One of Bud Foster's best characteristics is his ability to adapt his defense to the personnel he has and to what other teams are doing to attack the Hokies.
Tech used to run more of a 4-4 defense until after the 2003 season when Cal's offense throttled the Tech defense in the Copper Bowl. The success pass-heavy offenses had against the Hokies coupled with better talent coming into the program led to the switch to Tech's current defense, which is a version of the 4-4 that uses two hybrid players (the rover and whip linebacker).
Could another shellacking at the hands of a Pac 10 team in a bowl game lead to another change in Foster's defensive philosophy? Should the Hokies follow the current trend in college football and switch to the 3-4?
Defensive Tackle Depth a Concern
The Hokies have had their share of talented players come through its linebacking corps and secondary. However, one of Tech's weaknesses has always been size and depth in the front seven, particularly on the defensive line. This past year was no different.
The Hokies have several promising young players at linebacker and defensive end, but are far from deep at defensive tackle, which has been commonplace. However, we do have one massive option at defensive tackle in Nick Acree. Acree, who redshirted this year, is 6-5 and was listed at 295 pounds. Under Mike Gentry's strength and conditioning program, it's likely he'll wind up well over 300.
In order for the 3-4 to be effective, you need a big run-stopping defensive tackle or you'll wind up getting killed on the ground. Could Acree be the anchor defensive tackle the Hokies need to make a possible switch? If he can, it would hide Tech's issues with defensive tackle depth.
Whipping the Whip
Another weakness for Virginia Tech's defense is the size of its front seven, which didn't match up well with Stanford's large offensive line. The Hokies struggled against the run throughout 2010 and a lot of it had to do with their size disadvantage.
What really hurts the Hokies size-wise is the whip linebacker position. This hybrid outside linebacker is often called upon to rush the passer and as is lined up on the wide side of the field with the field corner, so he needs to be able to cover a lot of ground.
This has led to Tech using smaller, quicker LB/Safety tweeners at the position with varying results. At 6-2 207 pounds, Jereon Gouveia-Winslow is pretty small to be playing linebacker. Boston College runs a defense that's somewhat similar to Tech's and had Mark Herzlich lined up at SLB, which lines up on the wide side of the field. Herzlich goes 6-4, 244. This led to a bulky BC D that gave up 2.6 ypc in ACC play last year.
Going to the 3-4 could help Tech's problems with size up front. The difficult part would be finding outside linebackers that combine size with speed.
Already Using 3-Man Fronts
While they haven't used the 3-4 this year, Tech was forced to go with a three-man front often this season, especially early on. Tech went with a "30" stack defense that had three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. This was done to get young defensive backs Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller on the field more often.
As college football's offenses have evolved and started spreading the field, defenses have responded and a lot of them are using the 3-4 to counter it. Would it work for the Hokies? It's possible, but there are for more traditional and pro-style offenses in the ACC than there are spread offenses.
While the 3-4 could be a better fit for the personnel the Hokies are going to have the next couple years, it might give its ACC opponents. The Hokies' power run game has done well against 3-4 defenses in the past, but was shut down by teams like Alabama and Stanford who had the big run-stopping DTs it requires to succeed.
Now it's your turn to weigh in on this. The Hokies' defense has evolved a lot under Foster. Is the 3-4 the next step in its evolution? Should he and Frank Beamer consider tweaking the Hokies' defensive philosophy yet again?