Virginia Tech’s inability to turn yards into points on offense has largely been the team’s problem in recent weeks, but the Hokies are shaking things up on the defensive side of the ball in hopes of more game-changing plays.
Coach Frank Beamer confirmed Tuesday that senior Alonzo Tweedy would like play a big role in Thursday’s game against No. 8 Florida State at the whip linebacker position. Tweedy, who has been a menace as part of the Hokies’ coverage units on special teams this season, has mostly been relegated to the sideline on defense so far.
In addition, Virginia Tech’s depth chart now says redshirt junior Tyrel Wilson and sophomore Corey Marshall have replaced redshirt junior J.R. Collins as co-starters at defensive end alongside redshirt junior James Gayle.
Collins, meanwhile, has been moved to defensive tackle, listed below junior Derrick Hopkins, sophomore Luther Maddy and senior Antoine Hopkins. Collins, a Stafford native, has yet to record a sack this year after finishing with six last season. Wilson has 22 tackles and three sacks, and his playing time has increased as the year has progressed.
The hope is that the adjustments will help firm up a unit that has played well for long stretches, but isn’t creating the number of turnovers defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s best units once did. The Hokies have forced just 14 turnovers and rank No. 92 in the nation in turnover margin, less than two years after leading the nation in that category.
The fact that Virginia Tech’s offense has committed 19 turnovers, including 12 interceptions by quarterback Logan Thomas, haven’t helped the cause.
“That’s something that can change a game,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “That’s something we take pride in. Defense wins games. We need those types of plays to help out the offense just to build momentum. Football’s a game of momentum. We definitely think about those and talk about those things.”
Added Coach Frank Beamer: “When you get playing well, you get some momentum, you make a play, you make another play, now here comes a turnover,” Coach Frank Beamer said Tuesday. “When you’re on the other side of that, everything’s kind of a struggle. I personally believe if you keep playing hard, all of a sudden, it’s going to turn around. I do believe we’re a good football team. We just haven’t always played well.”
Tweedy’s move is an interesting one given his play a year ago when injuries struck the Hokies at whip linebacker and his subsequent absence from defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s plans this season. Virginia Tech started this year with senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow starting at whip linebacker, but he isn’t even listed on the defensive depth chart anymore. Redshirt freshman Ronny Vandyke had ascended into Gouveia-Winslow’s role, but his playing time had been limited with Virginia Tech playing a lot of nickel coverage in recent weeks.
When healthy last year, the 6-foot-2, 193-pound Tweedy proved to be a capable tackler and his speed allowed him to match up with athletes in space. He finished 2011-12 with 23 tackles and one sack, and played a big role when Virginia Tech shut down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the Sugar Bowl after recovering from a nagging ankle injury.
Beamer indicated Tweedy’s strong play on special teams – he leads the team with 15 tackles as a gunner on punts and kickoffs — combined with the sheer amount of team speed Florida State possesses have earned him a spot back in the defensive lineup.
That, though, does not make the task against the Seminoles any easier. So hard, in fact, that Beamer isn’t paying much attention to the news that Miami could self-impose another bowl ban, opening the door for the Hokies to potentially earn a berth in the ACC championship game almost by default.
“I think I’m just gonna put all my thoughts and efforts toward Florida State,” he said. “This team is good enough that if you’re thinking about anything else, you don’t have a shot.”