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BC - Virginia Tech Preview
The 3-1 Boston College Eagles will face their second biggest test of the season on Thursday when the #4 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies pay a visit to Alumni Stadium. The Hokies lost several key starters from last season's 8-4 team, including receiver/kick returner Andre Davis, All Big East defensive linemen David Pugh and Chad Beasley and linebacker Ben Taylor. It seems, however, that they have more than adequately replaced these players. The Hokies are 5-0 in 2002, all against non-conference competition. Among those wins are three against Top 20 teams LSU, Marshall and Texas A&M, who the Hokies have beaten by a combined score of 86-32. All told, Virginia Tech has outscored its five opponents by an average margin of 36-8. The Eagles have had no luck with the Hokies since a Thursday night win in Blacksburg in 1995. Since then, Tech is 6-0 against the Eagles, winning by an average margin of 19.5 points. Last season, the Eagles fell apart early, spotting the Hokies a 21-0 lead in the first nine minutes. The Eagles trailed 34-0 before rallying for 20 unanswered points to end the game. Thursday's game will be televised nationally on ESPN beginning at 7:45 pm.
When BC Passes
Brian St. Pierre will have his hands full with what many believe is among the best defensive backfields in the country. The Virginia Tech secondary is highlighted by Senior corner Ronyell Whitaker and Senior free safety Willie Pile. Whitaker, an All Big East first-teamer in 2001, was suspended early this season for violating team rules. Pile, despite battling a shoulder injury, has been Tech's leading tackler with 35. He was named National Defensive Player of the Week for his 10 tackle, 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery effort against Texas A&M. Joining Whitaker and Pile in the secondary are talented Junior safety Michael Crawford and Sophomore corner DeAngelo Hall. St. Pierre will also have to contend with a strong pass rush led by defensive line bookends Nathaniel Adibi (5 sacks) and Cols Colas (4 sacks). The Hokies have sacked opposing QB's a total of 17 times this season. After playing poorly in the first two games of the season, Brian St. Pierre has been much sharper but he continues to throw into tight coverage much too often. Many of those risky passes went for completions and touchdowns against Central Michigan, but those same throws will likely be intercepted against a quicker and more talented Virginia Tech defense. Clearly, the Eagles will need to pass to be successful on Thursday because rushing yards are so hard to come by against the Hokies. It will difficult to go deep against the Pile and Whitaker so the Eagles may opt for a short passing game, using screen passes to gain short yardage, especially on first down. No matter how you cut it, the Eagle offense will be under tremendous pressure to move the ball without turning it over as they did last season in Blacksburg.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
When BC Runs
The BC ground game was effective in moving the ball against Miami two weeks ago, but the Virginia Tech run defense it a cut above even the Hurricanes. The Hokies are fairly inexperienced in the front seven, but that hasn't been a factor at all in 2002. The Hokies are leading the nation in run defense, surrendering a mere 42 yards per game for an average of only 1.6 yards per carry. Virginia Tech's top returning starter in the front seven is 6'3" 254 pound defensive end Nathaniel Adibi who had 41 tackles last season and has added 14 more this year. The Hokies start two Sophomores at the defensive tackle positions, Kevin Lewis and Jason Lallas, who have combined for 47 tackles. Junior Cols Colas will likely get the start at the other defensive end position. Colas already has 7 tackles for loss in 2002, including four sacks. At linebacker, Virginia Tech's best player this season has been Vegas Robinson, who has 32 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries through five games. Moreover, safety Willie Pile is never shy about helping out on the run. It is unlikely that the Eagles will be able to run the ball consistently for four and five yards per carry against this defense, but they must convert on the 3rd and 1 and 3rd and 2 situations. If the Eagles cannot execute in short yardage, the Hokies will be able to sit on the pass all night long. On the plus side, The Hokie defensive line is not particularly large so the beefy Eagle offensive line may be able to wear them down by the fourth quarter. The tricky part is staying in the game for three quarters.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
When Virginia Tech Passes
With Senior Quarterback Grant Noel nursing a slighly torn ACL, Sophomore Bryan Randall is likely to get the start against the Eagles on Thursday. Randall has played fairly well in Noel's absense, completing 66% of his passes for 527 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. BC will be very happy not to see the outlandishly talented wideout Andre Davis, who has moved on the the NFL, but the Hokies still have several dangerous weapons. Senior wide receiver Shawn Witten is healthy after missing the second half of last season with a broken leg. Witten has only caught 7 passes for 118 yards this season, but the Hokies have had big leads most of the time so there has been little need to throw the ball. On the other side is Junior Ernest Wilford, who is leading the Hokies with 8 receptions and 176 yards. The sure-handed Junior Keith Willis will likely get the start at tight end. The Tech offensive line, which replaced two starters, is led by Junior center Jake Grove, who moved to the center position from guard this season. Virginia Tech's offensive line averages 6'4" and 310 pounds, including 6'7" 319 pound right tackle Joe Dunn. The Hokies have surrendered a total of ten sacks in five games this season. If there is a matchup where the Eagles have an advantage, this may be it. Without Davis, the Tech passing game doesn't exactly strike fear in an opposing defense. If the Eagles can contain the run and force some third and long situations, Antonio Garay and Doug Goodwin could wreak havoc on the inexperienced Randall or the gimpy Noel. The BC secondary has been solid in the last two and a half games and contained the vaunted Miami passing game for three quarters. They will have to be solid for four quarters to beat the Hokies on Thursday.
