82F Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, VA
Virginia Tech's stellar defense helped lessen the pressure on quarterback Logan Thomas in his first few games as a starter.
Lately, Thomas has been returning the favor.
With the defense thin because of injuries, Thomas and the 16th-ranked Hokies' offense has stepped up with a pair of outstanding performances, a trend they'll try to continue Saturday when they host struggling Boston College.
Virginia Tech (6-1, 2-1 ACC) has one of the nation's stingiest defenses, ranking 15th in total defense (298.1 yards per game) and eighth against the run (83.7). It's allowed 16.4 points per game and has recorded 22 sacks.
Those numbers are particularly impressive given the rash of injuries it's been dealing with. Tackle Antoine Hopkins (knee) and linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (foot) are out for the season, while defensive end James Gayle did not play in a 38-17 win over Wake Forest last Saturday because of a sprained left ankle.
The Hokies lost another starter in cornerback Jayron Hosley, who suffered a hamstring injury in the first quarter. He has 27 tackles and leads the team with three interceptions.
It's unclear if Gayle and Hosley - who were replaced by sophomore Tyrel Wilson and freshman Detrick Bonner, respectively - will be available against the Eagles.
Coach Frank Beamer said there were some positives to take from the defense's performance against the Demon Deacons, but some of his younger players seeing time still have plenty of room to improve.
"We had a couple of freshmen in there and they showed that they were freshmen a couple of times," Beamer said. "We've got stuff that we need to get right. We've probably got too many young guys playing but that's what we've got right now."
Fortunately for Beamer and the banged-up defense, Virginia Tech's offense has been carrying the load since an ugly 23-3 loss to then-No. 13 Clemson on Oct. 1.
Thomas completed 23 of 25 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 win against Miami on Oct. 8, then threw for 280 yards and two scores in rallying his team from 10 down against Wake Forest. The sophomore also ran for two scores for a second straight game.
"He's always in control, he never gets rattled," Beamer said. "I like Logan a lot. ... As he learns more and more where he's going with the ball he gets more accurate."
Thomas could find it just as easy to put up big numbers against the Eagles defense.
Boston College (1-5, 0-3) continues to struggle, with its only victory coming against FCS Massachusetts on Sept. 24. The Eagles went into their bye week following a 36-14 loss at Clemson on Oct. 8.
Boston College, off to its worst start since 1991, has been outscored 137-72 in its five losses.
"The ball's not bouncing our way in all aspects of football," defensive end Max Holloway said. "Once we get that, we'll be rolling."
The Eagles finished the 2010 regular season with five straight wins after a 2-5 start, but any hopes of a similar bounce-back may be dependent on their defense mimicking that impressive group. After giving up 500 yards of offense to the Tigers, Boston College ranks 96th in the FBS in total defense (419.3 ypg) and 101st against the pass (261.8).
Last season, the Eagles finished 13th in total defense (309.7) - including No. 1 against the run.
Boston College has also been hurt by injuries, but unlike the Hokies, it doesn't have the depth to make up for it.
Defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, who had 7 1/2 tackles for a loss last season, has been limited to one game in 2011 because of a foot injury. The school is seeking a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for Ramsey and running back Montel Harris (knee), who rushed for a team-high 1,243 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The Eagles have turned it over 10 times in losing three straight to Virginia Tech by a combined score of 97-26, including a 19-0 defeat last year.