BLACKSBURG — Two weeks. That’s it.
In two weeks, they’ll play college football, and we’re going to learn an awful lot about Virginia Tech’s defense.
The Hokies will be better on that side of the ball than they were last year. Of that, we can be sure.
But how much better? Boston College will help provide some immediate answers.
“I think we’ll be the most explosive offensive team we’ve ever had here,” BC coach Steve Addazio said at last month’s ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte. “We’re going to have a strong run game, a real good throw game. Going to be hard to handle.”
Tech knows that. BC almost always is hard to handle for the Hokies. The Eagles love to line up and bully you with their offensive line regardless of who they have in the backfield.
With All-ACC running back A.J. Dillon — a guy Addazio predicts could run for 2,000 yards this season — leading the tailbacks corps, the challenge is even greater.
“Yeah, we’ve got our hands full the first week,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I really think BC is going to be really good. They’ve got their quarterback back. They’ve got their back back. They’ve got a couple receivers. They lost some offensive linemen, but that’s like ‘O-Line U,’ in my opinion.”
Foster’s undermanned defense allowed a whopping 5.5 yards per carry last season. That ranked eighth-worst among the 130 teams in the FBS.
The improvement has to start there if Tech is going to win its opener.
But just as Addazio feels good about his offense, Tech head coach Justin Fuente feels infinitely better about his own defense than he did at this point last season.
“Defensive line, linebacker, safety, corner — we were going to play people with little or no experience,” Fuente said of 2018. “Well, this year, just heading into the year before we even practice, we know it’s really only one spot that we know we’re going to have to play some young or inexperienced people — at defensive tackle. That makes you feel better already, right off the top.”
The Week 1 onus will be on Tech’s front seven, particularly linebackers Rayshard Ashby, Dax Hollifield and Khalil Ladler. Those guys came into last season with a combined two career starts — both by Ladler.
They’ll enter this game with 30 games of starting experience combined.
“I do think there’s a feeling of comfort,” Fuente said. “We’ve got to stay healthy and we’ve got to continue to develop our second and third teams. But [there’s] a comfort with scheme. We’re not doing things for the first time.
“There were a bunch of guys doing things for the first time 365 days ago on that defense. You can see some overall understanding, and it’s letting them play faster and with more savvy and with more in-depth knowledge of what’s going on as opposed to just trying to be right.”
Tech and BC used to be mirror images of each other. Run, run, run and play defense.
Now, the Hokies throw the ball more than they ever did under Frank Beamer. Likewise, Addazio says this is the most balanced offense he’s ever had in Chestnut Hill.
“Both teams have changed a little bit, I would say,” Addazio said. “But the focus of the teams is still toughness and physicality.”
Two weeks. No warm-ups. No gimmes.
A whole lot of data points on the prospects for 2019.
“We’re going to be tested early as far as our physicality, making our defensive backs tackle, how physical are we going to be at the point of attack up front,” Foster said. “It’s going to test us right from the get-go.”