The battle to replace Christian Topou as the starting nose guard comes down to true sophomore J.R. Tarvai and redshirt freshman Antwaun Woods. Tarvai exited spring ball on top of the depth chart but expect Woods to challenge for that position during fall camp. The nose guard position is often times unheralded but it is an extremely important position. Also known as the “0” technique, this position is likely to see double teams on every single play. They typically line up on the shoulder of the offensive center, to the weakside of the offensive formation.
Because of their alignment they become the responsibility of the center and the nearside offensive guard. Due to the frequent double teams they won’t get many tackles or sacks for that matter. Their responsibility on running plays is to occupy the blocks of the center and guard while holding the line of scrimmage. If they get blown off the ball it creates a big seam and allows either the center or the guard to continue to the next level to get a body on the middle linebacker. In passing situations they need to collapse the pocket by getting push up the middle, making it difficult for the quarterback to step up into the pocket.
At only 265 pounds, Tarvai is undersized for either of the defensive tackle positions, but is extremely undersized for nose guard. One thing you can’t measure though is heart and Tarvai certainly has a lot of that. He’ll need every ounce of his heart, great pad level, and perfect technique to compensate for his lack of bulk. There is still the question of how long his body can hold up to the constant pounding of 650 pounds.
The constant double teams, the cross blocks and traps will take their toll. For this reason I do not see him being the long term solution here. He will certainly play a valuable role during the season but that will most likely be in spot duty. He will also be an excellent fit in dime and nickel packages, known passing situations. This will allow him to utilize his speed and quickness to split double teams and pressure the quarterback up the middle.
Woods fits the mold of your typical nose guard in a 4-3 front. He reminds me a lot of former Trojan Mike Patterson and even wears the same jersey number. At 315 pounds and after a year in the weight room, his body should be able to stand up to the pounding the position demands. The biggest question is does he have the motor that Patterson had? Does he have the maturity and conditioning to not take plays off? Is he willing to sacrifice glory to do his job of occupying blockers to keep them off of Lamar Dawson? If the answers to those questions are yes, then expect him to be the starter here on September 1st.
Woods certainly has the tools to get the job done. In the film that I have seen on him, he plays with great pad level. He has an excellent first step and great explosion off of the ball. He uses his hands well to lock out the blocker and shed their block.
Let’s see if Tarvai’s heart wins out over Woods’ ability.