2012 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Boston College

Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, on November 14, 2012
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  • Time: 12:30pm
  • TV: ACC Network

Virginia Tech has reached the elimination portion of their schedule. If the Hokies want to go to a bowl game this season, they have to beat Boston College on Saturday afternoon.

As you’ll see shortly, BC is a bad football team, so we are going to find out on Saturday exactly how bad Virginia Tech wants it. The Eagles have beaten exactly two football teams this year: Maine, who is a 1-AA team – and Maryland, who has gone through numerous starting quarterbacks. BC has major issues on both sides of the ball that they haven’t been able to overcome.

It all starts up front, which is where BC used to be good. This year, they are very bad. The talent on the offensive and defensive lines has slowly dropped in Chestnut Hill, and this year’s 2-8 record is the ultimate result.

The Boston College Offense

Things haven’t gone particularly well on the offensive side of the ball for Boston College

Rushing: #118
Passing: #32
Total: #95
Scoring: #104
Pass Efficiency: #76
Sacks allowed: #93
Third down %: #112

For as long as the Hokies have played Boston College, the Eagles have been known for their solid running game behind big, physical offensive lines. This year’s BC offensive line is no different, from a size standpoint.

LT Emmett Cleary (6-7, 313, Sr.)
LG Bobby Vardaro (6-5, 312, So.)
C Andy Gallik (6-3, 300, So.)
RG Seth Betancourt (6-6, 304, So.)
RT John Wetzel (6-8, 302, Sr.)

Obviously the Eagles have some big guys up front, but they haven’t been particularly effective this season. BC has only rushed for 750 yards as a team, on 271 carries. That’s exactly 75 yards per game, and they are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. That includes a 99 yard touchdown run by Andre Williams (6-0, 220, Jr.) against Army. Were it not for that run, that average would be even worse, 2.4 yards per carry. Williams, who is the team’s leading rusher with 599 yards, missed last week’s Notre Dame game with an abdominal injury. His status for the Virginia Tech game is up in the air, though he currently isn’t listed on the BC depth chart.

Without Williams in the lineup, the Eagles have Rolandan Finch (5-10, 211, Jr.) and David Dudeck (6-0, 195, Fr.) at tailback. Finch has rushed for 154 yards this year. Dudeck, a true freshman, is listed atop BC’s depth chart this week. He has carried the ball just 28 times this year for a total of 34 yards. Yes, you read that right. Dudeck is averaging 1.2 yards per carry. The Eagles give up a lot of tackles for loss and sacks, and that’s good for the Tech defense, which ranks #17 nationally in tackles for loss.

Starting quarterback Chase Rettig (6-3, 213, Jr.) hasn’t benefited from the play of the offensive line either. The Eagles are just #92 nationally in sacks allowed, and Rettig has netted -160 net rushing yards this year, an incredible number. For comparison’s sake, the oft-sacked Sean Glennon’s worst net rushing yardage was -81 yards, in 2006.

Rettig is much improved as a passer, completing 57.1% of his passes for 2,808 yards, with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. BC has trailed a lot this season, which has forced the Eagles to throw the ball quite a bit. Rettig’s top target is Alex Amidon (5-11, 186, Jr.), who has 73 catches for 1,157 yards and six touchdowns. Amidon looks even smaller than he is listed, but he is an excellent natural receiver with good hands.

Other receiving options for Boston College include:

Johnathan Coleman (6-4, 228, Jr.): 30 catches, 439 yards, 14.6 ypc, 4 TD
Bobby Swigert (6-1, 186, Jr.): 23 catches, 268 yards, 11.7 ypc, 1 TD
Spiffy Evans (6-0, 184, So.): 21 catches, 240 yards, 11.4 ypc, 1 TD

Even though his running hasn’t been particularly impressive, David Dudeck does have 20 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown. Rettig will also have tight end Chris Pantale (6-6, 255, Sr.) to rely on, and he has always been a solid player.

Boston College has several big problems on offense which have led to such a bad season:

1: An offensive line that isn’t as good as usual, particularly on the interior.
2: Lack of athletes on the outside at wide receiver.
3: Injuries at running back. Rolandan Finch has missed seven games due to injury as well.

