The volume of berating from defensive coordinator Bud Foster after Virginia Tech's 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh last Saturday isn't what bothered defensive end James Gayle. Every Tech defensive player had been chewed out by Foster before, so his postgame reaction stunned no one.
It was the defeated manner in which Foster criticized the team that struck a chord with Gayle. Foster didn't have the answers right away to explain why his defense didn't show up in a game where it gave up 537 yards, including 254 on the ground.
"I don't think I've ever seen coach Foster like that because I feel like this is probably one of the worst losses I've experienced," Gayle, a Bethel High grad, said. "It's kind of like they just ran the ball down our throat.
"Coach Foster was angry, but at the same time, I feel bad because I feel like we let him down."
Just like he did after a regular-season loss to Clemson last year when poor tackling was an issue, and similarly after shoddy tackling performances in 2010 losses to Boise State and James Madison, Foster sent his defense back to fundamental school this week in preparation for Saturday's game against Bowling Green State (1-2 overall, 0-1 Mid-American Conference).
On Tuesday, which is generally the most grueling practice of the week, Foster put his defense through intensive tackling technique instruction while going through middle drills — linebackers and defensive linemen against offensive linemen and backs.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who is one of Tech's best open-field tacklers, may not be 100 percent after suffering a right shoulder injury in the second quarter against Pittsburgh, but he's probable to play against Bowling Green.
Foster's goal is to make sure he didn't have the same reaction to his team's performance this weekend as he had last weekend.
"No intensity, no passion, inconsistent effort, lack of communication," said Foster, who has to go back to November 2002 to unearth the last time his defense gave up more yards (604) against an unranked opponent (at Syracuse in a 50-42 three-overtime loss).
In theory, Bowling Green should help Tech (2-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) regain some confidence on the defensive side of the ball. Bowling Green enters the game 95th in the nation in total offense (350.33 yards per game), and 112th in scoring offense (16.7 points per game).
After entering the fourth quarter in Gainesville, Fla., tied with Florida 17-14 in the season opener, Bowling Green went on to lose 27-14. Since then, Bowling Green has gone on to beat Idaho by eight at home, lose at Toledo by 12 — scoring just one first-half touchdown in both games combined.
Gayle said his primary ambition against Bowling Green, which has surrendered six sacks this season, is to generate a more productive pass rush. Tech has gotten pressure on quarterbacks, but it has only come up with four sacks, including a team-high two from Gayle.
Of course, playing against Georgia Tech's option offense in the season-opener didn't help Virginia Tech's sack numbers, but Virginia Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles detected a general malaise among his group last weekend just before the start of the Pittsburgh game.
"We'll take another butt-whoopin' if we ... look and watch and we're not chasing hard like it's the last play you're ever going to play," said Wiles this week.
While Gayle has inspiration to play with more focus against Bowling Green, Tech linebacker Bruce Taylor is coming into this weekend with a much clearer mindset than he had at Pittsburgh. He led Tech with 11 tackles against Pittsburgh, but he was playing with a heavy heart after dealing with the death of his grandmother earlier in the week.
"The week up until the game I just had a lot on my mind," said Taylor, who sat out of Tech's win against Austin Peay on Sept. 8 with an ankle injury. "It kind of affected me vocally, especially with me being out the week before and not even really practicing with the guys. … This week, I feel good."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun