One of the biggest keys for Virginia Tech in its season opener against Boise State is whether or not its defense can get pressure on Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore. The Hokies have a strong secondary, but Moore is a great quarterback who will pick them apart if he's given time to sit in the pocket.
The Hokies will need to get pressure on Moore to be successful on Labor Day, but they have to replace their top three pass rushers from 2009: Defensive ends Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown and whip linebacker Cody Grimm. The Hokies will need to find someone, anyone, who can get to Moore if they want to avoid a third consecutive opening-game loss.
The Broncos' high-powered offense actually ran 50 more run plays than pass plays last year. However, they had 69 more pass plays than run plays in the first half. Boise typically had the game in hand by halftime and ran the ball in the second half to secure victory. Boise will take to the air when the game is in doubt, so the Hokies need to get to Moore, particularly in the first half.
Unlike Tech, which gave up 31 sacks in 2009, the Broncos do an excellent job of protecting Moore and he does a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly. Boise State gave up five sacks last season, the fewest in the country. So who will be the guy to get to Moore? Hopefully, it will be Steven Friday.
Friday is the heir apparent at defensive end for the Hokies. He is a redshirt senior who spent 2009 as the Hokies' No. 3 end and recorded 3.5 sacks, including half a sack against Alabama. He had a great spring and was named the team's most improved defensive player for spring ball.
He's also won a lot of fans with his play during August practice, including our own Josh Parcell, who is certain he's destined for a big year. He's also won over defensive line coach Charley Wiles, told Kyle Tucker he expects the senior to be one of the league's top pass rushers.
Everyone has plenty of confidence in Friday, but the fact remains we haven't seen him play every down. Until he gets into the fire against Boise State we don't really know what we have in him. Hopefully, he'll be the next great pass rusher for Virginia Tech, following Worilds, Chris Ellis and Darryl Tapp.
Tech's hybrid pass-rushing linebacker is in charge of causing general havoc and chaos and making opposing quarterbacks' life difficult. Cody Grimm was so good at it the last two years we here at Gobbler Country nicknamed him the Deathbacker. And while you all voted to retire the "Deathbacker" moniker with Grimm's departure, I'm going to cheat a little bit.
Instead of calling the whip spot "Deathbacker," I'm going to go with Dethbächer. It's just different enough, but it gets the point across. This year's Dethbächer looks like it will be Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. No. 2 whip Alonzo Tweedy missed the first part of the preseason with a groin injury and the No. 3, Lorenzo Williams, is out for the year.
The knock on JGW is that he isn't as imposing physically as Tweedy. But he has a better knowledge of the offense and is rarely out of position. That will be a big key against Boise State. But what about getting to the passer? Tweedy possesses more speed than JGW, which makes you think that'd he'd be a better pass rusher. However, as we learned watching Grimm, you should never underestimate a kid who has a knack and instinct for getting to the football.
You don't usually think of quarterback pressure coming from defensive tackles. But against Boise State this could be an X-factor for the Hokies.
Kevan Lee from OBNUG said the worst kind of pressure for Moore was pressure from up the middle. It was a good pass rush from the middle that forced Moore to throw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown against Louisiana Tech last season. That game saw LT play the Broncos tough for three and a half quarters before Boise State put them away with two late touchdowns.
The Hokies have a defensive tackle who may be able to get to Moore. John Graves is a taller, leaner DT than most teams employ, but is still one of the best we've seen at Tech. His size may hurt him slightly in rush defense, but it certainly can help him when it comes to getting to the quarterback. He recorded only one sack last year (against Tennessee) but was still able to harass opposing QBs.
If he can get through the Broncos' interior line and get to Moore, it would be the best thing for the Hokies. Not only would it provide the QB pressure Tech needs, but it would also take some of the burden off Friday and JGW allowing them to ease into the most important game of their careers.
Boise State's offensive line typically does a good job of keeping Moore's jersey clean. The battle between the Broncos' line and the Hokies' front seven will be the one to watch on Labor Day and winning that battle will be important for both teams.