Virginia Tech’s offensive line played one of the best defensive lines in the nation last weekend in the Clemson Tigers. This weekend, they only get a slight reprieve.
Boston College’s Harold Landry, an All-American in 2016, awaits Virginia Tech’s offensive line. Even though the Hokies should theoretically be prepared for Landry and his 25 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks, offensive line coach Vance Vice isn’t taking any chances.
“He’s very good,” Vice said of Landry. “He resembles a lot of those guys we just got through playing. He’s definitely an elite pass rusher, and he’s playing harder right now, I think, than he has even last year. We have to know where he is on every snap, whether it’s run or pass.”
Vice mentioned that Boston College will move him around a lot on Saturday when No. 16 Virginia Tech takes on the Eagles this Saturday night. In order to keep opposing offenses from being able to double-team Landry, Boston College will use Landry in a variety of ways.
“They do a great job scheme-wise of keeping him out of that situation, and now they’ve got different packages where he’s sort of a ‘roam around’ linebacker,” Vice said. “They’re utilizing him every way possible. It definitely keeps us up late at night right now, just trying to figure out exactly when and where, how he’s going to attack us.”
Left tackle Yosuah Nijman will likely see plenty of Landry. Nijman, a 6-foot-7 and 320-pound junior, has seen Landry on multiple occasions, and believes he’s one of the best defensive linemen he’s ever faced.
“It’s always fun to work towards the challenge of someone really good,” Nijman said. “You see how good you really are. It’s exciting to play against those good players.”
The 2017 season has been another step in the maturation of Nijman. Originally recruited as a defensive lineman, Virginia Tech moved Nijman to the other side of the ball not long after he enrolled. The move worked for both parties, as Nijman saw immediate playing time. He started all 14 games in 2016, and is a stalwart on the left side for the Hokies this season.
“He’s getting better, he’s getting better,” Vice said. “He was sort of banged up a little bit and fought through it, and I’m excited to get him back full-go right now. Again, he’s somebody that is unbelievably talented and can get better. That’s what excites me every day, because he can get better and the type of young man he is, he works his tail off and he will get better.”
“I think the game slowed down for me a lot,” Nijman said. “Just having a lot of experience, just playing a lot of snaps. It’s kind of like clockwork a little bit.”
Braxton Pfaff could also see Landry coming his way. The redshirt-junior is in his first year starting for the Hokies after dealing with a litany of shoulder issues throughout his career. Pfaff has had three shoulder surgeries in total, two on his left and one on his right. Each of the injuries was a torn labrum.
“It’s a pretty bad injury. It was one of the most painful injuries I’ve ever had,” Pfaff said. “Obviously doing it multiple times, it’s in your head, but I’ve really moved past that and try to not think about it while I’m playing.”
However, Pfaff is turning into a reliable option in his fourth year in the program. Pfaff has started all five games for Virginia Tech in 2017 at right guard, and hasn’t been taken off the field as much. For as much as Vice loves to rotate guys in and out of the line, the consistency is surprising.
“I was a little surprised, because that’s the way he’s always been,” Pfaff said. “I think the group we’ve got now has good chemistry, and we’re just going to keep attacking every day with the group we’ve got.”
In Vice’s eyes, the right side of the offensive line as a whole has performed better than expected. There was little concern about Nijman, Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo coming into the season, but right guard and right tackle were serious questions marks. Pfaff and Kyle Chung have answered those questions.
“Yeah, that was something me and Chung looked at,” Pfaff said. “Just having a chip on our shoulder with that, just because that’s always what gets tossed around, so we brought that every day, just to use as motivation to get better.”
“I hate to say pleased, but expectation-wise, I had some and Chung did such a great job this summer and was competing and battling at guard, he saw an opportunity at tackle and took it. Both he and Pfaff have, you know, exceeded expectations a little bit,” Vice said. “They’ve played well. They play hard, it’s important to them and they fit in nicely with Eric (Gallo) there, and Wyatt (Teller) and (Nijman) there on the other side. I’m excited to see how much better they can get. This is their first year being the guy, and they’ve handled it well.”
Now, Nijman, Pfaff and the rest of the offensive line will look to rebound vs. Boston College. The Hokies only allowed two sacks against Clemson (one of which was on CJ Carroll), but ultimately didn’t play well enough.
“That’s the greatest thing about right now,” Vice said. “It’s Tuesday and it’s a work day. These guys have learned to understand how we prepare, and they know exactly what today is and what’s exactly required. We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth right now, and Tuesdays usually help fix that.”
What’s the focus? As always, to go 1-0.
“The first thing we’ve got to get better at — we’ve got to go 1-0 today,” Vice said. “We’ve got to beat practice today. That’s our goal right now, and we’ve got to get better in our preparation and obviously in our production performance on Saturday.”