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Three Defensive Takeaways From Virginia Tech's 33-10 Loss to West Virginia

Cole Nelson 1 VT ODU HT

Virginia Tech's defense wasn't as good as they were in their first three games but they played tough before West Virginia's near 2:1 dominance of time of possession wore them down. Here's a look at 3 of my defensive takeaways from VT's 33-10 loss to WVU.

1. Bend But Don't Break Defense

Virginia Tech's defense gave up a ton of yards early in this game with their offense not holding up. However, Tech's defense bailed out their offensive struggles with impressive red zone defense as Tech held West Virginia to field goals in each of their first 3 red zone appearances (their first touchdown came from outside of it).

We've seen plenty of later Bud Foster defenses not having their best days still have a bend but don't break mentality at times to keep the Hokies in it with this Tech defense doing exactly that starting early holding WVU to a field goal after a 92-yard drive that could have been a 3 and out inside the 10 if not for a missed tackle by Armani Chatman. Regardless, Tech's defense got pushed back in a big way after it but once the red zone hit, they stepped up and held their own to prevent WVU from taking lots of momentum.

The second time came off what seemed to be a deflected punt that gave WVU field position near field midfield with WVU marching in the redzone poised to take the lead but once again, with all the momentum in WVU's favor, Tech's defense held their own and forced a field goal.

They did it again in the third quarter with the Hokies hanging on by a thread and Tech stepping up in the red zone to keep the WVU only at 16-7 in what felt like a game that Tech hadn't don't much to deserve to be in yet were still in thanks to a great defensive effort. Tech's bend but don't break defense nearly did it again on the next drive but a pair of back-breaking penalties on fourth and third down stops caused the dam to break and the WVU dominance to begin.

However, Tech's defense deserves tons of credit especially as the game progressed and the tide was very against them for holding firm in the red zone and keeping Tech in it even if their offense made you doubt if they were really in it when down by 9. This also came as Tech's defense wore down more and more given the over 38 minutes that WVU had the ball yet Tech's defense held for a while before breaking in the late third and early fourth quarters.

Virginia Tech's defense may not be elite to the surprise of no one given the weak competition they dominated early skewing some things, but this is still a pretty good defense that has the talent to put Tech in positions to maybe steal a game we don't expect or help them go on a big run when the schedule lightens in November.

2. Pass Rush Struggles

Virginia Tech's pass rush and defensive line as a whole was quite strong through their first three games but had an off night against West Virginia that helped give JT Daniels the time he needed.

Per Pro Football Focus data, Daniels was pressured on only 13% of his pass attempts. This was despite the fact that Tech blitzed almost 40% of the time in this game, a disappointing disparity to say the least.

This comes after Tech had gotten pressure on the quarterback on at least 45% of pass attempts in each of their first 3 games, a dramatic difference that gives reason to believe that this was an aberration largely and not just purely an overrating due to a weak start.

Tech had a couple of nice moments with Josh Fuga having a nice pass rush along with TyJuan Garbutt getting a sack and Jaden Keller having some good moments blitzing but overall, Daniels had plenty of time in the pocket to sit back and pick apart Tech's defense via mismatches like on WVU's first TD when slot WR Sam James got by Dax Hollifield.

The question that remains is whether Tech's pass rush was overrated by weak competition to open the season or if this was just a bad night? Given the absurd dominance of those first 3 games from Tech's pass rush, this appears to be a combination of both but more of a bad night and less of them being overrated though we'll get further answers this Saturday at UNC.


3. Dorian Strong, Brion Murray Contain Future NFL WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton

While CJ Donaldson gave the Hokies' issues, West Virginia's other star offensive playmaker, WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton, had a much quieter evening against the Hokies.

Dorian Strong had a rough start against Ford-Wheaton on the second drive giving up a pass interference and a reception. After that, Strong settled in and forced JT Daniels and WVU to look elsewhere with Strong being stout in coverage before getting injured late in the first half.

That passed the baton to Brion Murray who may have had one of his best games in coverage of his VT career as Ford-Wheaton did not having a single reception in only 2 targets that came Ford-Wheaton's way with Murray covering him. This came as Murray only had 2 receptions credited against him in 6 targets with one being to Donaldson which may be a stretch to hold that against Murray.

Regardless, both Strong and Murray held Ford-Wheaton to one catch that came on the second drive with his two other catches coming against Keonta Jenkins per Pro Football Focus data. This coming after Ford-Wheaton had 20 catches for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first two games of the season against Pittsburgh and Kansas makes what Strong and Murray did even more impressive.

On a night where not a lot went right for the Hokies, Dorian Strong and Brion Murray stepped up in coverage, and made sure that WVU's star wide receiver and future NFL Day 2 or 3 pick wasn't going to be the guy to beat the Hokies.

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