Boston College - West Virginia Preview
The Big East Championship and a BCS bowl berth could be on the line Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, West Virginia. West Virginia, ranked 10th in the latest ESPN/USAToday poll, comes into the game undefeated in Big East play while #21 Boston College has lost just one conference game. The Mountaineers have had BC's number, winning in each of the past two seasons. BC dominated last year's game at Alumni Stadium, but lost 35-28 because of four interceptions and an 87 yard Mountaineer kickoff return for a touchdown. Here is a preview of Saturday's game:
Paul Peterson has been throwing a lot over the past three games as BC's running game has headed South. Over the past three games, the Senior quarterback has completed 61% of his 132 passes for average of 349 yards per game. On the negative side, Peterson has thrown a pair of interceptions in each of the past two games. His favorite receiver continues to be Grant Adams who now has 36 catches for 563 yards and 2 TDs. On the other side of the ball, West Virginia has a solid pass defense (ranked 30th in the nation), led by Junior cornerback Adam "Pac Man" Jones. Pac Man has turned most offenses into blue ghosts with 53 tackles, 3 interceptions and five passes broken up. Last season against BC, Jones reached the endzone twice - once on an interception return and once on a kickoff return. Joining Jones in the West Virginia secondary are Junior safeties Mike Lorello (51 tackles, 9 for lost yardage, and 2 INTs) and Jahmile Addae (47 tackles, 10 last week).
To steal a phrase from the TV networks on election night, this matchup is "too close to call." The BC passing game has been clicking over the past three weeks, but the WV pass defense is solid and Jones is always capable of making a big play. On the other hand, Peterson should have time to throw against a fairly weak West Virginia pass rush. The Mountaineers have only 16 sacks this season.
Where has BC's running game gone? Over the first five games of the season, the Eagles averaged 184 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. In the last three games, those numbers have fallen to 67 and 2.1. Obviously, the competition has improved (both Pitt and Notre Dame both have top 25 defenses against the run) but the Eagles were not effective against a mediocre Rutgers defense last week. The Mountaineers are 42nd in the nation against the rush and have plenty of players that can stop the run. Senior linebackers Scott Gyorko (48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) and Adam Lehnortt (team-leading 58 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks) have been very productive. West Virginia has some nice size on the defensive line with a couple of 6'4" 280 pound linemen in Senior DT Ben Lynch (30 tackles, 6 TFL) and Redshirt Freshman Keilen Dykes (27 tackles, 5.5 TFL).
Earlier this season, I would have given BC the big edge in this matchup but they simply have lost the ability to run the ball for the first time in several years. Establishing the run will be essential if the Eagles expect to win in Morgantown.
Advantage: West Virginia
West Virginia ranks 104th in the nation in passing offense, averaging just 159 yards per game. This, however, does not mean that they are not dangerous through the air. Mountaineer quarterback Rasheed Marshall has averaged only 154 passing yards per game but has thrown for 17 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions. West Virginia's pass offense revolves almost entirely around one player, the talented but volatile Junior wideout Chris Henry, who has caught 41 passes for 693 yards and 11 TD receptions. Last season, he burned BC for 132 yards. West Virginia's second leading receiver, Senior WR Miquelle Henderson, has only 12 catches for 142 yards. The West Virginia offensive line, which averages 6'5" and 299 pounds, has only allowed 16 sacks but much of the credit for that goes to the nimble Marshall. The BC pass defense is now ranked 15th in the nation. Jazzmen Williams has contributed 6 pass breakups and an interception. Mathias Kiwanuka has 6 of the teams 15 sacks.
The Eagles will have their hands full with the 6'5" Henry, but I like the matchup for Boston College. I don't expect Marshall to come anywhere close to matching the 300 yards than Ryan Hart accumulated against BC last week. Kiwanuka should be able to put pressure on Marshall, but it won't matter if the Eagles cannot keep him from scrambling out of trouble.
