2008 Football Game Preview: ACC Championship Game

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Saturday, December 6, 2008, 1pm

TV: ABC

Forecast (from Wunderground.com):

Click the “Tampa Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy. High of 72.


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Game Preview: Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3 ACC) vs. #17 Boston College (9-3, 5-3 ACC)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

Virginia Tech will meet Boston College on Saturday for the fourth time since
October 25, 2007. For the second year in a row, the teams will square off for
the ACC Championship and a berth in the Orange Bowl. BC won the regular season
meeting last year, but Tech was victorious in the ACC Championship Game. The
Hokies are hoping it will be a repeat in 2008.

Boston College knocked off Virginia Tech 28-23 in Chestnut Hill back on
October 18. The Hokies got two defensive touchdowns, from Macho Harris and Brett
Warren, but the offense failed to reach the endzone. The Eagles hit a couple of
big plays on offense, returned a punt for a touchdown and played dominating
defense, and they were able to come away with the win.

Both teams are very familiar with each other, with so many recent meetings.
Each of the last three games has gone down to the wire, and this Saturday should
be no different.

The Boston College Offense

Not a lot has changed with the Boston College offense since the first
meeting, except at quarterback. We’ll get to that in just a few moments.

The
Boston College Offense
Category Stat National
Rank
ACC
Rank

Rushing
151.17 ypg 56 4

Passing
168.17 ypg 99 10

Total
319.33 ypg 94 7

Scoring
26.67 ppg 53 4

Pass Efficiency
105.91 102 11

Sacks Allowed
1.42 per game 31 2

Average
72.5 6.33

Boston College lost quarterback Chris Crane for the season with a broken
collarbone against Wake Forest. Crane had his moments against the Hokies back in
October, but he also threw four interceptions and nearly cost his team the
football game.

With new quarterback Dominique Davis (6-4, 198, r-Fr.), the Eagles probably
won’t be quite as aggressive on offense. Davis hasn’t shown the ability to hit
as many big plays in the passing game as Crane. However, he has also protected
the football much better. He has not thrown a pick this year, despite playing a
major role in several games.

Davis has been BC’s primary quarterback for the last two games. Here’s a
quick look at how he’s fared.

Dominique Davis, Last Two Games

Opponent Comp. Att. Yards TD INT

Wake Forest
13 23 103 0 0

Maryland
12 24 134 2 0

Total
25 47 237 2 0

He doesn’t complete a high percentage of his passes, and he’s not as
aggressive down the field as Crane, but he’s done a good job for the Eagles.
However, how effective will he be against a Bud Foster defense? The answer to
that question could decide the game.

The Eagles will attempt to establish the running game to give Davis some
help. The Eagles are led by two true freshmen tailbacks, Montel Harris (5-10,
192, Fr.) and Josh Haden (5-8, 182, Fr.). Haden is the starter, and he has 439
yards on the season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

However, Harris has been the most effective back. He leads the team with 798
yards on the ground this year. He averages 5.1 yards per carry and he has five
touchdowns. Harris had some success against the Hokies earlier this year,
running for 61 yards on 15 carries. Expect that BC running game to be the
primary focus of Bud Foster. If he can shut down the run, he can force a
r-freshman quarterback to try and beat him.

Dominique Davis will have some solid receiving targets to help him out in the
passing game. Rich Gunnell (5-11, 196, Jr.) leads the team with 42 catches on
the season. He is averaging 10.4 yards per catch, with three touchdowns. Joining
him is big play threat Brandon Robinson, who has 37 catches for 581 yards and
three touchdowns. His 15.7 yards per catch average leads the team.

Justin Jarvis (6-5, 196, Jr.) is the third receiver. He is a big target who
has 22 catches for 216 yards and three touchdowns on the year. The Eagles also
feature tight end Ryan Purvis (6-4, 260, Sr.). Purvis has 20 catches for 147
yards. Though his numbers are down this year with no Matt Ryan, he is one of the
top tight ends in the conference.

