that Tech's defensive line has proven to be a strong unit as a whole that was great against North Carolina and also did pretty well against West Virginia outside of the opening 80-yard TD run they allowed. Tech will need some better play from Amare Barno who did have 4 tackles, but just hasn't been as involved in recent games with those 4 tackles being his only recorded stats since UNC, not ideal for the Hokies' really good star edge rush defender.
The bye week also comes at a good time as the Hokies don't have the deepest defensive line and should benefit from their guys getting some rest before they enter a long ACC run kicked off with a big non-conference game against Notre Dame. Tech also learned against a weak opponent that while they are quite talented, they can't afford to semi-sleepwalk with their talented rush defense.
3. Tae Daley Over Keonta Jenkins at Free Safety
One thing on defense that the Richmond game seemed to make clear is that Tae Daley is Tech's top free safety over Keonta Jenkins especially with Jenkins being back healthy.
If Jenkins was considered right there, you would have thought that Tech would have up the load more for Jenkins after missing a game due to injury but Justin Hamilton went with Daley in what was a clear indication of where Tech is at with their depth chart. The 45 to 16 snap disparity backs that up even more so with Daley having more than double the amount of defensive snaps that Jenkins has after splitting snaps in the UNC opener.
Daley has also been finding his rhythm in a Hokie uniform with a strong game last week against Richmond where he had 6 tackles including 1 for loss in the win over the Spiders.
The fact that Jenkins is still receiving double-digit snaps seems to suggest that this competition door is still open for the time being with this bye week being a great chance for Jenkins to push back against it. Of course, Tech may have been trying to get Jenkins some extra reps given how Daley is starting to look like the established guy similar to how Hamilton has gotten backup linebackers Keshon Artis and Dean Ferguson first half playing time against Middle Tennessee and Richmond.
This remains one of the more interesting position battles, but Daley has clearly seized the lead against Jenkins in the starting free safety battle through the opening month of the season.