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Opponent Breakdown: Virginia Tech Hokies Defense

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech program has long been known for the special teams and defensive prowess but that has changed since Frank Beamer retired. Tech still honors Beamer and long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster with the lunch pail tradition that Foster started years ago. Brent Pry was a graduate assistant under Foster and he is working to rebuild a proud defense for the Hokies.

Tech has one of the best pass rushes in the country and it is led by Antwuan Powell-Ryland at defensive end. Powell-Ryland leads the ACC in tackles for lost and sacks and he is a terror off the edge. The Hokies defensive line would rank 14th in the country by itself in sacks and the group outside of Powell-Ryland does a good job of getting after the quarterback no matter who is in the game. This is by far the best pass rush that UofL has seen so far this season.

On the flip side for the defensive line is the run defense which is very not good. VT is allowing more than four yards per carry and PFF ranks them 127th in the country. They’ve allowed 200+ rushing yards in four separate games this year. For Context, UofL has only allowed 100+ yards in two games so far. However, VT has only allowed 35 rushing yards total over their last two games. That includes zero yards allowed last weekend against Syracuse.

I think the strength of this defense is the linebackers. Alan Tisdale is a veteran presence in the middle and he is one of my favorite players to watch in the conference. The top player in the group, however, is Keli Lawson. The sophomore is racking up stats and making big plays. He leads the team in tackles and he’s recorded just about every havoc stat possible so far this year. We all saw how Payton Wilson made plays for NC State against Louisville. Lawson may not have Wilson’s talent and experience but he is the same type of player for this defense.

The Hokie pass rush has not turned into much help in the overall pass defense. VT is among the top teams in the country in yards allowed per game but it’s a misleading number due to the fact that teams can just run the ball all game. Tech only has four interceptions on the year and they’re allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 60% of their passes. Those numbers aren’t “bad” but they are pretty average.

Dorian Strong is the top member of the secondary in my opinion and it seems like forever ago when I was writing about him matching up with Dez Fitzpatrick. Strong is one of a couple of players for VT that have been around for a long time. The lanky corner has been a starter since he arrived on campus and he is a steady contributor at one corner spot.

The rest of the group is solid but no one really stars for this group. Mansoor Delane had a strong 2022 season with 8 PBUs but he hasn’t made many plays so far this year. Jalen Stroman is another good player at safety along with Nasir Peoples. Louisville will almost certainly run the ball a lot against this defense, so it will be something to watch for if these safeties have to tackle a lot in space at the second level.