Boston College has a good offensive line that is the heart and soul of their
offense. They aren’t dominant in pass protection or run blocking, but they are
perhaps the best combo run blocking/pass blocking offensive line in the ACC.

The
BC Offensive Line

Position

Name

Height

Weight

Year
LT
Anthony Castonzo
6-7 287 So.
LG
Clif Ramsey
6-6 311 Sr.
C
Matt Tennant
6-4 294 Jr.
RG
Thomas Claiborne
6-3 323 So.
RT
Rich Lapham
6-8 322 So.

Though the line features three sophomores, it has been an effective group for
the Eagles. Anthony Castonzo is probably the best player, and the left side of
the line is the strength.

How will this offense fare against Bud Foster’s defense? Probably not very
well, but the Eagles are the only team since September to put up 300 yards of
offense on the Tech defense.

The
Tech Defense After September
Opponent Yards
Allowed

Western Kentucky
243

Boston College
300

Florida State
248

Maryland
228

Miami
247

Duke
136

Virginia
249

Average
235.86

As you can see, the Tech defense has been nasty since the beginning of
October. The only team to reach the 300 yard mark was Boston College, and the
Eagles barely got there.

The Boston College Defense

Virginia Tech has the #1 ranked defense in the ACC right now, but BC is very
close behind at #2. Here is a look at the Eagles’ impressive defensive numbers
this season.

The
Boston College Defense
Category Stat National
Rank
ACC
Rank

Rushing
87.33 ypg 7 1

Passing
189.33 ypg 35 7

Total
276.67 ypg 8 2

Scoring
17.58 ppg 14 2

Pass Efficiency
99.37 9 1

Tackles for Loss
5.92 per game 49 6

Sacks
2.67 per game 17 2

Average
19.85 3

This is the best defense on Virginia Tech’s schedule this year. The Eagles
are dominant up front. Their ability to shut down the running game helps them
against the pass. Like the Hokies, it is tough to beat them if your offense is
one-dimensional. BC leads the nation with 25 interceptions this year, and
they’ve scored either a defensive or special teams touchdown in seven straight
games.

BC’s defense starts up front with their interior defensive line. B.J. Raji
(6-1, 323, Sr.) and Ron Brace (6-3, 324, Sr.) are dominant in the middle. Raji
was a First Team All-ACC selection, and Brace was named to the Second Team. For
the season, they have combined for 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. The Hokies
have not been able to get an inside running game going in their last three
meetings with BC, and there’s no reason to believe this game will be any
different.

The Eagles also have a terrific group of run-stuffing linebackers. Mark
Herzlich (6-4, 238, Jr.) was a First Team All-ACC selection. He led the Eagles
with 98 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. Herzlich also
intercepted an amazing six passes from his strongside linebacker position.
Besides all of those great numbers, he also broke up seven passes and forced two
fumbles. He is as active a linebacker as you’ll find in the ACC.

In the middle, BC has a brick wall in Mike McLaughlin (6-0, 252, Jr.).
McLaughlin doesn’t have great range, but he is very strong at the point of
attack. Combined with Raji and Brace in front of him, he’ll make life very
difficult for Virginia Tech’s interior offensive line. He has 10 tackles for
loss and four sacks on the year.

The third starting linebacker is Robert Francois (6-2, 253, Sr.). He returned
an interception for a touchdown against Maryland last week, and has seven
tackles for loss and two sacks this year.

Boston College has a huge front seven, in terms of weight. Their linebackers
are the size of Virginia Tech’s defensive ends. The Eagles’ starting front seven
averages 273.7-lbs per man, while VT’s averages just 252.7-lbs. That’s not a
criticism of the Hokies. They are just used as a comparison. In short, BC’s
front seven is very large and they will be difficult to move, if not impossible.

The Eagles are more vulnerable in the secondary. However, teams haven’t been
able to exploit it this year for two reasons. First, passing games in the ACC
are average at best. Second, BC shuts down the run every game, which means the
safeties don’t have to worry about run support at all.

