Cornerback Jayron Hosley was walking through the halls of Virginia Tech’s football office this week and just shook his head when someone asked what he was doing in the middle of the day when most players are either in class or at home resting up for the team’s late afternoon practice.
“Man, I’m always here,” he said.
Hosley has been studying up on Clemson’s potent group of receivers, which is led by dynamic wideout Sammy Watkins. The freshman leads the Tigers in explosive plays with 28 catches, 433 yards and six touchdowns in the first four games of this season, the sort of start to a career that has both Coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster convinced Watkins is “a bigger version of Percy Harvin.”
Hosley is impressed with Watkins and said he doesn’t look anything like a first-year player on film. But he confirmed this will not be a week in which he shadows Watkins, as he has done in previous games against East Carolina’s Lance Lewis and Arkansas State’s Josh Jarboe.
Before walking down the hallway, though, Hosley smiled, and offered just a momentary glimpse into a battle of future NFL draft picks.
“I’m sure we’ll cross paths,” he said. “I can see that they like to throw the ball a lot. They’ve got guys on the outside that can make plays, and I’m a corner that sees myself as no one is better than me and nobody better than my secondary corps, so I’m gonna go out there with the confidence, the mentality, that this man in front of me isn’t better, no matter what anybody say about him.”
To say this will be a big test for Hosley and the rest of Virginia Tech’s secondary doesn’t do justice to how much of a determining factor their collective performance could be in Saturday’s game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has attempted 77 passes in the past two games, and according to defensive back coach Torrian Gray, he’s “throwing the ball lights out, so any mistake or misstep they’re able to make a big play out of it.”
Gray’s troops, meanwhile, are coming off their worst game of the season at Marshall, allowing freshman quarterback Rakeem Cato to pass for 245 yards.
“If I talk to you next Monday and we played our [butts] off Saturday, then maybe it was a good wake up call,” Gray said this week. “You never want to have a bad game, but you’re not gonna get up like you’d want to for every game. We weren’t as focused and as sharp as I would’ve liked us to be [against Marshall], and I don’t see any reason why that would be the case this Saturday.”
Gray said Tuesday he expects the Hokies to play a lot nickel against Clemson, and that he won’t use Hosley on any one receiver since the Tigers have so many weapons. Instead, he’ll stick with Virginia Tech’s regular scheme in which Hosley plays to the boundary side and sophomore Kyle Fuller mans the field side.
Hosley said he’s noticed on film that Watkins lines up in the field more often than not, while sophomore DeAndre Hopkins (21 catches, 269 yards, 2 TDs) generally plays on the boundary side. That puts a lot on the shoulders of Fuller, who aside from getting beat on a double move for a long pass on the first play of Virginia Tech’s win over Arkansas State, has proven to be every bit as tough to throw on as Hosley this year.
But Fuller is still less than a year removed from getting benched in the ACC championship game after starting in place of an injured Rashad Carmichael. Gray, though, is convinced, “he’s a lot different, he’s a year older,” now.
What will make coverage more difficult is the fact that Virginia Tech’s safeties will likely be worrying about Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen, someone Foster said “you’re probably gonna see playing on Sundays.” The 6-foot-4, 255-pound redshirt junior has 14 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns and is a matchup nightmare.
“He’s probably gonna beat most linebackers. He’s probably gonna be better than most safeties that he sees,” Gray said. “At least we’ve got to give our safeties a chance to cover him.”
As for Hosley, his play is a big reason Virginia Tech has interceptions in 11 straight games dating from last season. He had two against Arkansas State two weeks ago, but was hampered by a blister at Marshall. Like the entire secondary, it was his worst game of the season.
Hosley revealed this week that he now weighs about 182 pounds, or 10 pounds more than his listed weight; his size is NFL scouts’ primary concern. But to see how effective he has been, all they have to do is look at the stats for Lewis and Jarboe when they weren’t being defended by Hosley.
Hosley held Lewis to three catches for 17 yards. In East Carolina’s other two games, he had 21 catches for 177 yards and four touchdowns. Jarboe had four catches for 38 yards facing Hosley, and 15 catches for 238 yards and two touchdowns in three other games.
But Hosley realizes the competition level is taking another step up this week, and judging from the praise heaped on Watkins and Clemson’s powerful passing attack recently, we may get a definitive answer Saturday on just how good Hosley and the rest of Virginia Tech’s secondary really is.
“They in for a loud, wild, hard-hitting, nasty game. We bring our big boy pads when we at home,” Hosley said. “There’s gonna be a lot of hostility, a lot of emotions, a lot of feelings in the game. We’re gonna be ready.”