Virginia Tech had an up-and-down defensive performance for the second-straight with a strong first half and disappointing second half on their way to a 31-17 victory over Old Dominion. Here's a look at a few takeaways highlighted by the emergence of a potential #1 cornerback for the first time since the 2017 season.
1. Jermaine Waller is the Hokies' Best Cornerback
Not only did Jermaine Waller look like Virginia Tech's best cornerback with his play on Saturday but he also looked like a cornerback that can live up to the DBU standard that disappeared on the outside last season.
After a rough opening game, Waller was in complete control with 7 tackles including a sack. However, his most important work was what he did to Eric Kumah as the former Hokie starting WR only had 3 catches for 24 yards as Waller kept everything in front of him and was excellent in coverage never even once having a close call with giving up a big play or a pass interference. Kumah's success was mostly limited to well-timed short curl routes that most cornerbacks have a hard time covering at this level especially against a quality receiver with a proven Power 5 history.
Waller was consistent in coverage throughout the day which came in stark contrast to Caleb Farley who had a pair of easy pass interference calls in the second half and once again was very up and down. Bud Foster added that he thought Waller was even his "best" overall defensive back throughout the offseason, another sign that this wasn't exactly a surprise for anyone on the Hokies' sideline.
If there's one positive takeaway that stands out the most among the positive takeaways for the Hokies, it's this fact that Jermaine Waller looks not only like the Hokies' best cornerback, but he also looks a competent CB molded to the Hokies' DBU standards.
2. Bud Foster's Creativity Will Help Pass Rush, But Only So Much
Virginia Tech was able to get some pressure on the quarterback Saturday with 5 sacks including a pair that came from non-defensive linemen. While the defensive line did show some improvement getting pressure on the quarterback, Bud Foster also reminded us how his creativity as a playcaller can find ways to take away a weakness at times.
Waller's sack was the best example of this as the cornerback blitz caught ODU by surprise with Emmanuel Belmar setting up like he might drop in coverage before pressuring the QB and clearing the edge for Waller to have a free run at ODU QB Stone Smartt. That play right there, with the use of disguising that Belmar would drop in coverage only to bring him, was just another example of the Bud Foster genius that we've gotten used to.
The question is how much of the Hokies' pass rush improvement was the Virginia Tech defensive linemen getting a shot in the arm after last week's struggles and how much was because of Foster's defensive acumen?
There are signs of improvement along the defensive line with Jaylen Griffin showing potential as he transitions from backer to defensive end while Jaevon Becton continues to show some upside. The interior of the defensive line is the deeper spot at this point with Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard flashing lots of potential behind the presumed top 3 DTs of Jarrod Hewitt, who has looked rock solid so far, Dashawn Crawford, and Rob Porcher IV.
Saturday against Furman will be another chance to see if the Hokies can take those steps with the obvious hope that TyJuan Garbutt will be healthy in time for the home ACC opener against Duke in three weeks.
3. Mobile QB Exposes Inconsistent Tackling for Virginia Tech
Tell me if you've heard this before, Virginia Tech faced a mobile quarterback and said quarterback gave the Hokies lots of issues.
Yep, one of the biggest things that made ODU so much more successful in the second half was that Stone Smartt was able to start making plays with his legs with ODU's running game as a whole finding its rhythm. However, what Smartt and the ODU running game exposed in the second half as a whole is that the Hokies are still way too inconsistent in tackling, following last week's strong second half and weak first half with a strong first half and weak second half.
When the Hokies were tackling well across the board, Old Dominion struggled on their way to only having 70 total yards of offense and 3 points in the first half. When VT's tackling became a problem, so did ODU's rushing attack on the Monarchs' way to having 254 yards in the second half.
While there were some defensive failures in non-tackling areas, the tackling issues were the biggest concern with Virginia Tech defenders putting themselves in position to make plays and force only minimal gains but missing tackles that turned a short play into a drive-launching play.
If there is one player who is proving to be the model for consistent tackling, it's Rayshard Ashby who had 10 tackles and was extremely consistent not only with his volume of tackles but also his form that was effective wherever he was at including one-on-one in space. If Hokie players are looking for a player example to follow, Ashby is the guy.
The Hokies' inconsistent tackling didn't cost them this past Saturday but if they don't get it fixed by the time the meat of ACC season begins, the Hokies will have some major trouble once again.