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Hokies’ line depth paying dividends for nationally ranked defense

- - Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech will don a camouflage ensemble in a salute to the military when it plays host to Marshall on Saturday.

Expect Marshall (2-1) to see the Hokies' defensive line no matter what it is wearing.

Virginia Tech (2-1) has relied on its deep and talented defensive front to turn opposing offensive lines from dams to spillways. It has been the vanguard for a defense that ranks second nationally in total yards allowed (190.7 per game), tackles for loss (29), passing yards allowed (106.3 per game) and interceptions (seven).

"It's been really fun getting back out there and playing this season," defensive end J.R. Collins said. "It was fun showing everybody we could be one of the top BCS programs."

In the Hokies' 15-10 win Saturday at East Carolina, the defense totaled seven sacks and three interceptions. It was an impressive tally considering ECU's offense was predicated on getting the ball out of quarterback Shane Carden's hands as quickly as possible.

"For right now with this football team, we've got a lot of defensive linemen and depth," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. "We've got some kids there that are athletic and I think experience is a wonderful thing there."

The starting four of Collins, James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy have combined for 103 starts. Collins and Gayle are redshirt seniors. Hopkins is a senior while Maddy is a junior. As good as those four have been, their backups — Tyrel Wilson, Woody Baron, Nigel Williams and Dadi Nicolas — have been revelations.

"Dadi Nicolas, he's really something out there," Beamer said. "He's long and he's got speed off that edge. ... You got Nigel Williams and Tyrel and Woody; we've got some kids there that are athletic."

Said Collins, "I think the depth over the course of the game gives our starters rest, since it's like we have eight starters. Whether it's the starters or the backups, you've got a lot of guys who are hungry and want to get after the quarterback."

In preparing for the up-tempo attacks of ECU and this week's opponent (Marshall led the nation in total plays last season), the defense is going up against two scout team with no breaks in between. Thanks to the depth and talent on the line, the Hokies have not had to worry much about substitutions among the linebackers and defensive backs.

"We did a good job rotating the defensive line in and everyone else doesn't rotate too much," linebacker Tariq Edwards said. "They play wonderful, you know. They're aggressive and they don't allow too much movement for the quarterbacks to get out of the pocket. They do a good job of keeping the linemen off the linebackers and the defensive backs."

Edwards said facing Alabama in the season opener set the tone for the defense. While the final score was 35-10, Alabama's offense accounted for just two touchdowns and its 206 total yards were its second-lowest total under Nick Saban.

And the Hokies appear to be improving with each week. The defense has permitted just one offensive touchdown since the Alabama game and ranks 10th nationally in third-down conversions, allowing 11 in 41 attempts.

When asked about his unit's impressive numbers, Collins shrugged and said all he knew was it was Tuesday and on Tuesdays, they have very difficult practices.

"This year, we're taking it one day at a time and punching the clock and taking care of the little things," Collins added. "As a group right now, we're not thinking too much where we're ranked. Right now, we've got a lot to work on. We've had success, but at the same time, there are a lot of things we've got to work on."