The Washington Post

Behind a surging defense, Hokies seek redemption on short rest

- BY GENE WANG West Virginia at Virginia Tech Today, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

The relatively muted celebratio­n following Virginia Tech’s most recent victory had all but concluded late Saturday afternoon when Hokies first-year football coach Brent Pry and his staff turned their attention in earnest to the next opponent a bit earlier than usual.

With four days between games, preparatio­n for West Virginia took on elevated urgency not only because of the quick turnaround but also in light of a crack at redemption in a heated border rivalry and the buzz of a nationally televised nighttime showdown in Blacksburg, Va.

Keeping players laser-focused on the game plan and allowing for rest and recovery on a short week have meant reducing the amount of practice time and, in certain instances, the intensity of drills.

“That’s the culture you create all the way back on Day One,” Pry said. “It’s us. It’s about when they come through the doors to this facility, what we expect, where the attention is. That’s the staff doing a great job, having our thoughts and our process being ingrained in these guys . . .

“There’s a task at hand in everything we do, and keeping those guys understand­ing it’s what we do Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday that will take care of Thursday, and I think they’re in a good place with that. We’ve had good preparatio­n, and I credit that to the maturity of the football team.”

Heightened enthusiasm for what’s expected to be another raucous atmosphere at Lane Stadium on Thursday night comes in part from a swarming defense ranked first in the ACC (201 yards per game), more than 80 yards in front of second-place Miami after three games.

The Hokies are also in a threeway tie for first in scoring defense (12.3 points per game).

“I’d say the reason we’re playing so well is how we practice and how we go to work every day,” said Virginia Tech linebacker Dax Hollifield, a fifth-year senior. “We try to make practice simulate games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. That’s where it shows up, I think, in how hard we work.”

In a 27-7 win against Wofford of the Football Championsh­ip Subdivisio­n this past weekend, the Hokies did not surrender a point until the 9:34 mark of the fourth quarter and yielded 199 yards of total offense. They permitted the Terriers, who were 3 for 11 on third down, to cross midfield once.

A 20-0 halftime lead allowed Pry to substitute liberally in the fourth quarter, providing valuable in-game experience to a host of reserves with one of the country’s most potent offenses next on the schedule.

West Virginia (1-2), coming off a 65-7 win against Fcs-level Towson last weekend at home, enters the latest installmen­t of the Black Diamond Trophy rivalry ranked third in the Big 12 in average total offense (509.7 yards) and fourth in scoring (46 points).

The lopsided margin against Wofford also afforded Pry an opening to relinquish some defensive play-calling duties in the later stages to first-year defensive coordinato­r Chris Marve, who was the defensive running game coordinato­r and linebacker­s coach at Florida State for the past two seasons.

“Chris called some of those series toward the end of the game,” Pry said. “I thought it was a great opportunit­y to do that. We talked about it ahead of time. Looking back, I don’t know if it was really fair. We were rolling a bunch of guys in and giving some guys an opportunit­y to get better, and that’s where he got his playcallin­g in, so I think did him a disservice.”

Pry offered that assessment with a hint of sarcasm, but having Marve more involved with decisions on game days has been part of the plan since the head coach suggested before the start of the season that there may come a time this year when he feels comfortabl­e ceding defensive play-calling responsibi­lities altogether.

Regardless of who’s in charge of the alignments, the defensive coaching staff has counted on seasoned starters such as Hollifield and redshirt senior defensive end Tyjuan Garbutt to lead the charge in the front seven.

Pressuring the quarterbac­k has been a major area of improvemen­t from last year, when Virginia Tech recorded 25 sacks in 13 games. It already has nine this season, tied for second in the conference.

The back end has been stout as well behind safeties Chamarri Connor and Nasir Peoples and cornerback Armani Chatman, all redshirt seniors. Dorian Strong, the other starter at corner, is a junior.

Last year, the defense stiffened in the second half against the Mountainee­rs, and Virginia Tech had possession on first and goal at the 3-yard line late in the fourth quarter, trailing by six on the road. But the Hokies were unable to punch it in four straight times and turned the ball over on downs with 45 seconds left.

“There’s always going to be a bad taste because we lost the trophy,” Strong said. “The last staff did a good job of emphasizin­g how important that trophy was, and [assistant] coach J.C. Price has always emphasized how big that trophy is. He’s emphasized this has been a bigtime rivalry for how long, so shoot, we’ve got to come out here, play hard to get our trophy back.”

 ?? MATT GENTRY/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Virginia Tech Coach Brent Pry praised his team’s maturity ahead of Thursday night’s showdown against longtime rival West Virginia.
MATT GENTRY/ASSOCIATED PRESS Virginia Tech Coach Brent Pry praised his team’s maturity ahead of Thursday night’s showdown against longtime rival West Virginia.

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