The Hokies were finally able to get their first win against Miami’s Brad Kaaya, and it was a truly dominant display on defense by Foster’s unit. The performance earned Woody Baron, Tremaine Edmunds, and Terrell Edmunds ACC DL, LB, and DB of the week respectively.
The key component of any great defensive performance is pressure on the quarterback. Kaaya is an effective quarterback when he is allowed to operate in the pocket. Foster knew this and sent pressure regularly, but even when he chose not to, the front four was able to muddy the pocket around Kaaya by themselves.
The leader of the DL, with both Nigel Williams and Ken Ekanem out, was senior defensive tackle Woody Baron. You have surely heard all about his great performance by now. His numbers are outstanding, specifically for a defensive tackle – 2.5 sacks, 4.5 TFLs, and he added in another 2 QB hurries for good measure.
The reason Baron was such a nuisance for the Miami OL is due to his elite quickness off the snap. But it is not just his athleticism that impresses coaches and gives offensive linemen nightmares prior to games. Baron is a technician with his hands and has great feet. On the second play of the game, Trevon Hill and Baron get to Kaaya for the sack, an omen for the rest of the game for Miami.
Baron lines up in a 4i technique on the inside shoulder of Miami’s RG. The senior defensive tackle does not get great penetration off the snap, but uses his arms well and extends to keep himself clean. Within half a second, he executes a beautiful move and catches the OL lunging. Baron’s lateral quickness comes into play here as well as he’s able to get around his blocker with ease. The guard finds himself facedown on the turf and Woody Baron gets to Kaaya for his first impact play of the night.
If that did not impress you, then Baron’s next sack will. The Hurricanes’ had just taken it down the field for a touchdown on their last possession and were threatening to do so again after a good 3rd and 6 conversion. Virginia Tech needed a big negative play to get Miami’s offense out of rhythm, and Baron provides that here with his second sack on Kaaya.
Baron had been abusing Miami’s guards with combining his quickness with and outside shoulder move to get penetration all game. This play just shows how much of his game is cerebral. Foster chooses to rush just four, but Baron still gets a mismatch with the RG. For the offensive lineman, it looks just like every other rep against Baron in pass pro. He is anticipating Baron to do the same exact thing, but the savvy defensive lineman puts a literal twist in the plot.
Baron pulls off one of the smoothest spin moves you will see from a defensive tackle. It might be a rarer sight to witness a college DL at any spot on the line to perform such a technical move. Foster knows how much Baron works on his technique and explained that in his postgame press conference.
"He’s playing great football right now," said Foster. "Not good football, Woody’s playing great football. You talk about a guy, obviously his ability’s twitchy, explosive off the ball. He plays with great hands great technique. He’s a powerful kid that can get off the blocks."
On Thursday night, Woody brought the whole package and wrecked Miami’s pass protection game plan almost single-handedly.
It’s evident that Baron had himself a day when getting after Kaaya, but the first priority for any defense is stopping the run. The Hokies did just that – after three quarters, the Hurricanes had managed just 18 yards on the ground. As an interior defensive lineman, run defense is primarily just maintaining your gap integrity and flowing to the ball carrier in a controlled manner (although Foster wants his guys to get upfield more often than not). While Baron is not particularly big for a DT at 275 pounds, he did a solid job at staying home and holding his ground most of the time. Baron’s experience really showed Thursday night when diagnosing run plays, getting penetration, and simply beating his blocker to the spot with his quickness.
In the second quarter, Miami started a drive with two run plays. Woody Baron ended up as the tackler on both plays to put Miami in an impossible 3rd and 18 situation.
On this first play, Baron once again showcases his elite quickness. Miami wants to run a stretch play to the right with Joe Yearby to get the explosive back in space.
With a zone blocking concept, the entire OL moves in unison to one direction. Usually, one lineman will try to create a seal (what the RG does here) and create space for the running back to cut upfield and get to the second level. The back must be patient to wait for the crease to open up and explode through it. Because of this, zone blocking plays do not work well when there is penetration from the defensive line.
Theoretically, Yearby should have a nice hole to run through here. The RT goes to the second level to block Chuck Clark and Mihota goes too far upfield instead of keeping his shoulders square to the LOS. Motuapuaka is really the only defender there that could make the play. However, Baron blows by the LG and in an instant he tackles Yearby for a two-yard loss. His quickness really allows Foster’s scheme to thrive because of the penetration and disruption he causes from the interior defensive front.
