When senior Chase Williams took the field in Saturday's season opener against William & Mary, it was only his second career start. The son of longtime NFL Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has played behind some great Virginia Tech linebackers during his time in Blacksburg, including the likes of Bruce Taylor, Tariq Edwards, and Jack Tyler. Finally, as a redshirt senior, Williams got his chance, and he did not disappoint.
With the Hokies holding only a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter, it was clear that William & Mary held the momentum after forcing an interception from Michael Brewer late in the first quarter. Driving down the field looking to take the lead, Tribe Quarterback Steve Cluley dropped back to throw. What happened next can only be explained by the GIF in this tweet:
Not only did Williams absolutely drill Cluley, but senior linebacker Derek DiNardo, who made his first collegiate start in place of injured veteran Ronny Vandyke, scooped the fumble and returned it 45 yards down to the 2 yard line. This play completely swung the momentum back into the Hokies' favor and led to a Michael Brewer touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Bucky Hodges to give Tech a 14-6 lead.
While the on-field contributions by Williams and DiNardo are only being felt for the first time as seniors, the leadership of these players cannot be emphasized enough. In a postgame radio show with 105.3 FM in Blacksburg, Hokies' Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster called Williams, "the heart and soul of the defense, who has played behind many talented players in his time here." Foster later praised DiNardo for his heads up play on the football following the fumble, and said that the team would need more contributions from the seniors moving forward.
Williams finished the afternoon with a very impressive stat line, including three solo tackles, two of which were for a loss, the forced fumble and a pass breakup that was very nearly an interception. DiNardo also made his presence felt in his first collegiate start, as he led the team with five tackles and three quarterback hurries which could have very easily been sacks if Cluley didn't release the ball at the last possible second.
As the Hokies begin preparation for the spread option attack of Ohio State next Saturday, there is no question that the play of the linebackers, specifically the seniors, will be instrumental if they expect to compete with one of the nation's top teams. While Ohio State will be without their Heisman-caliber quarterback Braxton Miller, new starter J.T. Barrett possesses the speed and arm strength to cause the Hokie defense problems if they cannot get after the opposing signal caller. While the showing was impressive by both Williams and DiNardo in the opener, more will be needed not only next week, but throughout the season in order for this team to fulfill aspirations of being a top-10 defense.
As the season progresses, stellar linebacker play will not be unexpected, but routine. I would anticipate more success in the coming weeks, as Bud Foster continues to design ways to get after the quarterback and harass opposing offenses. Let's hope that we continue this momentum from game one into our match up in Columbus on Saturday.