Virginia Tech’s defense is proving it has put last season’s disappointing performance behind it.
The 13th-ranked Hokies have a chance to continue improving as they host Arkansas State on Saturday.
With its offense struggling, Virginia Tech’s defense took over in a 17-10 win over East Carolina last Saturday, holding the Pirates to minus-15 yards rushing and 112 overall.
The Hokies (2-0) were coming off a 66-13 win over FCS school Appalachian State the week before in which they gave up 61 yards in the first half before putting in the backups.
Virginia Tech was just as dominating against a much better Pirates offense, recording five sacks and nine tackles for losses.
“It feels good to see our hard work pay off,” said linebacker Bruce Taylor, who was credited with six tackles.
Virginia Tech ranked 52nd in the FBS last year in yards allowed (361.5 per game), the first time it wasn’t among the top 15 since 2003. It ranked among the top 5 between 2004-07.
Getting the defense back to an elite status is important for the Hokies, who have an inexperienced quarterback in Logan Thomas. He had a rough game Saturday, completing 8 of 20 passes for 91 yards and an interception.
Although the offense needs to improve, Thomas has a talented cast behind him. Jarrett Boykin had a modest game against the Pirates, finishing with four catches for 48 yards, but he became the school’s all-time leader in receptions and needs 21 receiving yards to move past Antonio Freeman into second place on Virginia Tech’s all-time list.
David Wilson is also proving to be a big playmaker on offense. He’s quickly adjusted to his new role as starting tailback, rushing for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first two games while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He gained 49 yards during a 13-play, 89-yard drive for the go-ahead score.
“They had stopped us several times so coming back and re-establishing ourselves was important,” Wilson said. “Our offensive line and the backfield, we know we have to play four quarters. We weren’t giving up, because they played four quarters.”
The offense figures to look better against the unproven defense of Arkansas State.
Ryan Aplin completed 19 of 21 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns while Frankie Jackson ran for 101 yards and another score.
“Obviously we are thrilled to get a win,” first-year coach Hugh Freeze said. “But we’ll keep it in perspective, it’s one win in a 12-game schedule.”
Freeze was offensive coordinator for Arkansas State last year. The Red Wolves averaged 30.0 points and 403.4 yards of offense, but still finished 4-8.
Aplin will be key to keeping up those offensive numbers this year. He was a duel threat last year, passing for 2,939 yards while rushing for an additional 477. He’s tallied just 24 yards on the ground this year, but has passed for 564.
However, defense continues to be a concern. While Arkansas State contained a Tigers team that went 1-11 last season, it yielded 473 yards in the loss to Illinois.
Virginia Tech has won the previous three meetings between the teams by a combined 147-14, including a 63-7 rout in the most recent meeting in 2002.