BC’s size extends all the way back to their safeties. Strong safety Paul
Anderson (6-1, 211, Sr.) and free safety (6-1, 215, So.) have terrific size.
They don’t have great range, but that hasn’t mattered this year. Anderson is
second on the team with five interceptions on the season.

Boston College has solid corners, but they haven’t been playmakers this far.
Roderick Rollins (6-0, 188, Jr.), DeLeon Gause (5-11, 174, So.), Kevin Akins
(6-2, 224, Sr.) and Donnie Fletcher (6-1, 186, Fr.) have combined for seven
interceptions on the year. The majority of BC’s turnovers are forced by their
safeties and linebackers, so I don’t expect to see Tech throwing to the middle
of the field much in this game.

The Tech offense will likely play pretty conservatively this game, but they
will pick their spots and attack. I expect to see Tyrod Taylor using his legs
quite a bit in this game. Taylor ran for 110 yards in the first meeting against
BC. With the sudden improvement of the Tech receiving corps, the Hokies will be
able to attack the Eagles down the field more effectively than in their first
meeting.

Special Teams

With neither offense looking like they are going to do much against the
defense they are facing, special teams could be the difference in this game. It
certainly was last time, as Rich Gunnell’s 65 yard punt return for a touchdown
gave the Eagles a lead that the Hokies could never manage to overcome.

Despite that return, the Eagles haven’t been dangerous on punt returns this
year. Gunnell is the only player on the roster who has returned more than one
punt, and 65 of his 146 return yards came in that one play against Virginia
Tech. On kickoff returns, the Eagles average just 19.3 yards per return as a
team.

The kicking game is solid from short range. Steve Aponavicius is 13-of-20 for
the season. However, from beyond 30 yards he is just 7-of-13 this year, and he
hasn’t even attempted a field goal from beyond 40 yards. The Hokies appear to
have the advantage if this turns into a field goal battle.

Ryan Quigley is a true freshman punter who is averaging 39.7 yards per punt
on the season. Frank Beamer could try to go after a couple of his kicks.

On paper, the Hokies appear to have the advantage on special teams. However,
BC won the battle back in October, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Conclusion

This is a dead even matchup, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t know who is
going to the Orange Bowl. You might as well flip a coin. Neither offense is
going to have a lot of success, in my opinion. It will probably come down to
turnovers and the kicking game. Yeah, I know. I say that every week.

One thing I do like is how much the Virginia Tech wide receivers have
improved over the recent weeks. Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin are making big
plays for the Virginia Tech offense. They can’t be considered a weakness
anymore, in my opinion. I’ve seen them make more progress than the offensive
line, but that’s another story.

The last time these teams met, the Hokies were plagued by dropped passes from
an inexperienced wide receiver corps. Tyrod Taylor didn’t play his best game
that night, but he sure didn’t have much help either. This time, I think he’s
got a little more to work with. Confidence shouldn’t be an issue, after his
excellent performance against UVA.

On the other hand, Boston College has defeated Virginia Tech three of the
last four times the teams have met. The Hokies scored three points against BC in
2006. They scored 10 in the first meeting last year, but the one touchdown was a
gift from the refs. The Hokie offense put up 23 points against the Eagles in the
ACC Championship, but failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first
meeting this season.

In other words, Tech isn’t going to be breaking any offensive records on
Saturday. They are going to play it conservatively, take what they can get, and
try not to put the defense in bad situations. However, I still look for Tech to
take a few shots downfield. They’ll need to score an offensive touchdown this
time, that’s almost for certain.

I’m really close to picking BC in this game, simply because of how much
trouble they’ve given the Hokies lately. However, I liked what I saw from Tech
last week against UVA. I think the VT defense has improved by leaps and bounds
since the October 18 meeting, and I think Coale, Boykin and Dyrell Roberts will
play better this time around.

Therefore, I’ll stick by my preseason prediction and pick the Hokies to win
the ACC Championship Game and go to the Orange Bowl.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 13

Note: Will Stewart is not available to make his pick this week.

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