The thud heard Saturday across Blacksburg was the Virginia Tech Hokies coming back to earth. The Hokies suffered the proverbial letdown after a huge win, when the air seems to be let out of the balloon. The euphoria following the upset of Ohio State on the road was matched inversely just one week later with a bitterly disappointing loss at home against the East Carolina Pirates.
What caused a team that dominated large portions of the game against Ohio State lay an egg only a week later? Fingers can be pointed in many directions, but perhaps none more than towards the Hokies secondary unit. "DBU", as the Hokies secondary is known, was picked apart at times by East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden on Saturday. Carden threw for three touchdowns—all in the first quarter—leaving a shell shocked Virginia Tech down 21-0 after 15 minutes.
The Hokies secondary entered play Saturday ranked 32nd nationally in pass defense, allowing an average of 168 yards per game before being torched by Carden for 427 yards through the air. Especially troubling for Tech fans was the secondary's inability to control the yards per catch statistic.
Five Pirate receivers had double digit yards per catch, including Cam Worthy who had a staggering 37.3 average. Worthy compiled 224 receiving yards on six receptions, and was the catalyst on the game winning drive from East Carolina. Starting at the 35 yard line on the final drive, Carden completed passes of 31 and 28 yards to Worthy en route to the winning touchdown on the ground with 16 seconds left.
The secondary was a driving force in Columbus a week earlier, with senior Keyshoen Jarrett intercepting two J.T. Barrett passes, and junior Donovan Riley adding a pick six to seal the surprise victory. This week the unit was out of sorts in the early stages of the game, before holding the pirates scoreless for almost three quarters. However, Carden seemed to be able to work over Virginia Tech's secondary when necessary, specifically in one-on-one coverage where the Hokies defensive backs struggled mightily.
The Hokies didn't locate the ball in the air, failing to turn their heads and instead face guarding on many of the big plays given up down the sideline. After allowing several long catches early in the game, Brandon Facyson was removed in favor of Riley.
ECU QB Shane Carden carves up hyped Virginia Tech secondary. http://t.co/MRDdeVQIp4— CollegeFootball 24/7 (@NFL_CFB) September 13, 2014
A stout secondary is a staple of any Virginia tech defense under coordinator Bud Foster, and after two games this season the trend appeared to be intact. However, the unit faced it's first test from a pass heavy offense Saturday, and failed. A takeaway for Virginia Tech is knowing the team will likely not face a gunslinger like Carden again this season. The bulk of the Hokies remaining schedule will be spent in ACC play, against teams with quarterbacks that are more of the game manager variety.
The Hokies couldn't avoid the letdown that often follows a signature win for a team, and the secondary's struggles were particularly stinging. If the loss could have simply been pinned to a poor performance by Michael Brewer, or the young running game it might have been easier to swallow. However, watching "DBU" get shredded in the loss was like being let down by a reliable friend. If the Hokies are to ascend to the upper echelon of the ACC, the secondary must first learn how to handle a quarterback like Shane Carden.