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Texas Tech v. Virginia: Linebackers

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:

Linebackers: Perhaps the closest position while comparing both Virginia and Texas Tech. The distinct difference is that Virginia, notably, Clint Sintim, gets to the quarterback, often, while the Texas Tech linebackers are rarely asked to rush the quarterback.

Texas Tech Ht/Wt Position Tackles TFL Sacks QB Hurry
Brian Duncan, #57 6-1/239 Strongside 62 4.0 0.0 0.0
Paul Williams, #48 6-1/226 Middle 68 6.5 1.0 0.0
Marlon Williams, #39 6-0/211 Weakside 71 1.0 0.0 1.0
Kellen Tillman, #56 6-2/240 Strongside 29 1.0 1.0 1.0
Victor Hunter, #52 5-11/256 Middle 24 4.5 0.0 0.0
Chad Hill, #54 6-2/226 Weakside 13 1.0 1.0 0.0
Blake Collier, #35 6-2/212 Weakside 11 2.0 1.0 0.0
Bront Bird, #45 6-2/222 Middle 15 1.0 0.0 0.0

I really don't have a lot of bad things to say about this group. I fully admit that there have been some players, who played early, who were not my favorite guys to watch, but I think the best players have risen to the top and they are starting (M. Williams, P. Williams and Duncan) and the younger guys are getting time as well (Hunter, Collier and Bird).

I think that from a pure production standpoint, this group was more productive than last year's crew. Just in terms of tackles and rough estimates, last year's group only had 230 tackles, give or take a few, and about 12 tackles for a loss. This year's group is close to 300 tackles and 21 tackles for a loss. That's a significant upgrade and I think a lot of it has to do with better athletes at the linebacker position and a more aggressive scheme instituted by McNeill. I think it's evident to most of us that this current group of linebackers have been more active and been more opportunistic and I think that's great news going forward.

The one thing that this group lacks, which I don't think is necessarily their fault, are the sacks, and this group, whether it be under McNeill or Setencich, were never really asked to be a part of the pass rushing packages.

Statistically, I think this group gets credit and/or blame for the dismal rush defense numbers, along with the defensive line. Granted it's hard to fill the gaps when your defensive line is being pushed around, but I still like the progress of both the defensive line and linebacking groups.

Quite simply, the key for me is just all-out stopping the run against Virginia and although I know that it's a collective effort, I will put this at the feet of the linebackers. If they can stop the run, Virginia just might be done.

Virginia Ht/Wt Position Tackles TFL Sacks QB Hurry
Jermaine Dias, #57 6-1/237 OLB 50 1.5 0.0 0.0
Jon Copper, #54 6-0/232 ILB 103 9.0 3.0 1.0
Antonio Appleby, #58 6-4/248 ILB 59 5.0 2.5 0.0
Clint Sintim, #51 6-3/256 OLB 77 8.0 8.0 3.0
Denzel Burrell, #45 6-4/224 LB 12 1.0 1.0 0.0
Aaron Clark, #41 6-5/254 LB 9 1.0 1.0 0.0
Jared Detrick, #55 6-1/215 LB 3 0.0 0.0 0.0

Each piece of this linebacking crew obviously plays a part of the bigger puzzle for Virginia. Keep in mind that Virginia runs the 3-4 defense, but amazingly, it's really those top 4 linebackers that get the majority or almost all of the playing time.

Copper and Appleby make the plays inside, and although I haven't seen a snap of Virginia play, I would imagine that Sintim is that outside linebacker that is going to rush the heck out of the quarterback. That's a talented two-headed monster, along with Long, rushing the quarterback and obviously the strength behind their high sack totals. Of course, that's a little scary as well, as it appears that much of their defensive production comes from just three players (Sintim, Long and Copper) and it will be interesting to see how long Virginia stays in their base defense. Also, I would imagine that Sintim is going to rush from the right side and it will also be interesting to see how Wynn will handle a smaller and quicker linebacker rushing. Personally, I think he is one player who is suited to handle a speed rush, but this will be an interesting matchup to watch.

I made the same comment with the defensive line, there's little to no depth at the linebacking position, or rather, the defensive coaches choose not to play a number of players. The first thing that comes to mind, is that if the Red Raiders continue to put the ball in the air, then there's a pretty good chance that these bigger linebackers either aren't going to be on the field or they are going to be tired.

Conclusion: Give me Virginia, but I think it's closer than it appears.