Boston College - West Virginia Preview
By Tom Henault, bchoop.com
The Boston College Eagles will invade Mountaineer Field hot off their biggest win of the season, upsetting #4 Notre Dame. While the game in South Bend was huge for the football Eagles, heading to Morgantown has never been friendly for BC. This Senior Day game for West Virginia is a game that BC cannot afford to take lightly. Though 5-3 overall, the Eagles are 0-3 in conference play. With very beatable Syracuse, Temple and Rutgers on the upcoming schedule, a 5-3 BC team is fighting with the 6-3 (3-1 Big East) Mountaineers for a bowl slot. Depending on how things shake out, this game could be the difference between playing in the Gator bowl and the Continental Tire Bowl (no, I hadn't heard of that one either). The Big East's bowl ties are: Conference Champion to the Orange Bowl (or Fiesta, if Miami wins out), the Gator Bowl, the Insight Bowl in Phoenix (no longer a .com bowl), the San Francisco Bowl on 12/31, and the Continental Tire Bowl on 12/28 in Charlotte, N.C.
IF Miami runs the table, and if ND wins does the same and beats USC, the bowl picture would probably be: Miami to the Fiesta, ND to a BCS bowl, Pitt to the Gator, VT to the Insight, the BC/WV winner to the San Francisco bowl and the BC/WV loser to the Continental Tire bowl. There are many things that could throw a wrench into the mix: if ND loses to USC, the Irish would probably shift to the Gator or Insight, and bump the rest down a notch. If Tennessee knocks off Miami, Miami would still be in the Orange bowl, but only one BCS bid would go to the Big East/ND combo. If Pitt knocks off Miami, the Panthers would be in the Orange bowl and the whole thing is a mess; in fact, the loser of BC/WV could be on the outside hoping for an open bowl slot from another conference or an open game, with Pitt-Orange, Miami-Gator, ND-Insight, VT-San Francisco, BC/WV winner-Continental, BC/WV loser ???
The key to locking in a bowl for BC is West Virginia. BC going to Jacksonville on New Year's Day to play an ACC team in the Gator Bowl would be spectacular, but right now that is out of BC's control. Per www.bigeast.org: "The Gator Bowl may select Notre Dame up to two times over a four-year span that begins in 2002. The other three games may select the Irish once over the same period. All bowls will adhere to the conference's 'one-win' rule whether they select Notre Dame or a BIG EAST team. Any selection of a team with fewer victories must be within one win of all other bowl eligible teams. For example, a team with a 7-4 record cannot be chosen before a team with a 9-2 mark."
But first things first! Here is how the game stacks up:
When BC passes
Brian St. Pierre comes off of the Notre Dame game with the thing he wanted most: a win. But his stats were humble, 9-20 for 77 yards. However, BC comes into the game ranked 3rd in passing in the Big East, averaging 217 passing yards per game against a West Virginia pass defense that gives up 209 yards per game. On the other hand, West Virginia is 2nd in the conference in interceptions (with 14) and has the best turnover margin in the Big East. Decision making will be crucial, both in starting drives and in the Red Zone. BC has not been solid in the red zone of late. This season BC has done a good job of spreading the ball around, but against ND only 5 players made a catch on the way to 3 for 14 on 3rd down conversions. Mixing up the pass targets, particularly taking advantage of the speed of young wide receivers Adams and Hazard will help open the field up for Derrick Knight.
Tight End productivity will help the running game and get BC into 2nd/3rd and short situations, hopefully allowing them to improve their conversion percentage. Moving the chains and keeping Avon Cobourne off the field is a big key to this game. BC's ranking of 62nd nationally in passing yards per game should improve against the Mountaineers.
Advantage: Boston College
When BC Runs
West Virginia's defense has to practice every day against Avon Cobourne, and it shows. West Virginia comes into this game 2nd in the conference and 13th in the nation in rush defense at 97 yards per game. On the other side of the ball Boston College is ranked 63rd nationally and 5th in the Big East in rushing offense at 144 yards per game. At first glance, this is a huge advantage for West Virginia. But Derrick Knight, who is ranked 25th in the nation in yards per game at 108, has a way of getting stronger as the game progresses. His yards against Notre Dame in the final drive were the key to putting the Irish in a difficult position with too many yards to cover in too little time in their final drive. BC needs to stay aggressive, as they did in crunch time versus Notre Dame, and avoid being overly conservative on the road, as they were against Pitt.
While BC has been decimated by injuries along the defensive line, the offensive line has been healthy, anchored by center Dan Koppen. BC had the makings of Tight End U. a few seasons ago, but over time BC has consistently produced quality Offensive Linemen, and this year is no exception. A healthy O-Line and taking care of the ball will help carry the day for BC, and Derrick Knight will continue his 100+ yards streak to become another in a proud line of 1,000 yard backs for the Eagles.
