July 26, 2005

Defense is the thing in ACC

HOT SPRINGS, Va. - Virginia Tech defensive end Darryl Tapp is an imminently quotable player. He freely tosses out opinions and usually does so with a hearty laugh.

His demeanor is almost always the same but when asked about the ACC's overall defensive prowess during the ACC kickoff, Tapp got serious.

"I was always told that offense wins games but defense wins championships. That speaks for itself," Tapp said firmly.

The Hokies should know. Virginia Tech ranked second in the ACC and fourth in the nation in total defense in 2004, allowing just 268 yards per game.

Of course, the Hokies' defensive prowess was reflective of an overall trend for the league.

In 2004, nine of the ACC's eleven schools were ranked were with in the nation's top-28 in terms of total defense. N.C. State was first (221.4 yards per game) and was followed by Virginia Tech, Florida State (7th), Georgia Tech (12th), Virginia (18th), Maryland (21st), Clemson (26th) and Miami (28th).

The numbers remain similar when browsing the other defensive categories such as rushing defense, passing defense and scoring defense. Again, ACC teams dotted the top levels of those statistics as well.

"Certainly last season the defenses were dominant. Each year it's a new thing and we'll see what happens this season," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen.

What may happen is that the defenses will actually be better.

Glancing at the rosters of the 12 league schools, the plethora of defensive talent is startling. Names like Mathias Kiwanuka (Boston College), Ahmad Brooks (Virginia), Mario Williams (N.C. State), D'Qwell Jackson (Maryland), Ernie Sims (Florida State), Tapp and the list goes on and on. All are on the defensive side of the ball and quite frankly it is much tougher to rattle off the league's offensive standouts.

Charlie Whitehurst? Marques Hagans? Those guys play offense, right?

"The defenses are very tough. This is definitely more of a defensive league. There are many great defensive players coming back and many of them are going to be playing in the league [NFL]," said Hagans, Virginia's starting quarterback by the way.

As talented as the ACC's defenses are, their dominance is only enhanced by the relative inexperience of the ACC's offenses. As many as five league schools will be trotting out quarterbacks who will be starting for the first time and that could create almost a perfect storm for the ever-ready ACC defenses.

"When you have a lot of new quarterbacks, I think that plays right into the defense's hands. … We expect to have a strong defense this season but I think almost every coach here can say the same thing," said Miami coach Larry Coker.

Like Friedgen, Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, believes that a league's trends go in cycles. This year the defense is the thing but that does not dismiss the possibility of the return of the offense in future years.

"It goes in cycles. Some years the offense will dominate and some years it will be the defensive. Right now, it's the defense," Grobe said. "I think some of it has to do with the varied defenses we have in this league. Some used man blitz, others use zone blitz. Some are 4-3 teams and some are 3-4. … It makes it difficult week in and week out for offenses to adjust."

Alas, it was Tapp that provided perhaps the perfect statement on the numerous defensive stars in the ACC in 2005.

"There are so many good players. They're everywhere. You want to be the best and many of the best are right here in the ACC," Tapp said. "You want to keep up with them. You know that when you are sitting down to watch TV, those other guys are out working out and doing push-ups. They're pushing themselves and that makes you push yourself to keep up with them."

And how has that changed Tapp's regimen?

"I don't a lot of push-ups while I watch TV," Tapp said.


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