After making several personnel changes to deal with Georgia Tech’s unorthodox offense this past week, Virginia Tech’s defense has regained a sense of normalcy as it prepares to take on North Carolina’s traditional offense Thursday night. But the unit remains a bit in flux as the Hokies try to manage without three injured opening day starters.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Saturday evening that redshirt sophomore J.R. Collins will move back to defensive end after playing at tackle against the Yellow Jackets. That means freshmen Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall will return to splitting snaps at defensive tackle.
At middle linebacker, redshirt sophomore Jack Tyler (Oakton High) finished with a team-high 12 tackles against Georgia Tech, but Foster said senior Barquell Rivers will get the start Thursday because it’s the Hokies’ home finale. Both, however, will likely see playing time.
Whip linebacker Alonzo Tweedy, meanwhile, was still in a blue jersey (meaning limited work) during Saturday evening’s practice session because of a high-ankle sprain he suffered against Boston College. If he’s not available, Foster said the Hokies would likely play their nickel package with a cornerback serving as the whip.
Who that will be is still up in the air, though. In the second half of Thursday night’s win, redshirt freshman Detrick Bonner took over for senior Cris Hill and performed well. Foster mentioned Saturday that sophomore Kyle Fuller could return to his natural cornerback position while Bonner takes over as the nickel cornerback. Previously, the Hokies have brought Hill into the game as the field cornerback while Fuller shifted over to the nickel spot.
The one certainty, it seems, is that Virginia Tech will be facing a completely different offense than the run-heavy attack it prepared for last week. Though the Tar Heels are a week removed from being shut out by North Carolina State, they have a 1,000-yard rusher in redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard and a wide receiver closing in on 1,000 receiving yards in senior Dwight Jones.
Foster said North Carolina looks like the most balanced offense the Hokies have faced this year.
“I don’t know why their record is not better,” Foster said of North Carolina, which is 6-4 this season. “They’re talented and as good as anybody we play in our league. I’d say they’re comparable to Miami [and] Clemson as far as the talent level.”
Virginia Tech’s defense entered this past Thursday’s win ranked 11th in the country in total defense playing without three opening day starters. The Hokies have also seen three other starters miss time because of injury and yet they still are just one win and a Virginia loss away from clinching their fifth Coastal Division title in seven years.
“For us to be 9-1 again and the position we are and to have some key injuries and moving some people around, I’m proud of our staff, number one,” Foster said. “But I’m proud of our kids. They’ve really responded and stepped up and grown quite a bit.”