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Virginia Tech Football: Previewing The Virginia Defense

A preview of the Cavaliers defensive unit before Friday's rivalry game.

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Defensive Coordinator: Jon Tenuta

Scoring Defense: 24.1 PPG (T-45th nationally)

Passing Defense: 232.3 YPG (76th nationally)

Rushing Defense: 113.6 YPG (15th nationally)

Front Seven:

The Virginia front seven have put forth a tough run defense that ranks 15th in the country and is lead by a stellar linebacker corps. Senior Daquan Romero is on the small side for a linebacker, but utilizes his quickness to stop runnersand leads the team in tackles with 78. Romero has also recorded a pair of sacks and an interception in 2014. Fellow senior and one of the Cavaliers' captains, linebacker Henry Coley is second on the front seven in tackles with 71 and leads in sacks with eight. Despite not boasting the same stats as his fellow linebackers, sophomore Max Valles might be the most dangerous of the three. Valles only has 49 tackles, but has contributed seven sacks and seems to be peaking as the season has progressed. Valles, a converted tight end is deceptively quick for being 6'5", 240-pounds, and is an excellent run stopper.

The Cavaliers have been lead up front by junior Eli Harold and senior Mike Moore. Harold is a valuable cog on the team's blitz scheme and has amassed 51 tackles, seven sacks an an interception this season. Moore has added 33 tackles and three sacks for Jon Tenuta's defensive unit.

Defensive Backs:

The Virginia secondary is lead by the heart of the Cavaliers defense, senior strong safety Anthony Harris. Harris was first team All-ACC a season ago, and has lived up to heightened expectations this season. He broke the 100 tackle mark on the year last week against Miami and also has a sack and a pair of interceptions. Playing across from Harris is his heir apparent, freshman Quin Blanding. Blanding has had a stellar first season leading the team in tackles with 109 and also contributing three interceptions. The Cavaliers secondary appears in good hands when Harris departs after this season.

Brandon Phelps is a versatile defender who has played both safety and corner in his time at Virginia, before settling in at the latter. With the standout seasons from Harris and Blanding, the importance of Phelps has been relatively lost in the shuffle this season. His 35 tackles and one interception don't accurately convey his value to the team. Junior Maurice Canady is a physical 6'2", 180 defender, who often will be tasked with containing the opposition's most dangerous offensive weapon. Canady has three interceptions and 31 tackles in 2014.

Special Teams:

Kicking duties for the Cavaliers have been handled by junior Ian Frye who has had an up and down season. Frye has converted 20 of his 24 field goal attempts and all but one extra point attempt (32 of 33). Senior punter Alec Vozenilek has punted 51 times for 2,173 yards, an average of 42.61 yards per punt.

Senior receiver Darius Jennings has returned the bulk of the kickoffs for the Cavaliers, returning 21 for 562 yards and a nice 26.76 average. Khalek Shepherd has handled all of the team's 24 punt returns for 116 yards and a slim 4.83 average.


Virginia Tech's anemic offense will have its hands full with the Virginia defense. The depleted Hokie backfield will have a hard time finding progress against a strong Cavaliers run defense, and Michael Brewer could struggle against an underrated secondary. As with most games this season, improved play from the maligned offensive line is key to the Hokies' success, as Brewer will need time to make plays before being flushed out of the pocket. This game should be a low scoring affair between two 5-6 teams with above average defensive units.