Advantage: Boston College
West Virginia's rushing attack has crushed nearly every opponent this season. As a team, the Mountaineers are 4th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 259 (5.3 yards per carry). Early in the season, Kay-Jay Harris looked like a Heisman candidate. He rushed for a Big East record 337 yards in the opener against East Carolina then another 142 two weeks later against Maryland. Hampered by a bad hamstring, Harris has been less effective since. For the season, he has rushed for 708 yards (6.0 yards per carry). Harris scored four touchdowns (2 rushing, 2 receiving) last week against Temple. Sophomore Jason Colson rushed for 100 yards or more in three games prior to last week against Temple. All told, Colson has rushed for 641 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and 5 TDs. Most dangerous of all is quarterback Rasheed Marshall who has rushed for 596 yards on 120 carries (that's 13 per game). The new star on the BC defense is true Freshman linebackers Brian Toal who is now tied for the team lead in tackles with 49. Toal was dominant against Rutgers last week, gaining Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors with 15 tackles. Ricky Brown is the BC co-leader with 49 tackles and Mathias Kiwanuka has another 41 tackles (12 for lost yardage). BC is 12th in the country against the run (2.9 yards per carry).
This is a tremendous matchup. If we were only talking about running backs, I would give BC the edge. Harris and Colson are solid backs but they are not Avon Cobourne or Amos Zereoue. BC can contain them. The difference for West Virginia is the running ability of Marshall.
Advantage: West Virginia
Both teams are very dangerous in the kick return game. BC's Will Blackmon is averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return and 10.5 yards per punt return. WV's "Pac Man" Jones averages 25.5 per kickoff return and an amazing 16.2 yards per punt return (10th in the country). As far as the kickers go, both BC's Ryan Ohliger and West Virginia's Brad Cooper have converted 7 of 12 field goals. Mountaineers punter Phil Brady averages 38.7 yards per punt, less than one yard better than BC's Johnny Ayers.
Both teams appear to be even on kick returns. Ohliger and Ayers have nearly identical stats to their West Virginia counterparts, but the experience gap gives the advantage to West Virginia (Cooper is a Senior, Brady a Junior). BC has fielded kickoffs better (14.6 vs 17.2) but West Virginia has fielded punts better (6.3 vs 9.4). This matchup is another "too close to call."
This game will undoubtedly be an intense battle. The two schools simply do not like each other. West Virginia is a charter member of Big East Whiners Society along with Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Rutgers. These are schools - with the exception of Syracuse - that would have accepted an invitation to the ACC in under ten seconds had it been offered to them but are now bitter because BC was invited to join the ACC next season. The Mountaineer fans will be angry and energized and the fact that the BCS bid is on the line will only enhance those feelings. If you are BC fan heading to Morgantown for the game, I urge you to be careful and watch your back. I am not kidding. These will not be UConn fans tossing beer cans and taunting children dressed in BC gear.
As for the game, it will be a very, very long day for Boston College if Rasheed Marshall can run the ball effectively. This is the key to the game for BC. If the Eagles can contain Marshall and Chris Henry, this could be a great game for the BC defense. I am not that fearful of Harris and Colson and West Virginia hasn't shown much of a passing attack beyond Henry. On the other side of the ball, the West Virginia defense is definitely one that can be damaged via the pass. It will help immensely if BC can regain the rushing attack that it had earlier in the season. Most importantly, BC needs to cut down on the mistakes. The Eagles have turned the ball over 17 times (just over 2 per game) this season and have averaged 8.5 penalties per game. If those averages hold this week, BC will lose by a couple of touchdowns.
Things have been going well for the Boston area teams of late and I'm hoping that BC will continue that trend. For those BC fans who also root for the Sox and Patriots, seeing BC in a BCS bowl would be the 2004 trifecta. The Sox were overdue for some big game magic and so are the Eagles. I'm predicting a 21-19 victory on two Peterson touchdown passes and a Brian Toal defensive score. Why not?
Prediction: Boston College 21 West Virginia 19
West Virginia Fight Song