Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech's defense had a strong start this past Saturday but their lack of depth due to the absences showed as the game went along. However, the Hokies' defense had a late stand that combined with Tech's offense to seal the deal for a 38-31 victory over Duke.
With that said, here are our defensive takeaways from the Hokies' win over Duke.
Virginia Tech Has Found Their Pass Rush
When the Hokies hired Bill Teerlinck and Darryl Tapp as their defensive line coaches, and landed Justus Reed as a grad transfer, expectations were for the Hokies' pass rush to significantly improve especially among those along the defensive line.
So far, Tech has done just that leading the nation with an average of 6.5 sacks per game while having 13 total through their first two games. While Tech actually put up some solid pass rush numbers last season, much of that was thanks to blitzes and not defensive line production.
However, this season has seen Tech's defensive line become much more productive with Tech's defensive ends having 7.5 sacks through the first two games with three DEs already having at least 2 sacks.
It starts with Justus Reed who had 2 sacks in the season opener against N.C. State and has lived up to the hype so far in his first 2 games. However, the growth that Emmanuel Belmar has shown is another major plus after having 3 sacks against Duke while showing plenty of growth.
What also helps is the rapid development of Amare Barno who missed time in fall camp with a hip flexor injury as Justin Fuente told us this week. Barno showed some great pass rush moves including a fantastic spin move on one of his two sacks that looked absolutely textbook.
The fact of the matter is that the widely-praised hirings of Bill Teerlinck and Darryl Tapp is unsurprisingly paying off in a big way for the Hokies this season with their coaching and development shining through.
Tech has found their pass rush this season with Teerlinck and Tapp playing a critical role in that and Justus Reed living up to the hype so far.
Dorian Strong Has a Bright Future Ahead
Dorian Strong had some struggles at times against Duke in the second half, but the freshman cornerback was reliable and showed that Tech's lone true freshman cornerback has the talent to develop into a very good cornerback down the road.
Strong was always considered a plus athlete who was quite raw at the position given his lack of time playing football in high school. While his athleticism continues to be a plus, Strong also showed promise as a cornerback when tested in man coverage while also having 5 tackles.
Now Strong wasn't perfect at all and had some struggles, but he showed the promise that we've seen from plenty of other Tech cornerbacks when they first debuted. Guys like Greg Stroman and Caleb Farley had plenty of struggles in their first full seasons playing but benefitted largely
Strong showed that he has the potential to become a very good cornerback for the Hokies over the coming years with the growth already that can give Tech fans plenty of optimism.
Tech Secondary Can't Afford To Be This Depleted Vs. UNC
There's no doubt that Virginia Tech's secondary performed admirably against Duke but as the game went along, you could see the lack of depth show more and more. Additionally, a struggling Duke passing attack started to be more aggressive in their passing game and the Hokies struggled with Chase Brice having his best passer rating and completion percentage of the year while also throwing for his most passing yards in a game this season.
Against North Carolina, Tech can't afford to have the same level of depletions on defense.
It starts with the fact that North Carolina is vastly better at quarterback and wide receiver than either N.C. State or Duke. Tech's secondary will face its toughest test yet by far in Sam Howell but more than that may be the challenge that UNC's receivers present.
Wide receiver is a weakness for Duke while it's a strength for North Carolina with Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome being two of the most dynamic playmakers in the ACC at WR. Newsome gave Tech tons of issues last year and with only two cornerbacks, the Hokies may be forced to go with a slower, bigger safety which hurt them last year as Chamarri Conner struggled in last year's game against Newsome.
Meanwhile, Brown is a home run threat and a playmaker on the outside that will test Strong and Nadir Thompson a whole lot combined with Beau Corrales being a quality veteran on the other side who's UNC's #3 WR but would likely be Duke's best WR. If Strong and Thompson can contain those 2 guys, then Tech likely has the deepest cornerback group in the ACC.