Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech had an up-and-down defensive performance Saturday allowing over 560 yards of offense, but forcing 5 turnovers on their way to a 42-35 victory over Miami. Here's a look at 3 defensive takeaways from the Hokies' defensive performance at Miami.
1. Lots of Big Plays But Lots of Yards
Virginia Tech's defensive performance may have been headlined by the 5 first half turnovers and 6 sacks, but the Hokies didn't have the dominant defensive performance those big play stats suggest.
Overall, Virginia Tech's defense was vulnerable allowing 28 second half points, 27 first downs, and 563 yards of offense. The Hurricanes' offense especially took off during the second half with more than 320 yards of offense as Miami was able to march up and down the field while also taking advantage of some good punt returns.
Those numbers are undoubtedly disappointing, but the fact that many of the issues came in the second half also coincided with the Hokies' offense giving them no rest.
When your offense has four-straight three and outs to start the second half, your defense is going to wear down. Combine that with playing in a humid climate that not too many Hokies are used to playing in and VT's defense wearing down isn't overly surprising especially with a mid-afternoon game.
Additionally, even against a Miami offensive line that has struggled mightily, the Hokies were still able to have plenty of big plays whether that came via their pass rush or in coverage. Those moments showed some of the defensive potential for the Hokies with some younger, inexperienced players showing signs of growth as they gain more experience.
Now this doesn't excuse the Hokies' defensive issues with N'Kosi Perry throwing for over 400 yards despite not starting this game. Some of those defensive issues involved defensive miscommunications that continue to pop up in coverage for VT and must be fixed.
While Virginia Tech's defensive performance was up and down, the Hokies showed plenty of potential
2. Alan Tisdale Pushes for Starting Role
It's well known that Dax Hollifield was recruited primarily as a mike linebacker, but his natural football talent allowed him to claim the backer job by the end of last season. During the offseason, Hollifield tried to slim down to embrace the more athletic backer role, but Hollifield has been up and down so far this season.
Meanwhile, Alan Tisdale has been earning more playing time by the week and while Hollifield has been the early down guy, Tisdale has become the choice when needed in coverage or on later passing downs.
On Saturday, Tisdale had his best game yet with 9 tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss and one viral moment where he threw up seconds before dropping into coverage on a goalline play.
Virginia Tech linebacker Alan Tisdale leaves it on the field against Miami. pic.twitter.com/K495anKoJd— SportsbyBrooks (@SportsbyBrooks) October 5, 2019
Tisdale's athletic advantage compared to Hollifield showed as the redshirt freshman was able to be an asset at the linebacker spot in coverage while Hollifield has been a guy teams have tried to go after at times. However, Tisdale showed that he isn't just a coverage specialist as someone who can be a quality open-field tackler and a productive player even on rushing downs.
Tisdale's development has put the Hokies in a bind with Rayshard Ashby remaining the best overall linebacker at the mike spot and Tisdale being made for backer unlike Hollifield. However, Hollifield has shown that he has the talent and versatility to play either spot, creating an interesting rotation at linebacker worth monitoring as the season progresses.
Overall, Bud Foster has rebuilt his linebacker into a strength for the Hokies both in top end talent and depth, leaving the spot well loaded for whoever is the Hokies' next defensive coordinator.
3. Caleb Farley Continues to Emerge as a Playmaker
Before the game, ESPN's David Hale had this stat on how Caleb Farley had already started to emerge as one of the best cornerbacks in the ACC.
Good VT stat: Caleb Farley is really starting to come into his own at corner.— THE™️ David Hale (@ADavidHaleJoint) October 5, 2019
1st 4 games of 2018: 9-of-21 (43%) for 167 yards (8.0 yd/att), 3 PBU & 59.0 opposing QBR.
1st 4 games of 2019: 3-of-12 (25%) for 68 yards (5.7/att), 3 PBU and 21.9 opp QBR. Hasn’t allowed a TD.
In a season where there hadn't been many positives, the development of Farley (and fellow starting CB Jermaine Waller) was one of the biggest positives.
Farley's development was on full display against Miami as the redshirt sophomore cornerback had 2 interceptions, both of which were because of great reads and plays by Farley. This was on best display when Farley made a great read and beat the receiver to the ball on a fourth and goal in the second quarter that stalled Miami's best first half drive.
Farley wasn't perfect with Bud Foster mentioning how Farley gave up a couple plays at a position Foster feels you have to be "exact every time" at.
Despite a couple of not so great plays, Farley was consistently very good overall with most of the lapses in coverages being either by safeties in man coverage or away from his side of the field. Part of that may also be due to the fact that Farley's development has forced teams to try to gameplan away from him.
What's clear is that Caleb Farley is starting to look like the type of #1 cornerback that Virginia Tech expects with a tradition that includes DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers, Macho Harris, Kyle Fuller, Kendall Fuller, Greg Stroman, and many more.