When you can’t block, you don’t have athletes on the outside, and your best running backs have missed time, then you aren’t going to be a very effective offense. This is an offense that the Virginia Tech defense should be able to contain without much difficulty.

The Boston College Defense

The Boston College defensive has rivaled the Boston College offense for statistical ineptitude.

Rushing: #116
Passing: #69
Total: #107
Scoring: #77
Pass Efficiency: #54
TFL: #119
Sacks: #119
Third down %: #118

The Eagles can’t stop the run, they have been very mediocre at stopping the pass, they can’t get any kind of penetration against the offense, and they can’t stop opponents on third down. When you combine that with their offensive struggles, you have the recipe for a very bad football team.

Boston College is expected to start two freshmen on defense, along with one r-freshmen and five sophomores. That kind of youth is certainly a reason the BC defense hasn’t been strong this season. Their best player is linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (6-1, 215, Jr.), who has missed three games this season with an injury, and who might not play against Virginia Tech this weekend.

Let’s start with a look at BC’s defensive line.

DE Mehdi Abdesmad (6-6, 270, So.): 20 tackles, 1 TFL
DT Connor Wujciak (6-4, 267, r-Fr.): 24 tackles, 1 TFL
DT Bryan Murray (6-2, 299, Sr.): 12 tackles, 0.5 TFL
DE Kasim Edebali (6-2, 258, Jr.): 43 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks

As you can see, BC’s starting defensive line makes relatively few plays in the backfield, and their backups are even less productive. As noted above, BC ranks next-to-last nationally in tackles for loss and sacks, so in theory they shouldn’t be able to get into the backfield and wreck Virginia Tech’s offense before the play develops.

At linebacker, I like Kevin Pierre-Louis quite a bit. He’s undersized, but he can run and make plays. However, he’s also banged up and might not play this weekend. His replacement would be a true freshman. Here’s a look at the projected starting linebackers for the Eagles:

LB Steele Divitto (6-3,226, Jr.): 81 tackles, 0 TFL
LB Sean Duggan (6-4, 228, So.): 31 tackles, 1 TFL
LB Steven Daniels (6-0, 225, Fr.): 24 tackles, 0.5 TFL

To make matters worse, leading tackler Nick Clancy (6-3, 232, Sr.) left the Notre Dame game with an upper body injury and did not return. His status for the Virginia Tech game has not been updated, but he is not listed on this week’s Boston College depth chart. Clancy has 107 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss this season, and he would be a big loss for the BC defense.

If Pierre-Louis and Clancy don’t play against Virginia Tech, that would give the Hokies a tremendous opportunity to run the football against the Eagles. BC already ranks #116 in rushing defense with those two guys in the lineup, and they would presumably be even worse with them on the sideline.

Even though the BC secondary is very young, the Eagles have been better against the pass than they have against the run.

FC Manny Asprilla (5-10, 167, So.): 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
BC Sean Sylvia (6-0, 204, So.): 82 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT
FS Justin Simmons (6-3, 175, Fr.): 40 tackles, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles
SS Spenser Rositano (6-1,200, So.): 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 INT, 1 forced fumble

Sean Sylvia is playing out of position at boundary corner. He’s a better fit at safety, but the lack of depth in the BC secondary forced the move. Spenser Rositano attended Stone Bridge High School in northern Virginia, and started as a true freshman for the Eagles last season.

Though statistically they have been the best part of the BC defense, I think Virginia Tech has a big chance to exploit this secondary. There is too much youth, there is a guy or two playing out of position, and there is a true freshman playing free safety. Quite frankly, I think they lack talent back there as well. The Hokies have been a big play offense all season, and they should have opportunities to make even more big plays on Saturday.

Special Teams

Boston College has been very hit or miss when it comes to special teams play.

Net punting: #47
Punt returns: #1
Kickoff returns: #115
Punt return defense: #59
Kickoff return defense: #27

BC ranks #1 nationally in punt return average, though that’s a deceiving number. The Eagles have returned just nine points on the season, and Spiffy Evans returned one of them 82 yards for a touchdown. Kickoff returns are a different story. BC averages just 17.6 yards per return as a team, and Evans only 18.7 yards per return as an individual.

