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Guide To Virginia Tech - Defense

We’re going to preview the Hokies’ 2023 defense based single game against Old Dominion.

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Base Defense

Their base involves the use a of a STAR, but the Hokies really don’t keep the same formation on each snap. It’s the polar opposite philosophy of Purdue’s first-year head coach Ryan Walters, who wants to line up just about the same way on every snap so the OL doesn’t know who’s coming. This was mentioned in practice, I’m not just making that up.

So sometimes they’ll show a five-man front with two linebackers, two corners, and two safeties. Other times, they’re line up in what looks to be a base 4-3, but the emphasis is definitely on pass rush for Virginia Tech.

As Drew mentioned in the podcast, if there’s one point of the offensive line where Purdue looked relatively solid, in was on the edge with the Boilers’ tackles. They’re going to have to show how good they can be with Virginia Tech’s talented edge rushers.

Defensive Line

The first of note: Antwaun Powell-Ryland. The Hokies’ right sight defensive end is a transfer from the University of Florida who would be typecast as an outside linebacker but has the strength and motor to box above his 6’3” 242-pound frame.

Sure, it was against Old Dominion, but in hist first game back home in Virginia, he posted six tackles, including two sacks. Pretty good start for his new team. Left tackles Moussa Mahamane and Daniel Johnson need to be ready for this guy.

Powell-Ryland, along with left side defensive end Keyshawn Burgos, are my two impact players for VT’s defensive line given that I love strength-on-strength matchups and Purdue looked decent protecting Hudson Card on the edges last weekend against Fresno State.

Blue and pink are the two guys that Hudson Card really has to worry about when they show a variation of the 4-3. Lime green is where the Texas transfer should be looking for T.J. Sheffield.


They have a lot of guys who can drop back deep into coverage, but if I’m a Virginia Tech fan, I’m nervous about how they dropped too deep; there were multiple pays where there was so much space across the middle of the field that ODU quarterback saw space to run an took it. The QB finished with over eighty gained yards rushing despite six sacks. Hudson Card is a similar type of player, but again, as Drew pointed out in the pod, he could run, but should he? It’s early in the season and the QB depth isn’t very deep. He can launch it and he can run, but a big hit while running would provide a huge blow to Graham Harrell’s offensive plans moving forward with a lot of games left to play.

Virginia Tech’s line-backing corps is comprised entirely of true sophomores outside of the STAR/Nickel man Keonta Jenkins, a senior who has had a very productive career for the Hokies. Behind him, however, when they do stick in STAR as opposed to a five-man front or a 4-3, is but one true freshman. Given this information, Purdue needs a big game from T.J. Sheffield catching slant routes where Virginia Tech gives up that green grass for shallow passing routes.

See what happens when they spread out to a base 4-3 and leave larger than average A and B gaps for a slippery tailback. The play resulted in a 20+ yard run. I think our dude Devin Mockobee can be that slippery tailback.


Their corners and safeties sometimes look they’re attached to receivers like glue and at times bite really shallow on routes. The Hokies’ defensive philosophy does involve that sort of bend-but-don’t-break mentality where you can give up some short passes as long as three defenders are in the area to clean up, but last week against Old Dominion, I saw bending then breaking. Missed tackles, missed defensive reads in the red zone, a few occasions of DB’s biting too shallow on coverage after getting burned over the middle. Overcompensating to a degree.

If Purdue can control things offensively at the line of scrimmage, I trust Card to exploit the space Virginia Tech showed they can give up.

And those missed tackles while leaving space just inside or outside the hashes would be insurmountable for any defense if they can’t freakin’ tackle.

This play that resulted in Old Dominion’s first score of the game. There’s a clear miscommunication with when they shift from heavy rush to a more spread out 4-3...too spread out. You have a linebacker and a corner (blue) covering the same sideline receiver as the slot receiver (green) runs free, trucks the free safety at the goal line, and crosses into the end zone.

The Boilermakers have some solid point of attack based on one week’s worth of film, but always remember:

It’s only one week’s worth of film and the weather could play a factor in the game.