Virginia Tech suffered a disappointing 35-28 season-opening loss at Boston College that saw a defense have its struggles defending the pass but show plenty of promise defending the run. With that said, here's a few takeaways from the Hokies' defensive performance against Boston College.
1. Divine Deablo's Value Showed In This Game
Sometimes, a brief injury can magnify the value of a player and that's what Divine Deablo's brief absence in the first half did.
With Deablo injured briefly, the Hokies brought in Khalil Ladler and after their passing game attacking the Hokies' corners, Boston College was able to make a couple plays against Ladler. Now, Ladler has proven to be a solid DB when working out of the whip/nickelback role but he struggles in that free safety role, showing not only how good Deablo is at that position but also his value to an even greater degree.
Part of it is due to the combination of athleticism and size that Deablo brings that helps him guard larger tight ends and jumbo slot receivers, something that came to light when Ladler struggled against jumbo receivers. Deablo has also developed into a fairly reliable player working in man coverage against that type of receiver.
Combine that with Deablo just having a high football IQ and being very effective as a zone coverage over the top safety who can also come up into the box and he becomes a very hard player to replace.
Now Tyree Rodgers might be able to replace Deablo better if need be with Rodgers possibly not being the choice yesterday after getting shaken up on kick coverage early against Boston College. Regardless, what's clear is the value of Deablo is quite high as the redshirt junior free safety is one of the Hokies' top playmakers along with Reggie Floyd and Rayshard Ashby.
2. Youth Causing Pass Rush Issues for Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech had a backup defensive line of all true and redshirt freshmen and it showed as the Hokies struggled to get a pass rush going even if their rush defense was very good overall. Veteran Jarrod Hewitt and junior DaShawn Crawford were both effective up the middle, but the edges to get much of any pressure especially with TyJuan Garbutt suffering an early injury that had him out for the rest of the game.
Emmanuel Belmar is an okay defensive end, but he seems near his ceiling at this point and it showed as he struggled immensely and failed to record a tackle. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Jaevon Becton looked intriguing and had 3 tackles but his youth also showed while Eli Adams had only 2 tackles and didn't make much of an impact. Same for Jaylen Griffin with only 2 tackles but he does bring plenty of intrigue given the recent position change in addition to the youth of the redshirt freshmen Becton and Adams.
At this point, Garbutt looks like the best defensive end but one option that Virginia Tech may have to improve their pass rush is Amare Barno. The JUCO linebacker transfer has the size to potentially be a standup pass-rushing specialist at defensive end along with the athletic capabilities with these next couple of games being a great opportunity to test him out and see if he has what it takes.
Overall though, Virginia Tech has a major pass rushing concern and while the interior of the line is solid with Hewitt and Crawford, neither have proven to be great pass rushers. However, BC was also able to provide more help in the interior with the struggles on the edge for the Hokies.
At this point, Virginia Tech is going to need their young defensive ends to grow up quickly along with Garbutt getting healthy as soon as possible.
3. Jermaine Waller Should Be Second Starting Cornerback For Now
Yesterday wasn't a great day for the Hokies' cornerbacks to say the least but at least for now, Jermaine Waller looks like the superior option as a second starting cornerback.
While Waller made some mistakes, he also showed some good ball-hawking skills on the 50-50 ball he intercepted in that game. Yes, it was a wide receiver who threw it but you could see the skills of someone who was comfortable on a one-on-one island to go make a play.
Waller did give up a touchdown as well in the first half where he gave a little too much breathing room but it also took a really good throw to get the touchdown. Waller also has shown more speed than Jovonn Quillen who was simply burnt by Zay Flowers which many teams will see and look to take advantage of when Quillen doesn't have safety help.
Of course, the Hokies should be looking to keep this a wide open, healthy competition at this point giving redshirt freshmen like Armani Chatman and Nadir Thompson plenty of opportunities against Old Dominion and Furman to see what they have.
Additionally, there's always the lingering presence of Jeremy Webb especially as he continues to get adjusted again after such a long time out due to a pair of Achilles injuries.