As the Belk Bowl nears, it is time to breakdown each position group to determine which team has the edge heading into the December 29th showdown in Charlotte. Next up, the defenses.
Virginia Tech entered the season under a new head coach in Justin Fuente, but had a familiar face return at defensive coordinator when Frank Beamer holdover Bud Foster was offered an opportunity to remain on the staff. Over the last 20+ years, Bud Foster has become one of the top defensive coordinators in college football. However, in recent years, the Hokies defense has slipped a bit due to offensive struggles and wear-and-tear from being on the field so much throughout the season.
2016 proved that Bud Foster’s system wasn’t stale; the group just needed some help from the offense so that they were not on the field so much with all of the pressure of creating points squarely on their shoulders.
A young, up-and-coming defense for the Hokies led the Renaissance, as Foster’s group re-emerged as one of the ACC’s top defenses, as well as one of the better defenses in the FBS. The Hokies ranked 19th nationally in total defense, allowing just 342.8 yards per game. While the rushing defense has struggled at times due to some injuries in the front seven, the Hokies still ranked 44th in the FBS, but allowed 144.5 yards per contest.
The major bright spot in the front seven this season has to be senior defensive tackle Woody Baron, whose 4.5 sacks helped lead the pass rush en route to a 13th-ranked passing efficiency defense. He, along with senior defensive end Ken Ekanem, have wrecked havoc on opposing offensive lines, and will be heavily relied on to not only stop Arkansas’ Raleigh Williams III on the ground, but also to pressure quarterback Austin Allen into mistakes through the air.
For Arkansas, it has been a bit more of an adventure on defense this season, as the Razorbacks rank 78th nationally in total defense, allowing 428.7 yards per game (good news for the Hokies, no?).
A major reason for the Razorbacks’ struggles has been the inability to consistently stop the run. As stated in the running backs preview, the running game is going to be crucial for Virginia Tech in this game, as they have struggled with consistency in their own right. Arkansas ranks 95th in the FBS in rushing defense, allowing 209.3 yards per game on the ground this season.
While the rushing defense has been a clear sore spot for the Razorbacks, the passing defense has been rather respectable. The defense ranks 62nd nationally in passing efficiency, allowing opposing quarterbacks to accumulate an average of 128.90 rating in efficiency on the season.
It’s a relatively young defense at Arkansas with plenty of room to grow, but their youth seems to be too much to overcome on that side of the football in this match-up with the Hokies. Arkansas’ defense, although ranking a bit worse in 2015, resembles that of the Virginia Tech defense from last season, when the Hokies were ravaged with injuries and giving playing experience to young players in the secondary who have become difference-makers this season.
The only hope for Arkansas is that their defense will grow up quickly heading into next season. For now though, the clear and decisive advantage on defense has to go to the Hokies.