When Virginia Tech Runs
Most schools would be happy to have one All-Everything running back. The Hokies have two. Senior Lee Suggs is back and healthy after missing nearly all of the 2001 season with a torn ACL. Suggs rushed for 1,207 yards and a Big East record 27 touchdowns in 2000. When Suggs doesn't get the ball, it will likely go to Sophomore Kevin Jones. Jones, a blue chip recruit and last year's Big East Rookie of the Year, rushed for 941 yards and six touchdowns in 2001. This year, the dynamic duo of Jones and Suggs has rushed for a combined total of 786 yards and 13 touchdowns (more than five yards per carry if you are scoring at home). In all, the Hokies are 16th in the nation in rushing yardage, averaging 221 yards per game. Unfortunately, I continue to be haunted by flashbacks of Willis McGahee running through the Eagle defense two weeks ago. This week could produce more of the same, though the Eagles may be able to focus more on the Virginia Tech running game than they did against Ken Dorsey and the potent Miami passing attack. It goes without saying that containing Suggs and Jones is a necessary ingredient for a BC victory. They will get their yards, but the Eagles must keep them from breaking off the big plays that Virginia Tech has used to decimate BC in recent years.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
The Virginia Tech name has become synonymous with Special Teams over the past decade. During Frank Beamer's tenure, the Hokies have blocked 93 kicks in 178 games. This total is comprised of 48 punts, 24 field goals and 21 extra points. Although the Eagles will be pleased to not see Andre Davis, they will have to contend with the speedy DeAngelo Hall, who has returned ten punts this season for an impressive 16 yard average. The Hokies will feature Richard Johnson on kick returns. Due to the rarity of opponent scores in 2002, Johnson has returned just four kicks for an average of 19.8 yards. Vinnie Burns will do the punting (43.0 average) and the placekicking duties will go to either Senior Jon Mollerup or Freshman Nic Schmitt. The regular kicker, Junior Carter Warley, will miss the BC game with a back injury. Nothing can turn a game around faster than a blocked kick, so the Eagle special teams unit will play a pivotal role on Thursday. On the positive side, the Eagles could benefit from the inexperience of Tech's placekickers if the game is close.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
There isn't much about this matchup that a BC fan can feel good about. The Hokies have dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and have made big plays on defense and special teams. BC has moved the ball fairly well at times against the Hokie defense the past two years, but they have been haunted by big plays on offense, defense and special teams. Jones and Davis will get their yardage, but if the Eagles can tighten up in the red zone and force field goal attempts by the inexperienced Virginia Tech kicker, they will limit Tech's scoring. On the other side of the ball, BC will need a consistent, mistake-free passing game to loosen up the Virginia Tech defense. If the Eagles cannot generate an effective passing game, they will have no chance. Though Virginia Tech has looked flawless against some very good teams, I can't believe that they are as good as they have been in recent years. If the Eagles don't give away free points on special teams, I think they will keep the Hokies in the 17-20 point range. My biggest concern is Brian St. Pierre's tendency to throw into heavy coverage. He needs to play smarter for the Eagles to win. The coaching staff must also be much more creative than they have been so far in 2002. BC's unimaginative offense is adequate for UConn, Stanford and Central Michigan, but that will simply not get it done against the Hokies. I expect a solid, emotional effort from the Eagles on Thursday, but I'm afraid that it won't be enough.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 20 BC 10