Turning turnovers into TDs
Hokies discover winning recipe
BLACKSBURG, Va. - The ball is snapped, thrown, and intercepted. Then the Virginia Tech defense goes on the offensive.
The defender closest to the ball zeros in on the intended receiver, the player most likely to tackle the ballcarrier. Every other defender puts a body on someone.
Several times a week, No. 8 Virginia Tech (7-1, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) spends a few minutes at practice working on turning turnovers into touchdowns without the offense taking a snap.
"With us, we want to score," said linebacker Xavier Adibi, who has two touchdowns in his career. "Any time you've got a chance to get the ball, and any time you get the ball, we want to get the ball into the end zone. We practice it all the time.
"It's no mistake why it happens in the game."
Virginia Tech might need some scoring from its defense tonight when quarterback Matt Ryan and No. 2 Boston College (7-0, 3-0) bring their national title hopes to Lane Stadium.
Defensive and special teams touchdowns have become calling cards of the Hokies under coach Frank Beamer.
Wisely, opponents spend plenty of time trying to prevent the mistakes.
"Tough defense. There's no question about that," Ryan said. "Very tough defense and they always thrive on turnovers and taking the ball away from the offense."
Protective measures notwithstanding, the Hokies still have produced 72 defensive touchdowns since Beamer arrived 21 years ago, as well as 40 special teams TDs.
It's the kind of style that has helped lure talent to southwest Virginia.
"It's a big attraction," Adibi said. "When you watch them on TV, you see a bunch of guys playing with a lot of emotion and just having a lot of fun. When you see that as a young guy, you feel like that's the kind of defense you want to be a part of."
Some coaches don't like their defenders trying to do too much after making a turnover, figuring they aren't accustomed to having the ball in their hands.
Beamer, who also coaches special teams for the Hokies, couldn't disagree more.
"To me, when you get an interception, it's kind of like when you block a kick. You've got the advantage in most cases," he said, explaining that the number of people in position to tackle a defender after a turnover is low, and easily neutralized.
"If you organize it a little bit and try to get the people most likely to make a tackle, you've got a chance to score with it or at least get better field position."
Making the plays makes them feel like Hokies. Defenders often react to their first touchdown with relief, having erased a fear they would never join the club. Twenty players have at least two defensive TDs under Beamer.
Linebacker Cam Martin is still waiting for his first one.
"Whenever you can go out there and get a takeaway, just a turnover, it's always fun, but when you can turn that turnover into a touchdown, it just gets you stirred up inside," Martin said. "If you get the opportunity, it's your job to convert on it."
In a season when the Hokie offense has struggled, the defense often has risen at the most opportune times. Cornerback Victor Harris scored on a 17-yard interception return against East Carolina, giving the sluggish Hokies a 10-7 lead in a 17-7 victory.
In a big game at Clemson Sept. 29, D.J. Parker returned an interception 32 yards for a score just 1:10 into the game, Eddie Royal later scored on an 82-yard punt return, and Harris returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score. The Hokies won, 41-23.
The last two years, the Hokies have ranked No. 1 in total defense in the nation.
With Ryan considered among the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy and the Hokies unsure who their quarterback will be because of an injury to Tyrod Taylor, the defense expects to take on more responsibility.
"We know that we can shut this guy down and we really just can't wait to go out there on the field and show everybody what we can do," Adibi said. "We know he's an excellent quarterback, but at the same time, we're a good defense."