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Always known for his stout defenses, Bud Foster guided the 2005 unit to the very top of the defensive standings, finishing first nationally in total defense. Very few teams enjoyed any success against the Hokiesí talented defense, which featured four senior starters in Jimmy Williams, Darryl Tapp, James Anderson and Jonathan Lewis. The group also managed to set a Virginia Tech record when they held the Duke Blue Devils to just 35 yards of total offense. But is this the best Virginia Tech defense ever?
Thatís hard to say, and you have to look at more than just total defense. Letís take a look at Bud Fosterís top units and how they fared in some important statistical categories.
All of the defenses above were outstanding, but only a few can legitimately lay claim to the title of ďBest Virginia Tech DefenseĒ. The 1999, 2001 and 2005 defenses are the top contenders, but each group is worthy of praise.
Back in 1995, the Tech defense led the nation in rushing defense, kept opposing quarterbacks on the ground for the majority of games, and allowed opponents to convert just 26.5% of their third downs. That group also scored some important defensive touchdowns against UVA and Texas. Their pass defense was the weakest among Bud Fosterís top units, but they produced some of the best known defenders in Tech history. Cornell Brown, J.C. Price, Myron Newsome, Brandon Semones, Antonio Banks and Torrian Gray played on that defense, as did some others that many Tech fans would remember.
The 1998 defense was basically the 1999 defense, just one year younger. They were very good against the run and the pass, but not exceptional against either. They did an excellent job of getting to the quarterback, recording 48 sacks. Corey Moore had his breakout season in 1998, and this defense caused a lot of expectations to be placed on the 1999 team.
The 1999 defense is considered by many to be the best in Virginia Tech history. They were great against the run and the pass, they recorded an unbelievable 58 sacks, and opponents converted just 25% of their third downs. Corey Moore outdid his 1998 performance and proved to be the best defensive end in college football. John Engelberger was on that team, and he is still in the NFL. Nick Sorensen, Ike Charlton, Corey Bird and Ben Taylor also went on to the NFL, and Sorensen and Taylor are still there. This group held opponents to just 10.5 points per game, which was the best in the nation.
The 2001 defense finished second nationally in total defense, just behind the Texas Longhorns. This group was thrown into the fire in 2000 and matured into arguably Techís greatest defense in 2001. They didnít get a lot of sacks, but they held opponents to fewer yards than any defense on the list. Despite not getting a lot of pressure on quarterbacks, opponents converted just 22% on third downs.
The Tech defense took a nap in 2002 and 2003, but they woke up angry in 2004. Led by seniors Jim Davis and Eric Green, they returned to the same form of past Hokie defenses. They were exceptional against the pass, with three seniors and All-American junior Jimmy Williams in the secondary. They didnít get a lot of sacks, but they did finish fourth nationally in total defense.
Most of that 2004 defense returned for the 2005 season, and seven starters will return for 2006. They finished the season first in total defense and were very effective against the run and the pass. However, their third down percentage was higher than any of the other top Tech defenses at 32%. They had 37 sacks, which was the most since 1999, but still far less than the first three defenses on the list.
So which of these defenses is the best in Tech history? There is no way to answer that question. If the 1999 defense could have defended the pass like the 2005 defense, then the answer would be 1999. Likewise, if the 2005 defense had as many sacks as the 1999 team, 2005 would be the best. But Bud Fosterís defensive strategy has changed throughout the years, and Tech no longer relies on blitzing and sacks as the most important part of their defense.
Another important stat is third down conversions. If the opponent canít keep the chains moving, then they canít score. The 2005 defense wasnít quite as good in this category as past defenses. Perhaps that is because they play more Cover 3, rather than blitzing the quarterback and playing man-to-man with the wide receivers. For the sake of argument, letís say Bud Foster had dialed up the blitz more often on third downs this past season, and Tech recorded ten sacks on third down, when otherwise the opponent would have converted for a first down. At that rate, opponents would have only converted 26.8% of third downs, which is more in line with previous numbers.
But blitzing on third down and playing man-to-man on the outside also increases the potential for big plays. Playing more Cover 3 has improved Virginia Tech pass defense throughout the years, as you can see from the declining passing yardage numbers in the table above.
No matter what kind of thought you put into it, there will always be varying
opinions as to which Virginia Tech defense is the best ever. Each had a
different cast of players, each faced different circumstances in games, and the
philosophy of Bud Foster changed over time. But with Foster at the helm you can
count on Virginia Tech being near the top of the defensive standings for most
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