Hokies' Offensive Line Is the Top Concern

East Carolina held Branden Ore and the Hokies to just 33 yards rushing last Saturday in Virginia Tech's 17-7 victory.
East Carolina held Branden Ore and the Hokies to just 33 yards rushing last Saturday in Virginia Tech's 17-7 victory. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 4 -- From a strictly football sense, Saturday was supposed to serve as Virginia Tech's warmup for this weekend's showdown at Louisiana State, the most heavily anticipated nonconference game of the college football season.

But Saturday's win over East Carolina was unexpectedly close, and the reason was simple: The offensive line did not play well enough. Running back Branden Ore struggled to find space to run as the Hokies gained just 33 yards rushing on 31 attempts. The Pirates sacked Sean Glennon four times.

Though the Hokies felt they pass protected well for the most part, East Carolina thumped their offensive line on running plays. Now, the line's task is to contain LSU's defensive line and Glenn Dorsey, perhaps the best unit and best defensive player in the country.

"Quite obviously," Coach Frank Beamer said, "we'd better be better next week."

The Hokies received firsthand proof on national television Thursday night, when the Tigers' defense dominated Mississippi State for four quarters. They allowed 146 yards overall, including 10 rushing. They had four sacks and forced seven turnovers. LSU gained 347 yards itself, but still won, 45-0.

"Oof, ooh," Beamer said, perhaps the best, if not the most eloquent, way to describe LSU's defense. "These guys, they're not only good, they do a lot of [blitzing and stunting]. We'll be challenged. They're all over the place, and they're all over the place fast."

Said offensive line coach Curt Newsome, "They got about eight players in their front seven that are special."

The best of them is Dorsey, who would have been a surefire NFL first-round draft pick last April had he turned pro. At 6 feet 2, 302 pounds, Dorsey is big enough to topple a double team but still fast enough to chase down any running back. On Thursday, he had two tackles for losses and a sack.

Two days later, ECU's defensive line clogged Virginia Tech's running lanes in a similar fashion. The performances changed the perception of Saturday's game.

"I'm sure people still have doubts about us," left tackle Duane Brown said. "I don't think we had an awful game, but we could have had a lot better game. Just a few things we definitely have to fix before next Saturday."

After watching film of the game, the offensive line's primary concern was run blocking, not pass protection. The 33 yards rushing matched Virginia Tech's lowest output of last season. Too often, players said, they missed blocking assignments, particularly on ECU's middle linebackers. The issues are "things that can be fixed," Newsome said.

"We were physical," guard Sergio Render said. "We've just got to get our assignments down right and stay on our blocks."

Render played the best game of his career, and center Ryan Shuman graded high, too, Newsome said. The most troubling area is left guard, where Matt Welsh and Richard Graham split time.

Adding to the left guard tandem's woes: Dorsey will be lined up over them for much of the game. Help won't always come, either, because of the quality across LSU's line. Tyson Jackson, for example, is a first-team SEC defensive end.

"They can't double-team me all the time, because the guys around me are starting to play good," Dorsey said. "It's just a matter of time before they have to respect everybody on our defense. The better they play, the better I am."

Virginia Tech may do the same this week at right tackle. Nick Marshman played every meaningful snap last Saturday, and Beamer felt he was among the Hokies linemen who tired during the game's latter stages. Freshman backup Blake DeChristopher may rotate with Marshman, a tough way to gain his first college snaps. Newsome said he would also try to give Brown a breather on some series.

One of the four sacks came when Ore went the wrong way on pass protection. Another came when ECU's secondary forced Glennon to hold the ball too long. But there were also plays when Glennon avoided pressure or had to throw the ball away early.

"You can't put it all on the O-line," Glennon said. "But definitely, we need better protection and better holes in the running game if we're going to improve as an offense. We can't have this week in, week out. We need to be better if we're going to go down to Louisiana and come away with a win."

Hokies Note : Senior cornerback Roland Minor has been declared academically ineligible, which effectively ends his Virginia Tech career. Minor started 12 games as a sophomore. He will still be enrolled in school.

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