College Football Corner: It’s not just Virginia, Virginia Tech and Navy — defense is dismal

It’s not just Virginia, Virginia Tech and Navy who are having problems on the defensive side of the football this fall.

The Cavaliers allow 33 points per game; the Hokies cough up 37 per game, and the Mids surrender 36 a contest. But they’re not the only ones.

Take a look at the Cadillac of conferences, the SEC: West Division-favorite Alabama allowed 48 points in their win over Ole Miss; East Division contender Florida surrendered 41 at home in a defeat to Texas A&M, and defending national champ LSU coughed up 45 in a loss to Missouri, a program so disrespected they aren’t even allowed to be in the SEC West even though they’re west of the Mississippi River.

Points are no longer at a premium, and Saturdays are starting to resemble video games with both players using the cheat codes.

How can we explain the lack of defense?

Perhaps the pandemic has kept teams from practicing as much tackling and hitting — a defense gets better with practice.

Rules have been tailored over the years for offenses to be more productive, because more scoring attracts the casual fan. And the better athletes are steered towards the offensive skill positions from the very start.

But is this good for the game? I love highlights and scoring as much as the next guy, but what’s the point in watching a movie without a worthy villain? I hardly yearn for 9-6 and 14-12 games, but it’d be nice to see games in the 20’s. At this rate, I might soon be wishing to see games in the 30s.

No. 19 Virginia Tech (2-1) fell at No. 8 North Carolina 56-45.

It took a while for the Hokies to wake up — they trailed 21-0 before recording a first down. While the offense was able to eventually get in gear, the defense that allowed 31 points the week before was exposed again.

  • Hokie Highlights: Hendon Hooker showed minimal rust, throwing for two touchdowns while also running for a score. Khalil Herbert rumbled for 138 yards and two touchdowns. I’m sure Les Miles wishes the former Jayhawk had stayed in Lawrence (Kansas is 0-3 and averaged 2.5 yards per carry in their Oct. 3 47-7 loss to Oklahoma State).
  • Hokie Humblings: The defense was gashed early and often, allowing five touchdowns on seven first-half possessions. When they weren’t betting burned by the pass (UNC completed 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards), the run defense was allowing 399 yards to the tune of 9.3 per carry. It was a combination of bending and breaking, as the Tar Heels converted six of 10 third downs while also having scoring plays of 43 and 62 yards.

Next: Saturday at 8 p.m. at 3-1 Boston College.

Virginia (1-2) also started slow, falling behind N.C. State 24-0 before losing 38-21.

All eyes will be on quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who left with a first-half injury. A solid quarterback situation has been a major factor in this program’s improvement — Kurt Benkert and Bryce Perkins made every start during their seasons at the helm. A quarterback carousel is the last thing head coach Bronco Mendenhall needs.

  • Cavalier Congrats: Lindell Stone came off of the bench for an injured Armstrong and threw for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Billy Kemp IV caught 10 more passes for 82 yards to remain the security blanket for whoever plays QB. D’Angelo Amos tallied 10 tackles as the defense held the Wolfpack to 3 of 13 on third down.
  • Cavalier Concerns: They had four turnovers on the day. Armstrong’s two interceptions led to 10 first half points for the Wolfpack, while Stone tossed a pick-six that buried UVa in the second half. The running game was limited to under three yards per carry.

Next: Saturday on the road against 1-2 Wake Forest at 4 p.m.

Navy (2-2) improved to 2-0 in the AAC by holding off Temple 31-29. Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo recorded his 100th win in 13 years guiding the program and was quick to deflect praise to his players.

While his current group of players might not be the equal of last year’s 11-2 team, the Mids will likely be a factor in the American Athletic Conference race.

  • Midshipman Medals: the offense scored on its first three possessions (the fourth began with under a minute left in the first half), rolling up 251 yards rushing. Nelson Smith tallied 120 yards and two touchdowns while the offense moved the chains on 8 of 14 third downs (they were also 4 for 4 on fourth down). The defense, which was without four injured starters, made big plays when it mattered: John Marshall recorded an interception in the red zone late in the first half while Terrell Adams deflected what would have been a game-tying two-point conversion. The kickoff return game put the Mids in decent field position on two of their TD drives. Bijan Nichols connected on a 50-yard field goal that proved to be the difference.
  • Midshipman Miscues: the defense that was minus four starters was pushed around for the majority of the evening, allowing 407 yards and scores on five of the Owls’ seven possessions. Temple converted 8-12 third downs and was 2-2 on fourth down. Four penalties, including a three personal fouls that helped move along three of the Owls’ four touchdown drives.

Next: Saturday on the road against 1-2 East Carolina at noon.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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