Boston College - Virginia Tech Preview
#11 Boston College and #3 Virginia Tech will take the national stage this Thursday night in Blacksburg, Virginia. The game will be televised on ESPN beginning at 7:45 pm. Needless to say, this will be a huge game for both teams. The Hokies (7-0) need to win to keep their National Championship hopes alive. With an upset victory, the Eagles (6-1) would remain in contention for the ACC Atlantic title and a BCS bowl slot. Caesar’s Palace has established Virginia Tech as a 13 point favorite. Here is a preview:
The Hokies rank second in the country in pass defense with opponents averaging only 137 yards per game through the air. Virginia Tech’s success in this area results from a deadly combination of outstanding coverage in the secondary and a relentless pass rush. VA Tech’s experienced secondary is anchored by senior cornerback Jimmy Williams, an All-ACC first team selection a year ago. Williams has 26 tackles and 4 passes broken up. Junior rover Aaron Rouse is fourth on the team with 28 tackles and has 2 interceptions and 3 passes broken up. The pass rush starts with senior defensive end Darryl Tapp, another 2004 All-ACC first team selection, who has 3 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries this season. Another senior, defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis, has registered 4 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. The Virginia Tech defense has a total of 22 sacks this season. BC has only surrendered only five.
The part of Virginia Tech’s game that scares most BC fans is special teams but I am much more concerned with this matchup. BC quarterbacks have done an excellent job delivering the ball when they are given time to throw. However, when faced with a tough pass rush they have had the tendency to throw into heavy coverage. Wake Forest intercepted Quinton Porter three times and it could have easily been six or seven. The BC quarterbacks need to keep in mind that taking a sack or throwing the ball away is much preferable to an interception. BC can have success in this area if they can execute quick timing patterns. Chris Miller could play a huge role in this game and I'd like to see a lot more of Tony Gonzalez.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has been quite stingy against the run as well as the pass. Hokie opponents have averaged just 3.1 yards per rush this season which is a yard below the BC offensive season average of 4.1 per carry. Three linebackers lead the Hokies in tackles: sophomore inside linebackers Vince Hall (63 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) and Xavier Adibi (39 tackles, 4 tackles for loss), and outside linebacker James Anderson (53 tackles, 5 tackles for loss).
If BC wins on Thursday, it will likely be the running game that makes the difference. If BC is unsuccessful running the ball or if they fall behind early and are forced to abandon the run entirely, Virginia Tech will be able to drop their excellent defensive backs into deep coverage and unleash their ferocious pass rush play after play. This would be a disaster for the Eagles. On the other hand, if BC can grind out yards and first downs, Tech will be forced to concentrate more on the run and play closer to the line of scrimmage. This would give BC a chance to throw down field and would make play action more effective.
Advantage: Virginia Tech
Junior Marcus Vick had a rough second half throwing the ball against Maryland last week. Vick was 14 of 23 for 211 yards but threw three interceptions in the second half. For the season, Vick has completed 67% of his passes for 1,254 yards, 10 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Vick’s favorite target is junior deep threat David Clowney who has caught 19 passes for 375 yards this season (19.7 yards per catch). He also has three TD receptions. 6’5” senior tight end Jeff King (16 receptions, 199 yards) and 5’10” sophomore receiver Eddie Royal (16 receptions, 197 yards) will join Clowney in the starting lineup.
Tom O’Brien and the rest of the staff have undoubtedly reviewed the tape of the Maryland game to see what the Terps did to force three Vick interceptions in the second half. Vick will be much more destructive with his legs than his arm so BC needs to figure out a way to keep him in the pocket as much as possible. If Vick is forced to throw from the pocket, the Eagles will be successful. If he is able to move out of the pocket, he will not only be a threat to run for big yardage but he will also be more dangerous from a passing standpoint. The Eagle defense did a decent good job keeping Virginia’s Marques Hagans and Wake’s Cory Randolph from running so I am cautiously optimistic that they will do the same with Vick. The return of Jazzmen Williams and DeJuan Tribble to the lineup will make this task that much easier, but the real key to this matchup is Mathias Kiwanuka. Will he play and if he does, how effective will he be on a gimpy knee and ankle?
