The numbers seem incongruous.
Virginia Tech's defense ranks 27th nationally, allowing 325.6 yards per game, but is among the worst when it comes to giving up big plays. Only eight Division I schools, out of 128, have allowed more plays covering 20 or more yards than the Hokies, who have allowed 32.
The numbers are more than a little troubling for a program that has always had defense as its calling card.
''One of the basic rules of our defense is just don't give up the long play,'' coach Frank Beamer said this week. ''When you give them a long play, that's a lot of snaps that they didn't take. The more snaps they take, the better the percentages are with our defense that something good's going to happen.''
The Hokies (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have also struggled making big offensive plays of their own, with just 21 that covered 20 yards or more, and just seven that gained at least 30 yards.
They hope to do better on both fronts Saturday when they play at North Carolina (2-2, 0-1).
In one fewer game, the Tar Heels have 17 plays of 20-plus yards, and seven of 30-plus. On defense, they have been even worse than the Hokies, allowing 29 plays that covered 20 or more yards. They are ranked 124th in the nation, allowing 543 yards per game.
The numbers, however, can quickly get skewed by a missed assignment or other mistake.
''There's always going to be mistakes that you make and things that you can do better on,'' Hokies cornerback Kendall Fuller said, noting that the potent spread offense of No. 22 East Carolina and Georgia Tech's triple-option presented special challenges. ''I think against ECU and Georgia Tech and the type of offenses that they have, I think we still did pretty good. There might be three, four, five plays, you know, that we made mistakes on, but at this level, those three, four plays can cost you a game.''
Both teams are prime examples of how costly defensive mistakes can be for a team.
''Those are just mental mistakes,'' said North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, whose team has allowed nine plays of 40 or more yards and six that went for at least 50. ''They're not because they're base things, they weren't something that was exotic that we put in for that game. They were just basic mistakes.''
The Hokies would love to get their offense untracked with a few like that on Saturday.
Quarterback Michael Brewer and his wide receivers have grown frustrated with their inability to connect on many plays deep downfield, but Brewer says the good news is that aren't that far off.
They had a few near-misses last weekend in a 35-17 victory against Western Michigan.
''I bet we were about three or four plays away from scoring 50 something points, which is frustrating, but like I've said previously, it's frustrating but at the same time, it's there,'' Brewer said.
''It's not like we're talking about a lot of things we have to drastically improve on.''
AP sports writer Joedy McCreary contributed from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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