Linebacker Rayshard Ashby is Virginia Tech’s leading tackler, but the junior is much more than a statistical column.
Legendary Hokie defensive coordinator Bud Foster had this to say about Ashby in a Daily Press interview, “He’s a professional,” Foster said regarding Ashby after Virginia Tech’s 45-0 win Nov. 16 at Georgia Tech. “He really is. He’s my rock in that defense. When he’s out there, everybody feels better.” Quite the complimentary description from the longtime Hokie defensive leader. To interpret coach-speak, Ashby is the team’s undisputed leader on the field; the heart and soul of the Virginia Tech defense.
The five-time ACC Linebacker of the Week doesn’t look like a prototypical, Power-5 linebacker. He stands 5’10 and weighs 237-pounds. He lacks elite track speed and wasn’t highly recruited coming out of LC Bird High School. But with Ashby, throw the measurables out of the window because he is an instinctual defender that manufactures havoc for opposing offenses. A technician on the field, there is very little wasted motion as he dissects opposing offenses in a rapid manner. The more film I watch, the more I’ve grown to admire and respect his game.
In 2018 he led the team with 105 total tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss. 2019 was much the same: 106 total tackles, 4.5 QB sacks, and an impressive 14.5 tackles for loss. For comparison purposes, UK’s leading tackler in 2019 is DeAndre Square with 68. Josh Paschal and Boogie Watson are tied with 9.5 tackles-for-loss.
What does all this mean?
Ashby’s assignment in Charlotte will be simple in design but difficult in application. Direct the Hokie defense to stop or limit UK’s All American Lynn Bowden. Kentucky’s strength along the offensive line lies within its Guard-Center-Guard box of the line-of-scrimmage. Therefore, Stenberg/Jackson/Fortner-Wolfe combo blocks that reach up to the second level will be a critical game within the game. In other words, the Cats must have a blocker on Ashby at all times. He cannot be left to roam free to make tackles from sideline to sideline.
In order to find a similar matchup as Kentucky will present, I took a look at Virginia Tech’s last regular season game against Virginia’s ultra-mobile quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins rushed for 745-yards and has 11 scores on the ground in 2019. In this year’s rivalry game, Perkins rushed for 164 yards and scored two touchdowns. Ashby totaled just 7 tackles and registered zero tackles-for-loss or QB sack. Virginia stressed second level blocking in order to reach Ashby.
In the Belk Bowl, Va Tech’s strategy will be to create havoc through a high number of tackles-for-loss in order to keep the Cat’s behind the chains. UK’s offensive plan is to not be in 3rd and long scenarios. Rayshard Ashby will greatly impact that result. I said all that to say this, keep an eye on number 23. As Ashby goes, so does the Virginia Tech defense.