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Virginia Tech Football: Can The Defensive Line Continue Early Success?

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After VT's great showing at Ohio State, can they continue the strong play?

Michael Shroyer

Just like everyone else Saturday, I was blown away with how well the Hokies dominated OSU on the line of scrimmage. Corey Marshall, Dadi Nicolas, Luther Maddy, Ken Ekanem and the rest of the DL showed us that despite the loss of Antonie Hopkins, J.R. Collins, James Gayle that VT's dominance on the defensive front could indeed continue. But still, the season is young and with ten games still to go Tech will still be tested to put THAT kind of pressure on opposing OLs and QBs. So can they do it?...

Let's take a look at the first two games. VT racked up 11 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss in their first two contests. Now of those numbers, 3.5 of those sacks and 5.5 of those tackles for loss are DL. The rest come from linebackers and defensive backs. But the stat that goes unnoticed is the QB hurries. I've had a hard time trying to find stat lines for the games with these statistics but it doesn't go unseen when I watched back gameplay. It's clear that VT is putting major pressure on W&M QB Steve Cluley and OSU QB JT Barrett, causing both to run from the pocket and into uncomfortable passing situations. All I can say is so far so good, but as you look forward to Saturday and beyond you see a unique set of challenges ahead.

1. ECU (Challenge: Moderate)

The Pirates are pretty young on the OL, and so far has faced a softer set of DLs, the first being a laugher against NC Central at home 52-7, but the second game was against South Carolina. ECU played well against SC, but the Gamecock DL isn't what it was when Javaeon Clowney was terrorizing QB's. South Carolina had been embarrassed by Texas A&M the previous week, exposing their weak "D." ECU has yet to face a front four like VT's and this match up bodes well for the Hokies as the front four should be able to pressure Shane Carden despite the no huddle quick snaps.

2. Georgia Tech (Challenge: Moderate)

The Yellow Jackets are always a headache considering that gawdy triple option always involves chop blocks (Yeah I said it, Let Paul Johnson complain about it). They'll cause some issues, but GT only has two starters back from last year's OL and was beset by transfers in the offseason affecting their depth and starting spots including starting QB Vad Lee. Georgia Tech has played a VERY vanilla schedule so far and struggled to both Wofford and Tulane, with Georgia Southern coming this weekend. VT will be the first big test for new starting QB Justin Thomas and the new OL starters.

3. Western Michigan (Challenge: Low)

This group is probably the statistically easiest group VT will play this season. Last year's team was 1-11. They've only played one game so far in which they hung with Purdue 43-34, so this group is really still an unknown. But the Hokies shouldn't have too much of a problem against them.

4. North Carolina (Challenge: High)

UNC's always a problem and despite some inexperience on their OL, I can almost guarantee that Carolina will cause a lot of issues. They return Landon Turner on their OL but that's the best they have back. Quarterback Marquise Williams is a problem to bring down and will give VT trouble when scrambling in the pocket and down the field. Plus this game is at UNC which just screams UNC UPSET POWER ACTIVATE!!!! That despite the Tar Heel's struggles against Liberty and San Diego State.

5. Pittsburgh (Challenge: EXTREME)

Pitt's tough enough in Blacksburg, now try to take them on at the Hokie House of Horrors Heinz Field. You also can count on Pitt's strong returning OL and desire to pound the ball out Wisconsin style with star tailback James Connor. You can spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E as far as putting pressure on Pitt. Four starters from last year return and they also have WR Tyler Boyd. This could be THE road game outside of OSU this year. Expect the VT DL to have to work for this one.

6. Miami, FL (Challenge:High)

The VT/UM game is always a fight so expect the best game from Miami at this point, especially if the 'Canes are desperate for a big win. They didn't perform as well as expected at Louisville, but it's still the "U" and THE U still has talent. The right side of the OL for Miami is relatively new, after they lost Brandon Linder and Seantrel Henderson. They didn't exactly shine at Louisville, but it's still early in the season and they have three starters with experience so expect Miami to improve as the season progresses and come into VT ready to play on a Thursday night.

7. Boston College (Challenge: EXTREME)

Boston College makes no secret that they have a well rounded OL and they pride themselves on it. BC has given VT so many headaches with their front five over the years in this series. BC has looked "OK" so far in their first two games, but it's not for the lack of OL play. I would attribute it more to lack of athletes. BC is part of the "upset club" and will give VT headaches again at Lane Stadium. If the Hokies are to be successful, they must for sure beat the same group that pushed them around last year at Chestnut Hill.

8. Duke (Challenge: Moderate)

Yes, Duke beat VT in Lane Stadium last year but I don't really blame the Defense as much as turnovers by Logan Thomas and a lack of offensive firepower. Duke lost two of their longer starting OLs from last season in Dave Harding and Perry Simmons. At this point Duke cannot recruit for depth like other programs do so VT will have chances to get mismatches against the Blue Devils. Still, the game's in Durham and David Cutcliffe's offenses are pretty effective so VT must get quick three and outs and not give Duke so many chances to win the game like they did last year in Lane.

9. Wake Forest (Challenge: Low)

Despite having three starters back at OL, Wake's in a bit of a rut right now. They're transitioning from Jim Grobe to Dave Clawson at head coach and suffered a tough loss to UL Monroe in week one. Wake's a bit of an enigma at this point but still VT will have mismatches against them as well. VT always plays well in Winston-Salem so Tech should be good in this game (Should is the key word here).

10. Virginia (Challenge: Moderate)

Virginia is much improved after seeing their first two games, but UCLA didn't exactly have a ferocious pass rush that will make you run for the hills. UVA depends much on the run game and despite lack of depth, still flourish on the front line. They have a tough group of tailbacks in guys like Kevin Parks and "Smoke" Mizzell so watch out for the run and short pass game against them. VT will have shots and will have the home crowd, but UVA will most likely play underdog in this game and create a challenge to VT.

The season still has a way to go and VT still has a lot to do. There's no doubt about it, the Hokies will need their pass rush to be as tough as it's been in the first two weeks. Can they keep this up? I Certainly hope so.