Virginia Tech put together their best overall performance of the season this past Saturday on their way to a 36-17 victory over Wake Forest. Here's 3 defensive takeaways from the Hokies impressive victory over Wake Forest.
1. Cornerback Improvement Continues to Show
One of the biggest question marks for Virginia Tech's defense before this season surrounded the cornerback group after they immensely struggled during the 2018 season?
After nine games, Virginia Tech's cornerbacks are not only one of the best positions groups on VT's defense, but the Hokies also have one of the best cornerback groups in the ACC.
Armani Chatman stepped up and was effective in coverage throughout the first half even with having to deal a fair amount with one of the ACC's most talented receivers Sage Surratt. Meanwhile, Caleb Farley continue to play like an All-ACC First Team cornerback with Jermaine Waller coming in and showing why he's a starter for the Hokies and continuing to improve in his second season in Blacksburg.
A lot of that showed with how Wake Forest only had 5 completions for 60 yards to non-slot receivers or tight ends. Doing that against a Wake Forest offense held by a future All-ACC QB in Jamie Newman and arguably the most productive receiver in the ACC to date in Surratt is insanely impressive.
Now Surratt did have a pair of touchdowns but overall, the fact that the Hokies' cornerbacks were able to hold Wake Forest's outside receivers to 5 catches is an extremely impressive performance that shows the significant improvement VT has made at cornerback.
2. TyJuan Garbutt Continues To Emerge as a Quality Pass Rusher.
Virginia Tech has been able to do a great job of getting a quality pass rush without having a great individual pass rusher for much of the season. However, that has started to change over the past two weeks with TyJuan Garbutt getting closer back to 100% and thriving over his past 2 games.
After having 3 QB hurries and giving Ian Book lots of issues at Notre Dame, Garbutt was a threat once again this week with 0.5 sacks and 2 QB hurries in what was probably the best statistical pass rush performance by an individual Hokie. After being someone who was mostly effective as a run stuffer last season, Garbutt has been able to develop into a quality pass rusher.
Garbutt has always profiled as someone with a massive ceiling as a pass rusher given his build as a thinner but faster and more athletic defensive end. More than that, Garbutt has shown a great work ethic on the field and was able to chase down running backs going the other way on run plays where he started unblocked on the opposite side.
Now, Garbutt is doing that consistently with teams struggling to contain him in one-on-one matchups as Garbutt uses his speed and an improving arsenal of pass rush moves to take his game to the next level.
While injuries have held Garbutt back from what could have been an All-ACC caliber season, what's clear is that the Hokies have the high quality pass rusher to go with a quality pass rush that Bud Foster has been able to built without a healthy Garbutt to take it to the next level. That should help take some of the pressure off and allow Foster to throw even more looks that should make VT's pass rush more dangerous going forward.
3. Issues With Speedy Slot Receivers Continue
Virginia Tech has had issues covering speedy slot receivers and that continued Saturday as Wake Forest's speedy slot receiver Kendall Hinton had a big game with 8 catches for 162 yards.
Hinton isn't the first speedy slot receiver to give Virginia Tech problems as North Carolina's Dazz Newsome had 9 catches for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns while working heavily out of the slot. Notre Dame's Chris Finke wasn't as productive, but was still effective out of the slot against the Hokies with 5 catches for 51 yards.
Chamarri Conner has been given lots of responsibility for covering slot receivers and while Conner has been excellent against bigger slot receiver and tight ends, he has struggled against speedy slot receivers. We've seen VT try to adapt at times using guys like Khalil Ladler or a safety like Reggie Floyd but over the past few games, opponents have found a weakness on the Hokies' defense that VT hasn't been able to stop yet.
Going forward, the Hokies are going to have to address their struggles against slot receivers with teams clearly starting to notice it especially Wake Forest after seeing what UNC did with Newsome. Part of that may involve trying to use Ladler, who is better built for man coverage against speedy slot guys, more while aprt of it ma also be trying to have Conner or others use their physicality and jam these slot receivers at the line of scrimmag.
Overall, the Hokies need to find an answer soon or you can expect VT's remaining ACC opponents to continue to build their passing gameplan around their speedy slot receivers.