Photo Credit: Jake Roth
While Virginia Tech may have allowed their fair share of points, VT's defense stepped up to make some big plays especially in the six overtimes on the Hokies' way to a 43-41 victory over North Carolina. With that said, here's a look at 3 defensive takeaways from the Hokies' dramatic win over UNC.
(You can check out my offensive takeaways here.)
1. Norell Pollard Looks Really Good
Going into this season, most had Norell Pollard as a top redshirt candidate given his size in high school. If anything, there were doubts if Pollard could be big enough to be an effective defensive tackle at the highest level of college football.
So far, Pollard has made all those takes look back and while he may only be around 265 pounds, opponents are probably hoping that he somehow doesn't get bigger.
In his first career start, Pollard was a star for the Hokies with 5 tackles including 2 sacks that came at big moments for the Hokies. Pollard was able to do it not by simply overpowering interior linemen, but by using his athleticism and great twitch to his advantage. Additionally, Pollard has more developed pass rush tools than most defensive tackles have at this age, and it shows with how Pollard is able to use his hands to create leverage, get past his blocker, and blow up the backfield.
Now Pollard will likely be headed back into a backup role upon the expected return of Dashawn Crawford against Notre Dame. However, in a season where concerns were raised about defensive tackle and especially about depth, Pollard and fellow Floridian freshman Mario Kendricks have more than answered those questions.
The future for Norell Pollard is bright and remember, Pollard is putting up this type of production at around 265 pounds. Imagine him next year after he's able to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle this offseason.
2. Virginia Tech Has a Pair of Potential All-ACC First Team Defensive Players
While the focus has been on the talent on offense, Virginia Tech's defense is the most likely spot for multiple All-ACC First Team players this year with Caleb Farley and Rayshard Ashby looking like frontrunners at this point.
Farley may have only played in the first half before getting injured, but he was dominant when on the field with a career high 4 pass breakups. Despite not playing in the second half, Farley still earned a spot on the Pro Football Focus ACC Team of the Week, an incredible accomplishment given that he only played the first half of a six overtime game.
If you haven't seen stats on the dominance of Farley this season, all you need to do is a simple search of his name on Twitter and you'll find them. If teams aren't making the smart decision to avoid Farley, there almost always ending up with an incompletion. Now Farley still has his issues as an open-field tackler, but when you're breaking up every pass that comes your way, your tackling suddenly doesn't matter as much.
Meanwhile, Rayshard Ashby was our Defensive Hokie of the Game for the third time this season with an incredible 17 tackles including 2 total tackles for loss with 0.5 sacks and a QB hurry. This also made Ashby a multiple time recipient of ACC Linebacker of the Week honors this season.
What has made Ashby so great is not that he necessarily makes the big highlight reel plays, but he makes every play that he has to make. Because of that, Ashby does blend in at times, but a steady mike linebacker is supposed to do that. While guys like Khalil Ladler and Jarrod Hewitt rightfully drew attention for some of their big plays, Ashby was steadily making every play he had to make and putting together a dominant performance.
One of the biggest reasons for the success of Ashby has been his tackling. There may not be a more sure tackler on Virginia Tech than Ashby other than maybe Chamarri Conner. Again and again, Ashby does a great job of wrapping up whoever has the ball and rarely has a missed tackle.
Caleb Farley and Rayshard Ashby have both taken their games to the next level this season and at this point, both are clear frontrunners to land on the All-ACC First Team for 2019.
3. Don't Forget About Devon Hunter
In his first career start, Devon Hunter was productive with 8 first half tackles while not really having any notable issues in coverage. Virginia Tech did make the wise move to go with the veteran Reggie Floyd after one Hunter series in the second half, but continued to use to talented redshirt sophomore at times later in this game.
There have been plenty who have started to write off Devon Hunter way too soon when the reality of the situation is vastly different than what some may have originally expected. Of course, that happens when an elite recruit like Hunter steps on campus, but not all elite recruits step in and immediately start. That doesn't mean that they are going to be a bust, that just means the road for them looks a little different.
In the case of Hunter, that road has him on track to be a starter next year for the Hokies whether that's at rover or as a strong safety depending on the scheme the next defensive coordinator implements.
The word for Hokie fans is simple in regards to Devon Hunter, patience. As I wrote before the season, this is the year for Hokie fans to have patience with Hunter especially after he's had 3 different position coaches and changed positions multiple times in less than 3 seasons in Blacksburg. If anything, there's growing reason for excitement about what Hunter can be next season when he takes over for the soon to be graduating Reggie Floyd.