On the Nose

West Virginia's odd stack defense puts a great deal of pressure on the nose tackle. The Mountaineers have a great starter in David Upchurch, but will that be enough for a long 12 game season?

When asked about critical positions on defense, the answers typically come back with a focus on the star positions.

"Middle linebacker" or "cover cornerback" are the stock answers for positions that are critical to building a good defensive unit.

However, in West Virginia's revised odd stack defensive front, there's no doubt where the focus is placed.

"Nose tackle is probably the most critical position in this defense," head coach Rich Rodriguez noted as spring practice got underway. "You have to have a guy who can command double teams and occupy blockers. That allows the linebackers to stay free and pursue to the ball."

The flip side is that if the nose can't occupy those double teams or slip blocks and get into the backfield, defensive havoc will result. Opponents will be able to run the ball inside, and there's no quicker route to defeat than allowing a grinding running game.

WVU is fortunate to have on hand a guy who should thrive in under the pressure of the nose tackle position. Senior David Upchurch has played several different techniques and positions along the defensive front, and has excelled at them all. Last year, Upchurch piled up an outstanding 66 tackles from his defensive line spot.

This season, Upchurch's positioning and technique will be a bit different, but it's hoped that the results will be the same.

Upchuch, as the nose, will play head up over the center. His first responsibility will be to occupy two blockers, but he won't simply be sitting back and playing passively. The nose will often slant into one of the two A gaps (that's the gap between the center and the guard), in an effort to disrupt the guard's blocking assignment and get penetration into the backfield.

"The nose tackle, sometimes he's going to have play-side A gap, and sometimes he's going to have back-side A gap," said defensive coordinator Todd Graham said. "You don't know where he's always going to be, and you don't know where he's always going to come from. You don't know if he's slanting or moving."

With these types of techniques from the nose, the Mountaineers hope to cause confusion among their opponents. That's a task for which the strong and quick Upchurch is well suited, as his 14 tackles for loss from last year attest. Upchurch was one of the few defenders that fully figured out and excelled in the 4-4 look of 2001, and he figures to be able to put that experience to good use in 2002.

The concern at the nose is finding a quality backup for Upchurch. Despite his rugged build, no one can play 80 snaps a game for an entire season without wearing down. Converted offensive lineman Rod Olds will get a look this spring as a nose, but other than Olds the depth chart contains a host of walkons.

Another hope for backup comes in the form of Kelvin Dubouse, who sat out last season due to academics and is ineligible to practice this spring. If Dubouse attains his eligibility, he could be a big boost to the depth at this most critical of positions.

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