CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Carolina blue tie knotted loosely, briefcase in tow, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster faced the media jackals Saturday. The snarl, confidence and profanity that marked Monday's post-practice rant were nowhere to be found.
"Shoot," he said, welcoming questions.
There was only one place to start.
"A long day at the office," he said. "I thought our tackling was pitiful."
Hard to argue with either point.
The defense that Foster so fiercely defended less than a week ago was powerless in a 48-34 loss at North Carolina.
Moreover, after three losses in four weeks, games in which the Hokies yielded 537, 495 and 533 yards, not mention 110 points combined, it's beyond safe to say:
Virginia Tech (3-3, 1-1 ACC) has serious defensive issues.
Not only is this unusual terrain for Foster, among the nation's most accomplished coordinators, it comes at a shocking time.
Last season the Hokies ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, 10th in total defense. They returned nine starters from that group, and while position changes created some questions in the secondary, even Foster thought his front four was talented and deep enough to be among the college game's elite.
No, the biggest doubts about this Tech squad centered on the offense. But Saturday, it was the offense frantically attempting to bail out the defense.
"It's tough," quarterback Logan Thomas said, "but they've done it for us plenty of times. So we understand."
"It's very frustrating," said end James Gayle of Bethel High. "I came to Virginia Tech because we're known to play great defense. I feel like today we let the team down."
The defense faltered in losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as well, but this was worse.
North Carolina sophomore Giovani Bernard rushed for 262 yards, the most ever by a Hokies opponent. He had runs of 51 and 62 yards, the latter for a touchdown on a fourth-and-1, and eight other carries that netted at least 10 yards.
The Tar Heels rushed for 339 yards overall, their most in eight years. A.J. Blue, Bernard's backup, averaged 7.1 yards a pop, had a long of 34 and scored twice.
"Too many missed tackles on the perimeter," Foster said. "We've got to get back to the basics, and that comes back on me. … I thought we had a good plan. We've got to make plays in space right now. That's what we're not doing. … Most defenses are designed to have a free hitter, and when you have a free hitter, you'd like him to make the play."
The low was Bernard's 62-yard jaunt. He went untouched off left tackle to break a 14-all, second-quarter tie.
"They tricked us a little bit," Gayle said. "They waited until the last second to line up and showed a formation we hadn't seen all game."
Foster bristled at the suggestion.
"That's a cop out," he said. "Go execute. Go perform."
The Hokies weren't much better against the pass as Carolina operated the spread, no-huddle attack designed by first-year head coach Larry Fedora. After misfiring on his first five throws, Bryn Renner completed 17-of-25 for 194 yards and a touchdown.
And now: consecutive games against Duke, Clemson, Miami and Florida State, teams that as of deadline Saturday night were a combined 19-3.
"It's just execution issues," said cornerback Antone Exum, one of the few Hokies who played better Saturday than last week against Cincinnati. "Too many little things add up to big play. I haven't lost any confidence in myself, in my teammates, in my coaches, any of that stuff. We just have to get out there and get it done as one.
"It's more disappointing that we haven't performed to the standard that we can. I really do believe that it's around the corner. … Guys are angry that we're not performing as well as we should. … It's my job … as a leader to stay upbeat, remain confident and let the guys know this isn't the end."
Foster worries about the confidence Exum insists he has.
"Playing with passion, having confidence, having trust in each other," he said. "I think that's an issue right now a little bit."
How to re-establish that faith in one another?
"That's a good question," Foster said. "We're going to find that out."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times