The other side of the ball from the Duke game that it's all like LOL you watched and cared about.
Surprise! Virginia Tech is aggressive. Let's go back to that Smart Football diagram of the VT defense:
This isn't always what VT runs—a lot of the time they have their front seven in an undershifted front just like Michigan—but the primary thing is that guy labeled "R," who is a "rover"; the "W" is the "whip," and they're both little lightning bastards equally capable of dropping into coverage or blitzing into your face.
As noted in the VEQ last week, corner/rover/nickelback Justin Fuller is a TFL machine with 14.5. This is the equivalent of Jordan Kovacs or Courtney Avery having 14.5 TFLs. Kovacs had eight. Mattison is pretty aggressive, but he's not Bud Foster. Here's Fuller shutting down the zone read:
That is consistent. The end will crash down the line and VT will fill with the rover or whip depending on which side of the formation the play is going to. This means a lot of man, or zones that devolve into man coverage based on keys a la a Saban defense. This is usually very effective. Sometimes it's not…
The secondary. Just Duke caveats apply, but dang they're good. They can get burned by double moves and the like…
…but it is rare to see that much separation. Former Michigan recruit Jayron Hosley has developed into a premiere cover corner and there's not much separating him from the rest of the secondary, including the safeties.
Even when Duke hit stuff VT made it difficult to execute:
While I'm sure there's an athleticism gap between Michigan's WRs and Duke's, Michigan does not have anyone you'd describe as a burner. Precision execution like that Michigan got against Ohio State will be required. The windows are small.
The key matchup: Denard versus fill safety. VT uses that safety fill even on conventional running plays, which allows them to crash hard to the playside without giving up the cutback. Usually, anyway. When the safety screws up there isn't help and runs can go long:
This is an improvisation from the tailback as he sees nothing on the front side of the play, but a conventional zone read pull puts Denard in that space by himself with that safety. If Denard manages to make him miss like the Duke tailback he's not getting tackled.
We saw Denard WOOP an Ohio State linebacker on his 42-yard touchdown against Ohio State; we've also seen him chopped down as he tries to make it outside too often. Getting those decisive upfield cuts that churn out 4/5/6 yards when the big play isn't there will keep the offense in a position to exploit that aggression. Losing two yards is a recipe for punting.
As for the inverted veer: VT runs it plenty, using Thomas as a plowhorse. They are likely to have a better plan for it than OSU did. I expect Michigan to run it a few times just in case it keeps working, find little success, and move on to other stuff.
Other key matchup: Borges pass routes versus Foster. Borges didn't exactly light up Foster in their earlier meeting. The high-powered Campbell-Williams-Brown 2004 Auburn offense eked out 16 points in a narrow win.
It's a different year, though, and a different version of the Hokie D. The 2011 edition is quality (13th nationally); it does not live up to the terrifying 2004 unit, which gave up 268 yards a game en route to finishing 4th nationally. That Hokies outfit had to go up against USC, then at the apex of their power, and Auburn. This one hasn't played anyone of note outside of a weak ACC.
So there will be more opportunities for Borges to wiggle his guys open with the sort of passing routes that Rodriguez never bothered to envision. The heavy emphasis on man and man-like principles leaves VT open to some pick plays:
That is like the circle route above. Both are instances where VT incorrectly diagnoses the route either pre- or post-snap and Duke gets a guy open with the play design. The frequency of Borges RPS+ routes will have a major impact on the efficacy of the offense. If you like bunches and that triple stack, I have good news: expect all of the bunches and triple stack.
Other other key matchup: Denard reading the defense. Here are a couple slants. The Duke guy picks the right one:
The one further inside is a pick waiting to happen thanks to a front seven member dropping out into a robber zone—a pick Denard has thrown this year. VT pairs its man-like principles with random guys in zones in the hopes of getting a big play. Denard managed to cut down his interceptions in the last two games (just one). Maintaining that improvement will likely lead to victory.
The line. In this game it was exceedingly young with three sophomores and a freshman. The two ends do get some pressure. Sophomores JR Collins and James Gayle combined for 13 sacks this year. In this game Collins—who seemed like the better player—smoked the Duke LT to force an interception:
I don't think he'll be able to manage that against Lewan. IIRC, Lewan has no pass protection minuses all year save for stunts on which there was poor communication here and there.
While Huyge is more vulnerable, the bet here is Michigan does not give up much pass rush against four men. If they do it will be a long day. I don't think Michigan's receivers are well suited to a quick passing game against a secondary with this many cover guys.
What about a conventional running game? Duke hardly ran and is very much Just Duke in this department, so I'll punt on that.
Takeaways. Virginia Tech's D in bullet points:
- Young, undersized line
- Extremely aggressive safeties
- Four solid cover guys
- Good open field tacklers
- Can get burned when opponents confuse their coverages
This will be a tough game for Borges and the offense.