COACH FOSTER: First of all, it's great to see so many show up this bright and early here in New Orleans. But we're excited to be here. I'm really proud of our kids and for our kids. We've really worked hard as a football team, as a defense.
We're a young group. And I think that's one exciting thing about us. But, you know, we're excited about the opportunity, though, to play one of the premier programs in all of college football, the winningest program, in the University of Michigan.
We're real excited to be here. It's my fourth time here at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And it's been a great experience and this is obviously we feel the best, if not the best, of all the Bowl games, and we're really excited to be here and representing Virginia Tech obviously and the ACC.
Q. Wonder if you could speak to (DB) Kyle Fuller's versatility. You had to use him a lot of different places and seems like he shored things up for you a little bit.
COACH FOSTER: He has. We have had some injuries at our whip position, which is our outside linebacker, hybrid strong safety type outside linebacker position. And Kyle played it last year at times.
But this year he was going to be our nickel package player and fit that position. We played him a little bit more than what we wanted to, really. But he's played a lot of positions for us. He's played obviously our corner position. He's played our whip position.
He has really had a great football season for us. In my opinion, I think he's our MVP. If I had my pick, he just made some big plays at opportune times, and some important times and key games for us. And I'm really, really proud of him. He's just one of those -- he's just a complete football player. And he's had a heck of a year for us.
Q. Can you talk about the positions he's played, looks like maybe he has to have some football smarts? Is it hard to go from position to position in your defense?
COACH FOSTER: I think he brings a couple things to the table with that, besides ability, he does have great football smarts -- It runs in his family.
His brother played for us and has played in the NFL for several years. But he's just a very instinctive guy. He has, like I said, a very good football IQ and mentality. Studies the game. And then he has a good skill set as far as what you're looking for to play a couple of positions.
He's got good size for a defensive back. He's a good tackler, and then having played the position a year before, I think, was more comfortable for him playing that whip position, that nickel type position for us.
Q. You've had so much success. Is there a way you would classify your defense? Is there a certain term or a certain way you would describe the way you run it?
COACH FOSTER: You know, we've tweaked it over the years. We've done a lot of different things. We've been very versatile over the years. You know, I'd like to think that we have been an attacking aggressive style defense over time.
I think we've tweaked things because of what offenses have done and how offenses have changed. I think we've done a good job over the years of changing with them and adapting to the different styles that you're seeing today.
But, still, we've always liked to be a pressure-type package. I think we used to be a blitz pressure team years ago and I think we're a unit now that I like to think we can pressure a couple different ways. We can pressure you with hopefully our front four. We can pressure you with the blitz package.
But then I think we're a little more unique nowadays than maybe a lot of people, is we do a variety of things from a coverage standpoint that I think a lot of teams at this level do not do.
And I think so we can add coverage pressure as well. So I think that makes us a little bit more unique than maybe some teams.
Q. You have a huge task ahead of you with the Michigan quarterback, very, very mobile in a lot of different ways. Is it possible, though, to get too wrapped up in trying to scheme for him and it's kind of a multi-headed beast there?
COACH FOSTER: It is. And Denard has had a great year and is a great athlete and dynamic player with the ball in his hand. And unfortunately throws the ball a little better than I want him to.
We played some guys over the years, the Pat Whites and guys of that nature when we played them they were dynamic ball carriers, and you want -- if you stop the run, then I think you gained a huge advantage.
And I'm not for sure that's the case right now. You know, Michigan has an outstanding corps of receivers, they catch the ball. They have a couple of guys that can really stretch the field. And that sets up, if they can run the ball, sets up their play action and ability to throw it down the field.
But then the Toussaint kid is really a dynamic player as well. I think if you're focused on Denard, then Toussaint's going to expose you. And he reminds us of a lot of guys -- we had a kid, Brandon Ore, played for us was a dynamic tailback that's who he reminds me of. The same size and same explosiveness, and we've got to do a good job. There's two tailbacks it's a two-headed beast at tailback and Michigan they're physical up front. They have fourth and fifth-year guys up there. And I think that's one of their strengths is obviously that group and their cohesiveness there.
And then to have those two guys that are touching the ball a lot, you know, that are breakaway threats every time they have it in their hand, that really creates a problem for defenses.
Q. I guess staying at the same school for so long you said you've changed over the years, how have you been able to mold the defense and how much has it really changed?
COACH FOSTER: You know, it's changed a lot but it hasn't changed a lot. Our terms and techniques and all those things haven't changed.
We've probably gone -- we were more of an eight-man front group in the mid-90s through probably the mid-2000s. You were seeing a lot more two-back offenses then at that time.
And now, even though it's one back, it's a lot of two-back offenses, you know, with the quarterback, the way that position has changed.