Advantage: Boston College
Senior tailback Cedric Humes (340 yards, 4.2 yards per carry) is expected to return to the Hokies this week after missing two games with a fractured right arm. In Humes’s absence, 5’7” senior Mike Imoh (325 yards, 4.2 ypc) filled in admirably. Redshirt freshman Branden Ore (300 yards, 5.9 ypc) may also get some carries on Thursday, depending on how much the coaching staff allows Humes to play. Vick also has 267 yards rushing, half of which came against Maryland last week. Virginia Tech’s offensive line averages 6’3” and 294 pounds. This is the second smallest offensive line in the conference (Wake Forest is the smallest).
In spite of the small offensive line, Wake Forest was able to run the ball effectively against the Eagles last week (134 yards on 51 carries). Clearly, the Demon Deacons did not dominate the line of scrimmage (2.6 yards per carry) but they were able to get some key first downs and use the run to set up some third and short passing situations. Of course, it must be noted that Al Washington did not play in that game. With Washington back in the lineup, the Hokies should have difficulty running the ball, especially up the middle.
Advantage: Boston College
When college football fans think about special teams, they think Virginia Tech. The Hokie name has become synonymous with blocked punts, field goals and PATs. This reputation, coupled with BC’s problems with blocks, will have Eagle fans sweating every time the Eagles drop back for a punt or set up for a field goal. The bad news is that BC does not appear to have solved their kicking problems. The good news is that VA Tech’s kick blocking reputation is just that, a reputation. The Hokies have blocked 105 kicks in 221 games under Frank Beamer including a combined 22 between 2000 and 2002. However, Tech has blocked only four kicks since the start of last season (only one this year).
That is not to say that Virginia Tech does not have a clear advantage in special teams. Tech’s Brandon Pace has converted 11 of 13 field goals in 2005 and punter Nic Schmitt is averaging 43.3 yards per kick. Eddie Royal is averaging 26 yards per kick return (compared to 20 yards per return for the BC return men).
Advantage: Virginia Tech
The Eagles certainly can win this game, but it will require a mistake-minimizing effort that we haven’t seen against a conference opponent this year. BC cut down on penalties last week, but turned the ball over five times and had seven dropped passes. Turnovers have become a great equalizer for BC opponents this season. BC has turned the ball over 11 times in conference games while ACC opponents have given it up just 5 times. It is very surprising that a team as physical as BC is –6 in the turnover department. Virginia Tech might be due for some turnovers. The Hokies have fumbled 12 times this year, but have only lost one (compared with BC’s 9 fumbles and 6 lost). This game promises to be a defensive struggle so turnovers and blocked kicks will be magnified.
If BC avoids big mistakes, they won’t be out of the woods by any stretch. The Eagles will need to establish a running game early and stay with it for four quarters. As I said, a good running game will force the Tech secondary to tighten and slow down the pass rush. It is also to BC’s advantage to keep Marcus Vick off of the field, not because this year's Virginia Tech offense is prolific but because (a) the defense will expend a lot of energy chasing Vick around the field and (b) Mathias Kiwanuka, if he plays, will probably be limited to a specific number of snaps. The fewer offensive plays that Tech runs, the fewer plays that the BC defense will be without Kiwanuka.
Defensively, I think BC will be very successful. This BC defense is much faster than the one that Marcus Vick’s brother Michael shredded in 2000. The Eagles must force Vick to beat them with his arm, not his legs. BC’s ability to do this will depend a lot on Kiwanuka’s health. The BC defense must continue its great success on third down. Opponents have converted only 30% of their third down opportunities into first downs (23% in the second half and overtime). BC opponents have rarely driven more than 60 yards this season. Most of the points the Eagles have allowed in conference play have resulted from turnovers and blocked punts in BC territory. It is critical that the Eagles not allow Tech's speedy receivers, especially Clowney, to get behind them.
For all intents and purposes, Boston College lost the Florida State game in the first five minutes and nearly lost the Wake Forest game in the first quarter. BC cannot afford to start slow as they have in many big games in the past five or six years. Virginia Tech has outscored their opponents 55-7 in the first quarter this season. They will be fired up for this game and so will the capacity crowd at Lane Stadium. If BC can weather the first quarter storm, they have a very good chance to win this game. If not, this could be a blowout. I've been impressed with BC's ability to win in tough situations on the road over the past three years (Virginia Tech in 2003, West Virginia in 2004, Clemson this year) so I don't think the Lane Stadium crowd will intimidate BC but they will help the home team. I am predicting a close Virginia Tech victory on Thursday for three reasons: (a) home field advantage (b) special teams and (c) BC injuries.Prediction: Virginia Tech 19 Boston College 14