I think most Virginia Tech fans agree that the offensive line has been the most reliable and productive unit all season long.
They’ve done a remarkable job opening holes for the Hokies’ running game, springing Khalil Herbert and Hendon Hooker for big gains regularly. Herbert and Hooker have been tremendous — they’ve combined for 1,427 rush yards and are averaging 8.1 and 5.6 yards per carry, respectively.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line has received effusive praise and rightfully so. Earlier this season, the Hokies had the No. 1 rushing offense in the country — the Hokies are currently seventh in rush yards per game. Pro Football Focus has been vocal in their support of the narrative.
Highest-graded P5 offensive lines
1⃣ Notre Dame – 92.5
2⃣ Virginia Tech – 88.2
3⃣ Kentucky – 85.9
4⃣ Oregon – 85.0
5⃣ Alabama – 84.3 pic.twitter.com/6vb8DgH7tk
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 11, 2020
Highest-graded Power 5 OTs since 2014:
1 Christian Darrisaw, VA Tech (2020) – 95.8
1 Penei Sewell, Oregon (19) – 95.8
3 Jack Conklin, MSU (15) – 94.6
4 Cody Whitehair, KSU (15) – 94.3 pic.twitter.com/NLIHcCPLbs
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 13, 2020
All that acclaim came crashing down in Virginia Tech’s loss to Miami. The ‘Canes registered six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and held the Hokies to their lowest rushing output of the season.
Miami sports one of the nation’s best defensive fronts — the Hurricanes are 31st in sacks per game and tied for seventh in tackles for loss per game. If you go by pure raw totals, Miami is tied for 11th in sacks and sixth in tackles for loss.
Could it be that Miami exposed Virginia Tech’s offensive line and running game for what it is — a beneficiary from a relatively weak schedule? Or is the Miami game an anomaly?
We’re going to find out over the next three games.
Here is how Virginia Tech’s ACC opponents rank in FBS in terms of sacks per game and tackles per game…
- NC State: tied for 22nd, 33rd
- Duke: tied for 15th, 48th
- North Carolina: tied for 15th, 60th
- Boston College: tied for 50th, tied for 88th
- Wake Forest: 60th, tied for 42nd
- Louisville: 61st, tied for 49th
You don’t need me to tell you those numbers aren’t great. In terms of yardage, Miami is the best defense Virginia Tech has played all season, and they are 49th in yards allowed per game. The next best? Boston College, who ranks 55th.
The data suggest that Virginia Tech’s offensive output is inflated by the poor defenses they’ve played so far. And given how Miami stonewalled the Hokies for much of last Saturday, I’m inclined to believe that.
Things aren’t going to get any easier. Virginia Tech is about to play three of the best defensive fronts in the country.
Pitt owns the nation’s most productive defensive line, period. The Panthers are second in FBS in sacks per game, first in tackles for loss per game and second in the nation in rush yards allowed per game. Two different Pitt defenders have double digit tackles for loss — linebacker SirVocea Dennis and lineman Patrick Jones.
Clemson is self-explanatory. The defense is stuffed with four and five-star recruits, including defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, who should be healthy by the time the Tigers roll into Lane Stadium. As a unit, Clemson is tied for fifth in sacks per game and third in tackles for loss per game.
Virginia is no slouch either, despite giving up their fair share of points. The Cavaliers are 14th in sacks per game and 23rd in tackles for loss per game. The difference with Virginia is that most of their production comes from their linebackers — the top four ‘Hoos in tackles for loss and sacks are all linebackers.
The point is this — Virginia Tech’s offensive line is about to face some of the toughest defensive fronts they will see all season. If Miami was a preview of what is to come, the Hokies are going to fall far short of the standard they set earlier in the season when it comes to running the football and controlling the line of scrimmage.
Virginia Tech needs their offensive line to rise and meet the challenges before them. That unit is the key cog in the Hokies’ offense. Without them, Tech is in for a long and dreadful finish to the season.