Over the past five to seven years, I’ve given a ton of thought as to what a defense must do to stop a spread offensive scheme. And, let’s make no mistake, Michigan is still at its best offensively when it’s running its base spread offense. So, how does Virginia Tech go about stopping it? Well, to me, it starts at the second level, which is typically the linebacker level. And, it’s at that position where the Virginia Tech defense has struggled keeping capable and productive players healthy this season. Tariq Edwards and Jack Tyler, the two that’ll start at two of those spots, are capable, I suppose, but when forced to play out in space to truly stop the spread, they’re not the right fit as evidenced by what’s happened against Clemson in two losses to the spread offense-running Tigers.
But, peep the depth chart for Virginia Tech at the third linebacker spot and you’ll see exactly how the Hokies plan on playing Tuesday night’s game – Alonzo Tweedy or Kyle Fuller. Safeties. More and more team are getting five and six DBs out on the field because they don’t have linebackers who can match the offensive skill guys step for step out in space. And, that’s where a spread team gets hurt – 2nd level players who can get to the perimeter and match speedy ballcarriers step for step (think LSU and Alabama for a second).
However, the problem for Virginia Tech is that Michigan can go to its power game or inside zone running game with diminutive Fitzgerald Toussaint if the Hokies go “too small”. As such, the biggest key in this game is for Virginia Tech to “win” at its defensive second level. If not, it can kiss this one goodbye.
Most casual observers and even most hard-core college football fans that have any knowledge of Virginia Tech football know all about the two star receivers for the Hokies – Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. These two have started for the past three years and have a combined 109 catches on the season. But, the biggest weapon, figuratively and literally, that the Hokies can deploy on Tuesday night is number three receiver Marcus Davis.
At 6’4 and 228 pounds, he’s a beast and he’s improving more and more at the receiver position. Big receivers are never a great matchup, but when that receiver is the third option, most times, it can be even trickier. Michigan CB J.T Floydwill probably draw the assignment on Boykin, while Blake Countesswill see plenty of Coale, I’d assume. But, how does Michigan match up with Davis when he comes into the game, either as a replacement to Boykin or Coale or in conjunction with those two? From a body type standpoint, he’s similar to Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd and we all know the issues he put the Michigan secondary through earlier this season. Keep an eye on someone you don’t know – #7 Marcus Davis – and see if he gets “lucky” tonight.
Somewhere I’m hearing the Martin Lawrence sitcom theme song in my head when thinking about Michigan DT Mike Martin. I’ve been a fan of the former wrestling champion for quite some time and it’s being a wrestling champion that serves him well tangling with the big boys up front in the Big Ten. Now, the Hokies offensive line will hit teams in the face, but if it doesn’t account properly for #68 in the middle, the Hokies run game balance will be thrown off kilter.
Martin’s 6’1” stature makes it tough to double him, but Michigan loves to move him around – as a 3 technique, as a shade nose, as a true nose in some 3 man fronts and even in some instances out to DE on occasion. No matter where he lines up, Virginia Tech must neutralize him at the point of attack. It’s hard to run away from him as he’s cat quick and it’s very difficult to cut him on the backside because of his feet and leverage. Teams that have had success running the football have done so running right at the Wolverines and sending body after body up through the A and B gaps and hoping enough bodies can create a sliver of space. Virginia Tech RB David Wilson just needs a small sliver, but he’ll also meet #68 in there as well.
I’ve thought and re-thought this one since my confidence picks and it’s the only one that I’ve reversed course on. Although it’s Michigan first time in a while on the big stage, I’m not sure that Virginia Tech will be able to handle that offensive potency on the Superdome turf. As much as I feel like Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas is due to rebound from a rough ACC Championship game loss, I just don’t see Virginia Tech keeping Michigan’s offense out of the end zone with the pressure that Robinson will put on them throughout this game.
I think the ultimate X factor in this one is going to be the Michigan WR – Junior Hemingway, Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree. It’s an underrated bunch that I love and that also has the game-breaking ability to truly stretch the Virginia Tech defense to its limits, especially the big, physical Hemingway. The maize and blue will be singing Hail to the Victors after this one is over.