It’s more of the same on the next play. Baron outclasses #73 for Miami with his quickness. Mihota also does a good job driving his blocker back into Yearby, forcing him to slow his feet and bounce it outside and backwards. When a defense is facing an athlete like Yearby in the backfield, two things need to happen. The defense needs to set the edge playside and having good pursuit from the backside and linebackers. Both things happen here and Yearby is dropped for a six-yard loss this time around.
Elite run defenders also need to show elite effort. Playing at 110% is already a necessity to play in Foster’s scheme, but getting it from defensive linemen can really enhance how well a defense is playing. Baron's effort was evident throughout the game - Miami's RBs must have been frustrated after being chased down from behind when there was potential for a big play.
Even when Baron wasn’t getting penetration, Baron still was able to be an effective run defender. Every defense will have a lapse at some point in the game when defending against the run. This happened in the first quarter where Yearby was able to squeak past the line of scrimmage and appeared to have some green grass ahead of him. However, Baron exemplified terrific technique and effort to run and chase Yearby down for a 9-yard gain.
That’s not a typical play you see from your #1 DT. Baron keeps two defenders off of him – he literally has his right arm on #63 and his left arm on #78. He stays on his feet, keeps his eyes on the ball carrier, and makes a tackle 10 yards downfield.
Having the mobility of a 265-pound defensive tackle certainly helps, but that is really impressive stuff by Baron. He had a very good night, and will need another good one on Thursday night as the Hokies travel to Pittsburgh. If Ekanem and Nigel Williams are unable to go once again, Baron must continue to provide leadership and pressure as the senior of the defensive line.
This is not a slight at the Hokies’ defensive performance. But x-plays due to breakdowns in coverage have been somewhat problematic for the Hokies. The good news is that they are very correctable.
Virginia Tech was lucky not to be down 7-3 following Miami’s second drive. The Hurricanes run a switch concept here with a post-wheel combination on the outside. Foster dials up an interesting look – he inverts the coverage so that the two outside corners – Facyson and Stroman – essentially drop into the middle of the field and become safeties. Meanwhile, safeties Terrell Edmunds and Chuck Clark drop down underneath. This coverage is designed to fool quarterbacks thinking they have the middle of the field open when it really is not because of the inversion by the outside cornerbacks.
When playing as a deep defender in zone, it is important to recognize route combinations as they develop and where the holes in the coverage are. Facyson, as smart as he is, does not read the post-wheel concept well. As the deep safety, he needs to be equidistant between both receivers and know he has inside help with Stroman coming over from the other side. As soon as Kaaya sees Facyson lean towards carrying the post route, he unloads to Njoku on the wheel.
You can see how Facyson is caught out of position due to his responsibilities as the quasi-safety on this play. Kaaya does a masterful job not falling for the "bait" with the post route in the middle of the field and making the correct read.
No one should really bear the blame for this coverage breakdown. More credit should go to Richt and Kaaya for the play call and execution. Sometimes the offense has the perfect play to beat the coverage called, no matter how well the secondary executes it.
The problem was that Kaaya’s second touchdown pass was more of the same, with Facyson being the target in coverage again.
The Hurricanes run another switch here between their two receivers. This time the Hokies’ are in man-free coverage. Kaaya’s protection holds up well against the four man pass rush, allowing him to hang in there long enough to find Herndon IV on the sideline.
Without knowing what Foster wanted his players to do in case the switch concept was run again, the main issue here is communication. It is common for DBs to switch assignments when the offense runs this particular concept, which is what Terrell Edmunds does. However, Facyson is hesitant and once he realizes the receiver slipped behind him, it’s too late. Despite all this, he has a chance to bring Herndon IV down but makes a lazy attempt to tackle him. That may annoy Foster more than anything on this play.
Again, this is a correctable mistake. Effective communication elevates secondary play, and it has undoubtedly been an emphasis in the film room for Bud Foster this season. Eliminating these mistakes will ensure the Hokies will have the defense to pair with their solid offense in the race for the ACC Coastal, especially if they face dangerous offenses down the road.