Reeling Hokies look to right ship

Bud Foster gathered his defense together at 6:45 a.m., just like always.

Instead of splitting the players up by position, however, Virginia Tech’s defensive coordinator kept them together, dissecting what is going wrong for the reeling Hokies.

In a season that started with high expectations, time is already running short. Foster’s defense, with seven new starters, has been burned by fundamental miscues like missed tackles and missed assignments.

“We were going over the calls, communicating together, just so you could feel each other and you could feel how it’s supposed to feel when you’re out there, how things were supposed to go,” cornerback Rashad Carmichael said. “He wasn’t really too much upset with us.”

Things weren’t expected to go like this.

The Hokies are off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 1995, including their first loss to a Football Championship Subdivision team — James Madison — in Frank Beamer’s 24 years as coach. They have fallen out of the Top 25 for the first time since late November 2008 and they play dynamic East Carolina (2-0) on Saturday at Lane Stadium.

The Pirates will arrive having averaged 50 points and 482 yards in victories against Tulsa and Memphis, but first-year Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill expects his team to be greeted by a Hokies team that is turning the corner.

“I know coach Beamer and have known him since 1989,” McNeill said this week. “I had a chance to go up there and study with him and his staff when I was at Appalachian State. Bud Foster, the defensive coordinator, is really a great, great coach.

“I know those guys are not happy with where they are and I know they will do a great job getting that team together.”

To Carmichael, that means continuing to boost the morale of the younger defenders the way his teammates did when he struggled in his first start two years ago. It came against the Pirates, and while he knew what he was supposed to do, it wasn’t always that simple.

“I was in that position where I knew what I was doing, knew what I was supposed to do, but when guys started motioning around, stuff started moving, your brain ties up your feet a little bit,” he said of the 2008 game. “You’ve been studying so much and watching so much, and then it happens and you’re like, ‘Man, I missed it.’ It all comes with experience.”

It would help, too, to get the offense that was supposed to carry the Hokies early in the season to start doing what it has been expected to do. Even with a roster loaded with skill position players like dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor, tailbacks Ryan William and Darren Evans and a big receiving corp led by Jarrett Boykin, the Hokies have struggled.

Much of that falls to the offensive line, which is also having communications issues.

“We give a lot of effort. Just sometimes, we don’t get on the same page,” center Beau Warren said. “After two losses like this, you have to come together. And execute.”

Getting the running game going will help, tight end Andre Smith said.

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