Advantage: Boston College
When West Virginia Runs
Normally passing comes next in our ratings. However, with West Virginia, it's all about the rush, even when the QB has the ball. West Virginia continues its fine tradition of tailbacks with the Big East's all time career rushing leader Avon Cobourne. If West Virginia had beaten Miami, you'd see Cobourne's name at the top of many Heisman lists. Cobourne comes into the game with 12 TD's and is ranked 1st in the Big East and 3rd in the entire country at 141 yards per game. More impressive is West Virginia's #1 ranking in the nation in yards per game at 297, to go with a gaudy 5.25 yard per carry average and 29 rushing TD's.
The BC defensive line played a great game against Notre Dame without Antonio Garay and Doug Goodwin in the lineup. The Irish put up only 122 yards on 44 carries for a mere 2.8 yards per run. But WV comes in with more rushing weapons than ND. In addition to Coubourne's 5.3 yards per carry, Quincy Wilson is 8th in the conference at 63 yards per game and 5 TD's. To top it off, QB Rasheed Marshall comes in averaging 4.1 yards per carry with 8 rushing TD's to go along with his 7 passing TD's. We mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating: Over the past two years, the BC defense has surrendered an average of 123 rushing yards per game (298 total yards) in games that Garay has started and finished. In games which Garay has missed or has been removed from because of injury, the Eagles defense has allowed an average of 233 rushing yards (386 total yards). Even more shocking is the opponent's yards per carry average -- 3.1 with Garay in the lineup, 4.5 without. BC did have a very good showing from LB Josh Ott - Big East and National Defensive player of the week - as well as Vinny Ciurciu, Tim Bulman and the safeties. But as of this writing, RE Phil Mettling is questionable, leaving an already depleted D-Line even more shorthanded. West Virginia WILL gain yards so BC will need to be in a "bend but don't break" mode.
Advantage: West Virginia
When West Virginia Passes
Rather than read about WV's passing game, go back and read the rushing stats again. The Mountaineers come into the game an anemic 109th in the nation in passing - that is out of 117 teams mind you. Sophomore Rasheed Marshall knows his job is to move the chains and hand the ball to Cobourne. If pressured, he'll look to his feet, but he has been caught for 14 sacks already. Sophomore Miquelle Henderson leads the team with 3.8 catches per game, while the deep threat is Cobourne out of the backfield averaging 11.2 yards per catch. As was the case last week, if one team pulls ahead early, they will have a tremendous advantage in this game. If the Eagles can build a 10-14 point lead, they will force West Virginia into a passing mode, which would take Cobourne out of the game and put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Marshall.
BC is #2 in the conference in pass defense while the Mountaineers are ranked 7th in passing offense, averaging only 127 yards per game. BC will have the advantage here, but it's not particularly significant. Passing isn't what this Mountaineer team is about. WV is about smashmouth football, running the ball, then running the ball again.
Advantage: Boston College
Field goals: For West Virginia, kicker Todd James has had some problems, missing 3 PAT's and making only one of four kicks outside of 39 yards. BC's Sandro Sciortino has missed 2 PAT's and is only 9 of 17 between 30 and 49 yards. Sciortino didn't need to kick a big field goal against Notre Dame as David Gordon did in 1993, but hopefully Sandro can come through with a big kick vs West Virginia.
Punts and kickoffs: BC is #2 in the conference with 11.7 yards per punt return, including one TD. Jamal Burke has added excitement to a position BC hasn't been known for since the departure of Kenyatta Watson. On kickoffs, DB Will Blackmon has been electric with the ball, setting up a big TD vs. Virginia Tech with a huge return. BC is steady on punts at 34 net yards per punt, and Kevin McMyler has been reliable. West Virginia is ranked last in punting at 31.7 net yards per kick, while giving up the 2nd most return yards in the conference, ahead of only Rutgers. Field position could be the difference in this close game.
Advantage: Boston College-Slightly
BC's 0-3 record in the conference is deceptive, but if they drop this game it will be telling. In the end, West Virginia has lost to every quality opponent they have played. BC has found a way to win against Stanford and #4 Notre Dame. BC historically has had trouble with West Virginia, who leads the series 19-9 all-time. Under Coach Tom O'Brien, BC has won each time at home and lost each time on the road to West Virginia. Mountaineer Field has always been a huge advantage for the home team, and with so much riding on this game this year will be no exception. I believe that the Eagles will change the trend and silence Mountaineer Nation.
It's all about effort in this one. Who is going to put in the extra work - the Mountaineers or the Eagles? Let down shouldn't be an issue if the coaches do their part. BC was able to get up for Notre Dame after tough losses to Virginia Tech and Pitt, but Notre Dame is always marked on the Eagles' calendar. If BC beats West Virginia, going to a bowl is a lock. While the Continental Tire Bowl may not have the same ring to it as the Rose Bowl, an extra month of practice, extra reps, four bowls in a row all go a long way to helping player development and recruiting. A bowl on December 28th in North Carolina is a reasonable drive for students on break, and San Francisco for New Year's makes for a good road trip. But first they have to take care of the ball, take care of Cobourne and take care of West Virginia. BC might take a page from the basketball playbook and assign a linebacker or a safety to shadow Cobourne. As Avon goes, so go the Mountaineers.
Final Score: Boston College 24 West Virginia 17
Information from www.bigeast.org, www.wv.edu, www.ncaa.org www.espn.com and www.boston.com were used in this report.