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NEW ORLEANS -- In the Sugar Bowl, Michigan's offense will try to move the ball against a defense touched by the hand of a man with divine powers.
At least that's how Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitley views Hokies coordinator Bud Foster. Calling the shots on units that continuously rank among the best in the nation, Foster is revered as somewhat of a legend in Blacksburg, Va., where he's spent the last 25 years serving under his college coach, Frank Beamer.
Since Foster became its coordinator 16 years ago, Virginia Tech has allowed only 16.4 points per game and has ranked in the top five of a major defensive category 35 times. In that time, Foster has coached at least one player who received All-America honors from some publication. So what makes this guy so special?
"Man, I don't know, he's like the god of defensive coaches," Whitley said Friday. "It's crazy. He has it down to a T. If you learn it, it's easy after that. You just want to play ball."
This season has been one of Foster's finest coaching jobs yet. Expectations seemed to be tempered entering fall camp because the Hokies, for the first time in a while, were merely average defensively in 2010. Then, injuries began mounting. In October alone, Foster lost three starters -- linebacker Bruce Taylor, whom he believes is the team's best player; Antoine Hopkins, the defense's best lineman; and linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. The end results belied the severity of the situation. Entering Tuesday, the Hokies are ranked seventh in scoring defense -- tied with Michigan at 17.2 points per game -- and 15th in total defense at 313 yards per game.
"Even though we've been hit by the injury bug, we've still been able to perform," linebacker Tariq Edwards said.
As offenses have evolved over the years, so has Foster's defense. For about a 10-year stretch from the mid 90s to the mid 2000s, he said he employed mostly eight-man fronts to stop teams that were predicated on power running. With the advent of the dual-threat quarterback, which he'll see in Michigan's Denard Robinson, Foster was forced to rethink his approach and send blitzers from a multitude of spots. One thing has remained constant through the years -- pressure.
"He caters to his players," Whitley said. "He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, and he's going to try to put us in the best situation to make a play."
Tuesday will be the second time Foster has matched wits with Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges. In fact, the other time they met came in the 2005 Sugar Bowl when Borges and Auburn capped an undefeated season with a 16-13 win over the Hokies.
In a sense, Borges feels at a disadvantage in Tuesday's rematch. Sure, Robinson will cause Foster fits all night, but Michigan's offense has been in place for less than a year. Foster, conversely, has been modifying what the Hokies do since 1995.
"You'll see with us, as we run our offense more and more, and it evolves more and more, it gets easier for the kids to understand, simply because they've just done it more," Borges said. "And you're not teaching ever little tiny thing. They understand some of the tiny things and you can start dealing more with nuance and things like that. And I think Bud's at that point because he's been there so long."
It's surprising, given all of his success, that Foster hasn't moved on. Other schools have approached him with offers to be their head coach or coordinator, but the 52-year-old seems content "working for the best football coach in America" in Beamer. The two have been together for the past 31 years, which doesn't count the two seasons Foster played for Beamer at Murray State.
"The grass isn't always greener on the other side," Foster said. "Like I said, I've had plenty of opportunities. I've got a great contract and all those things. That's part of it. But a big part is we've worked very hard to get this program to where it is right now."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.