After an uninspiring victory over Old Dominion in Week 2, Virginia Tech has more than a few questions to answer moving forward. These three matchups will be an integral components to answering some of those questions.
Virginia Tech Offensive Line vs. Furman Defensive Line
The Hokies run game has been an issue dating back to last season. Through two games in 2019, it does not appear to have improved much.
As our Mike McDaniel discussed earlier this week, Virginia Tech ranks outside the top 100 in rushing yards per game and is averaging an atrocious 2.8 yards per carry.
Against Old Dominion, the run game was virtually non-existent in the first half. Other than a short touchdown run by freshman Keshawn King, there was no spark on the ground.
Some of the onus for these concerning numbers certainly falls on the running backs themselves. After all, they are the ones carrying the football and trying to make plays.
At the same time, the run blocking has not given them much to work with. The offensive line knows this, and they acknowledge that it is an area where they need to improve as a group.
“It’s not one guy, it’s not one group on the field,” said offensive line coach Vance Vice on the run blocking issues. “It’s a little bit of all of us just getting this run game to develop. We’ve got to help that as coaches.”
The good news for the Hokies is that Furman has not been a powerhouse this season when it comes to stopping the run. They conceded 215 yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average last week against Georgia State.
If the Hokies are going to have any success this season, they must get the run game going in a better direction. The offensive line will look to start them on that track this Saturday.
Darren Grainger vs. Virginia Tech Defensive Ends
Offense is definitely the strength of this Furman team, and it starts with quarterback Darren Grainger. His 311 yards and 4 touchdowns on 16 of 25 pass attempts led the Paladins to a near upset last week over Georgia State.
For the Hokies, the pass defense continued to improve from what we saw at the beginning of the Boston College game. Virginia Tech allowed only 122 yards through the air against Old Dominion.
Part of that success is due to the emergence of the cornerbacks. As expected, Caleb Farley has taken a step forward from last year. However, it is Jermaine Waller who was the standout player against the Monarchs.
Waller lined up against former teammate Eric Kumah for much of the game, and he held him in check as Kumah could only muster 3 catches for 24 yards in the game.
Even with the improved cornerback play, the secondary can not stay in coverage forever. That’s where the defensive ends come in.
Against Boston College, the lack of a pass rush allowed Anthony Brown to sit in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. So in some ways, the defensive ends were indirectly responsible for making the cornerbacks look a little worse than they actually are.
Last week, Virginia Tech’s pass rush improved. They were able to record five sacks, but only 1.5 of them came from the defensive ends. While Foster will probably draw up some blitzes that get linebackers and even corners into the mix, it is most important for the Hokies to get pressure from the defensive ends.
Emmanuel Belmar seems to have one spot locked up. He had a good outing against Old Dominion as he recorded 5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and 1.5 tackles for loss.
On the other side, Tyjuan Garbutt’s injury has thrown a wrench into the plans. While it was Jaevon Becton who took over for him in Week 1, Jaylen Griffin looked like the better player in Week 2. Look for Griffin to get significant time against Furman.
Virginia Tech Defensive Tackles vs. Furman Running Backs
On the interior line, it has been almost the opposite of the defensive ends. The Hokies defensive tackles looked solid in game 1, but they were suspect at times against Old Dominion.
Virginia Tech allowed Old Dominion to rush for 202 yards in the game, and more than half of them came in the second half. While Lala Davis had an impressive 81 yards on 11 carries, it was mobile QB Stone Smartt who put the Monarch’s running game over the edge.
Mobile quarterbacks have routinely been a problem for Bud Foster led defenses. Considering Furman runs at least some of their offense out of a triple option set, that could certainly come into play this week.
Virginia Tech’s starters on the defensive line have played well. Jarrod Hewitt has been the veteran of the group, and JUCO transfer DaShawn Crawford is off to an impressive start.
After those two guys, the Hokies get really young really quickly. The two backups who have gotten the most playing time, Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks, are both true freshman. Redshirt sophomore Robert Porcher also showed promise last week if he can stay healthy.
Much like the offensive line, the defensive line is talented but young. Against a team who runs some triple option, it is very important to cycle defensive players so they won’t get gassed. For that reason, Virginia Tech will need solid performances from their young tackles to prevent Furman from having better opportunities when Hewitt and Crawford aren't on the field.
In addition, Furman has a couple of capable running backs. Devin Wynn had 83 carries on 13 yards last Saturday, and Corey Watkins added 41 yards on 7 carries.
Those two backs, along with the running threat from quarterback Darren Grainger, will provide a stiff test for the Hokies. They will look to contain the Paladins on the ground as much as possible.
To sum it all up, Virginia Tech has a lot to prove this Saturday against Furman. After two underwhelming performances, Hokies fans are longing for a convincing win. There are a few things that Virginia Tech needs to do if they want to achieve that goal.
First, the offensive line needs to create holes for the running backs. Second, the defensive ends need to put pressure on the quarterback. Lastly, the defensive tackles need to stifle the ground game.
If Virginia Tech can do those things, they will have a good chance at success against Furman.