Virginia Tech defense tasked with slowing down the speedy Hurricanes


BLACKSBURG, Va. — When Virginia Tech defensive secondary coach Torrian Gray watches the video, he can’t help but notice the speed up and down Miami’s roster.

Tailback Duke Johnson is one of the most explosive players in college football, and backup Joe Yearby isn’t far behind. Receiver Phillip Dorsett, who runs track in the offseason, is the team’s fastest player, timed at 4.21 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group as fast as those skill guys,” Gray said.

That’s the challenge for the Hokies on Thursday night, when the well-rested Hurricanes come to Lane Stadium off a bye week.

Robert Mayer | USA TODAY Sports Images
Duke Johnson: 787 yards and six TDs this season.

Both bring identical records to the ACC Coastal Division contest: 4-3 overall, 1-2 in the conference.

“They’re Miami. They’ve got great skill kids,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “… Probably the most explosive offensive team that we’ll see to date all the way around.”

The Hokies were fortunate last year to miss Johnson, who was out the final five games with a broken ankle. The 5-foot-9, 206-pounder already had run for 920 yards at that point and is on a similar pace this year, with 787 yards and six touchdowns. He’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

Though only a true junior, he passed receiver Santana Moss as the school’s career leader in all-purpose yards last week with 4,427.

“They love to stretch the field and dump it to him on checkdowns and let him do his deal in space,” Foster said. “If I were them, I’d give him the ball about 20 to 30 times a game. I mean, the guy is a dynamic football player.”

He’s not alone. Yearby fits the same mold — 5-foot-9, 196 pounds — who has 317 rushing yards and a 7.4-yard average this season.

Dorsett, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior, leads the receiving corps with 550 yards on only 16 catches, a 34.4-yard average per catch. He has five touchdowns of at least 28 yards, a challenge to a Tech secondary that’s been prone to big plays.

Meanwhile, true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has shown steady improvement, cutting down on his interceptions and improving his completion percentage. He’s thrown for 1,806 yards and 16 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

That means the Hokies will need to be sharp with their tackling, something that wasn’t the case at times last week against Pittsburgh.

I don’t think I’ve every seen a group as fast as those guys.
— Torrian Gray, Virginia Tech

That might be a challenge, too. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy needs surgery on his injured knee and will miss the remainder of the season, and linebacker Chase Williams, the team’s leading tackler, will miss the game after suffering a knee injury at Pitt.

Redshirt freshman Andrew Motuapuaka will make his first career start on Saturday. He’s played only about 30 snaps.

“Where we’re going to miss is Chase is that leader,” Foster said. “Even though this is his first year starting, he’s got a lot of understanding of steps, understands the defense, knows how to communicate and get everybody set up.

“Right now Andrew is a little quiet, not a very vocal guy. He’s got to be more of a take-charge guy. I’m counting on Andrew [to lead]. He’d better, or he’s going to be standing by me.”

Despite last week’s loss, the Hokies didn’t necessarily play bad on defense. Pitt finished with 331 yards, but it was the explosive plays — a 59-yard pass to Tyler Boyd and a 49-yard run by quarterback Chad Voytik, in particular — that proved costly.

Give the Canes that inch and they’ll go the distance.

“It’s a play away or two that makes a difference,” Foster said. “You miss a tackle, they can go 80 yards on you.”

From Tonight — Coach Beamer on Duke Johnson, “He’s a fantastic player”:

— Tech Talk LIVE! (@VT_TTL) October 21, 2014

Scott Harrigan
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