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Texas Tech v. Virginia: Defensive Line

This is a series of positional reviews for the matchup between Texas Tech and Virginia at 12:00 p.m. on January 1, 2008 in the Gator Bowl, Jacksonville Florida. I'd also like to give a huge hat-tip to College Football Statistics, who without, these stats would be impossible. Thank you.

Prior Previews:

Defensive Line: Perhaps, Michael Crabtree is to Texas Tech as Chris Long is to Virginia. Very different positions, but perhaps their presence on the field is more important than any other player on their respective team.

Texas Tech Ht/Wt Position Tackles TFL Sacks QB Hurry
Jake Ratliff, #98 6-7/247 Defensive End 25 2.0 1.0 6.0
Brandon Williams, #84 6-5/253 Defensive End 41 11.0 4.5 7.0
Colby Whitlock, #93 6-2/281 Defensive Tackle 42 8.5 2.0 5.0
Rajon Henley, #91 6-3/265 Defensive Tackle 38 6.5 3.5 4.0
Richard Jones, #99 6-1/277 Defensive Tackle 19 0.5 0.0 0.0
Daniel Howard, #53 6-3/238 Defensive End 22 6.0 3.0 3.0
Sandy Riley, #46 6-0/248 Defensive End 13 2.5 1.0 0.0

I'm torn about this team. At times, this defensive line was a sieve for rushing offense to take whatever yards they could get and at other times I thought they were somewhat effective. Of course it's not coincidence that games where Texas Tech struggled are also games where the Texas Tech defense gave up too many yards.

Think about these numbers, the Red Raiders gave up 215 rushing yards to UTEP, 366 rushing yards to OSU, 233 to the Aggies, 212 to Missouri, 217 to Colorado, and 283 to Texas. Seriously, that's 1,526 yards in just 6 games. For comparison purposes, Virginia gave up 1,356 yards for the entire year. Of course it helps that Virginia had almost 80 fewer rushing attempts, but if Texas Tech was better at stopping the run then those attempt numbers wouldn't be that high.

Of course I think we all know that the rushing defense is unacceptable, but what about putting some pressure on the quarterback? Meh. Brandon Williams led the team with only 4.5 sacks in 12 games and for the most part pass rush is middle of the road, not bad, but not great. Williams also led the team with 7 quarterback hurries, but once again, only 7 hurries in over 12 games just doesn't seem like a lot.

If anything, I think you can take away from this year the fact that this is a pretty young group and I'm more encouraged by the play of Whitlock than discouraged. Being a true freshman and playing defensive tackle may be one of the more difficult things to do. Whatever technique he's learned, he's probably learned while in Lubbock and you would think that he's still learning on the go. And for whatever it's worth, Whitlock had his best game against UT with 9 tackles and 4 tackles for a loss. He's getting better, not worse and that's a good sign.

I also really like Henley, although undersized, I think he's effective and would probably be more effective if not used quite as often. I love his motor and if he could just add a few extra pounds I think he'd be really good. Not great, just solid.

As far as the others in the rotation, I thought Ratliff would have a much better year, but that's just not the case. He's been largely ineffective and was even removed as a starter in at least 1 game. I expected a huge improvement from Ratliff and it just wasn't there.

Both Howard and Riley, a converted linebacker, played well, but thought the play of Howard was a little more impressive. It wouldn't bother me at all if I saw Howard starting next year, especially given the play of Ratliff, who I think out-produced Ratliff despite less time on the field.

Virginia Ht/Wt Position Tackles TFL Sacks QB Hurry
Chris Long, #91 6-4/284 Defensive End 75 19.0 14.0 2.0
Allen Billyk, #94 6-4/287 Nose Tackle 33 2.5 1.0 0.0
Jeffrey Fitzgerald, #95 6-3/279 Defensive End 65 10.5 6.0 3.0
Nate Collins, #98 6-2/281 Nose Tackle 28 3.5 1.0 0.0
Alex Field, #93 6-7/288 Defensive End 11 2.5 1.5 0.0

Chris Long's statistics are truly impressive. Consider the fact that he's probably been double-teamed all year, he's been outstanding. Seriously, 75 tackles? 14 sacks? Just ridiculous numbers and Long's production for the year almost equals the work of both Whitlock and Williams. Amazing.

Overall, the rush defense struggled in just 1 game, the first game of the year, where Wyoming rushed for 199 yards, which was by far Virginia's worst loss of the year. The Cavaliers held their opponent under 100 yards rushing 5 times this year. I know that we often say that it doesn't matter whether or not an opposing team can stop the run, but I think it does matter. The offense does tend to work better when there are running lanes available. I have my doubts about whether or not Texas Tech will be able to effectively run against Virginia, which would mean that Long and whoever else might be rushing the Harrell will be able to just tee off and rush Harrell each and every play. Balance.

There are few teams that get to the quarterback better than Virginia as they are 6th in the nation in sacking the quarterback. They average over 3 sacks a game, and typically, one of those sacks is from Long. These guys are going to get after the quarterback. Interesting, though, there have been few Virginia opponents that threw the ball as much as Texas Tech. North Carolina State threw the ball 46 times, only completing 26, for 175 yards. Virginia got their three sacks, but not much else. Virginia had 7 quarterback hurries, which may lead to a plausible explanation why NC State was successful. Perhaps, NC State decided that they were going to throw the ball, often, but there the passes were going to be short passes and although the defenders may try and get to NC State's quarterback, they instructed him to get rid of the ball at all costs. Don't take a sack. Some of that makes sense. Virginia isn't particularly deep on the defensive front, so why not try and tire these guys out with lots of plays, but don't give Long & Co. the opportunity to put Harrell in a bad situation. Also note that the NC State game was one of the worst for Long. Certainly something to remember as the game approaches.

Conclusion: Really not a tough decision here, Virginia, and it's not even close.