But, you know, we're probably a little more configured from a more 4-3 alignment and screw down to eight-man front principles and that type of thing when we need to or the offense presents itself that way. But, you know, we've just tweaked things year in, year out, we're always trying to make it a little bit better. We're always having to adjust to the offense but at the same time we like people to have to ?? we don't want the offense to dictate what we do as much as what we want to try to dictate to an offense. And that's one thing we've been able to do over the years. And I think that's been ?? it has allowed our success that we have been able to put pressure on an offensive football team.
Q. Coach, you touched on their offensive front a little bit. Talk about trying to scheme around their, well, A, experience, but, B, that size. And are there ways you can overload and frustrate or do something to neutralize that?
COACH FOSTER: Well, without giving away anything we're wanting to do, we obviously have to get off on the football and be physical. That's what they're going to do. That's one thing I've been impressed with, is just their toughness and their play. They play for 60 minutes. And that's one thing we've really prided ourselves in over the years is being a team that's going to play from the opening whistle to the final whistle and play hard.
I think that's a credit to the coaches to Coach Hoke and I've got a lot of respect for Al. We've battled with each other a couple different times. And, you know, you can see that they've done a great job adapting to their talent. But then, you know, there's nothing real fancy about them either. They're going to line up and hit you in the mouth and be physical, play in, play out, and that's what we've got to be able to do. We've got to be able to match that and this is going to be a great challenge for us but also a great opportunity, because we do have a young defense.
And it's going to be -- we need to -- whoever wins the line of scrimmage is going to win the football game. And obviously that's a tremendous challenge for us, but as I've also told our kids it's a great opportunity.
Q. Was there ever an offensive trend that you found most difficult to devise a counter punch to?
COACH FOSTER: I think the trend right now is more difficult, you know, with that quarterback position now becoming a tailback position. I mean, obviously you have guys that can throw, used to be you're playing 11 on 10 and you weren't worried about that quarterback other than him throwing the ball. And occasional scrambler. Now you're getting teams, like with Michigan, and even in our offense a little bit, you're getting that quarterback -- they're making it 11 on 11. Defensively, you're always trying to have one extra defender than they have blocker so you get a free hitter to make the play. Now they're getting an extra blocker on that or on that free hitter, so to speak, with the quarterback being the ball carrier. And then having a guy that's a dynamic athlete that if you get him in space, you know, create a big play.
And I think right now it's challenging because of the spread offenses and just the dynamic of that position at quarterback; that that guy can present a lot of problems, not just with throwing the football, but running and doing the different things, because you're seeing all different kinds of running back plays with the quarterback position, quarterback isos, quarterback draws, quarterback counters. Tackle traps. Misdirection plays. A lot of different things. And that makes you -- you have to be very sound in your assignments and your gap responsibilities. And then be good players in space.
And I think that's kind of what's happening to college football not that I'm going to say it's a basketball -- it's becoming that kind of game. But it is, it's creating a lot of -- putting a lot of athletes in space and you've got to have great defenders on our side of the ball to negate that type of offense.
Q. Coach, you spoke to the youth of your defense. How does this unit compare to the ones you've coached in the past?
COACH FOSTER: That's a good question. Obviously we've made big strides this year. Last year was probably a year that from a statistics standpoint was very, very average for us.
This year, you know, I'm not even for sure where we are. I think we're in the top 12 or 15 in a lot of categories, if not most of them. But that's still not where we want to be yet.
But we've made tremendous strides from last year to this year. Started back in January when we came back from our previous Bowl game. I didn't think we played a great second half. But I think part of our youth we were very young last year, and I think it was exposed a little bit and our kids have -- they've made a commitment and we made a commitment that we need to take that next step.
And we've taken that. Now, are we where we want to be? No. Have we made big strides? Yes. But this is -- you know, I'm proud of our kids. We had to overcome some really significant injuries this year. We lost probably arguably our best football player in (LB) Bruce Taylor.
You know, we lost probably our best defensive lineman in Antoine Hopkins. We lost Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, who was playing extremely well early on at our whip position, which kind of started getting us rolling with some position changes. But those were significant losses, along with some other guys throughout the course of the year.
And that's where I was really proud of, more importantly, was how our kids responded, how they stepped up in the game of football. I'm always telling these guys you're a play away from being a guy because it's such a physical game. And our guys responded. And that's probably the one thing I'm most proud of.
Now, I hope we'll continue to grow and be the type of defense we want to be. We're going to have to be that type of defense in the third, but I'm really proud of our kids and how they responded this year.
Q. Did the youth handicap you from doing as much attacking that you wanted to do?
COACH FOSTER: You know, not necessarily. I think there was at certain times there were certain things. And a lot of that is just the information that you get from the kids in practice and things of that nature.
And so I thought our kids really responded and stepped up. And the young kids that played for us, obviously they grew up quite a bit for us and were mentally ready to play.
And so for the most part, yeah, we were able to do most of what we were wanting to do.