The Eagles have been middle-of-the-pack when it comes to punting the football, and they’ve been very strong in their kickoff coverage. Nate Freese (6-0, 185, Jr.) is 14-of-16 on his field goal attempts this year, and he has made every attempt inside of 40 yards. If BC reaches the red zone, they are almost guaranteed to score at least three points, assuming they don’t turn the ball over.

Virginia Tech is better than Boston College both offensively and defensively. It’s absolutely critical that the Hokies don’t have a special teams gaffe in this game. Good field position could swing the game in BC’s direction, as well as provide momentum and confidence.

Final Thoughts

How do you pick this game? Well, you can pick it based on how bad of an overall football team Boston College is, and in that case you would choose the Hokies to win. Or, you can pick it based on how bad Virginia Tech has been on the road, and how they usually perform in trips to Chestnut Hill. In that case, you would pick the Eagles to win.

As the statistics show, Boston College is a bad football team. They’ve beaten Maine and a Maryland team that doesn’t have a quarterback. They lost to Army, who lost to Stony Brook. Stony Brook is a very good 1-AA team this year, and I realize the transitive property doesn’t always work in football. Nevertheless, it should most definitely work when Virginia Tech and Stony Brook are included in the same sentence.

Can Boston College win this game? Absolutely. As you know, Virginia Tech hasn’t won a game away from Lane Stadium since last year’s UVA game. That’s right, it’s been a full 12 months. This game is exactly what I was afraid it would be: a 12:30pm kickoff against a 2-8 team, with the Hokies coming off three straight losses.

When is the last time Tech lost four straight games? You have to go all the way back to 1994-95, when the Hokies lost to UVA and Tennessee to end 1994, and to Boston College and Cincinnati to start 1995. When is the last time they lost four straight in the same season? You have to go all the way back to 1992. Coincidentally, if that’s the last time Tech didn’t go to a bowl game. If they lose to BC on Saturday, they won’t go to a bowl game, and it will be their fourth straight loss.

I’m picking the Hokies in this one, but only because I know BC is a really bad football team. The Eagles start three freshmen and five sophomores on defense, so youth can’t be an excuse if the Hokies fail to score a lot of points in this one. BC also has too many injuries in critical positions, such as linebacker and running back. I can see the Eagles winning the game, simply because I don’t trust Virginia Tech. Nevertheless, I can’t pick a team as banged up and as young as Boston College.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 17

Will Stewart’s Take: Those of you who have been reading TSL for a while know that one of my mantras is “I will never pick Boston College to beat Virginia Tech. Never.”

That mantra worked very well from 1996-2002, when the Hokies went 7-0 against the Eagles, but from 2003 through 2008, it got rocky at times. Tech went 3-4 against the Eagles during that stretch, though thankfully, two of the three wins were ACC Championships.

Particularly vexing were a pair of bed-wetting performances by the Virginia Tech offense in Chestnut Hill in 2006 and 2008. Tech lost those games 22-3 and 28-23, gaining just 211 yards per game and scoring zero offensive touchdowns in 120 minutes of football.

Finally, in 2010 in Chestnut Hill, the Hokies got things going — sort of — and shut BC out 19-0. Even with that win, the Hokies have scored just one offensive touchdown in their last three games at Boston College. One touchdown in 180 minutes. Wow.

So, while I’m not picking the Hokies to lose to Boston College, I don’t see this as a cakewalk, either. You have to go all the way back to 1996, a Jim Druckenmiller-led 45-7 pasting of the Eagles, to find the last time the Hokies romped in Beantown. (I’m sure you’re getting tired of the history lessons, so let me explain that I brought that game up only because it was my bachelor party weekend … in Boston. Yep, I’ve got a great group of buddies. They really outdid themselves on that one.)

The Hokies have a firmly-established history, across multiple classes of recruits, with a handful of starting quarterbacks, and different groups of assistant coaches, of struggling in Alumni Stadium. Something about that place brings out the worst in Virginia Tech football, and it’s not likely that this year’s team, losers of every game they’ve played away from Lane Stadium, is going to break that trend and win by five touchdowns.

BC is a really bad football team, but VT’s difficulties on the road and in Chestnut Hill will keep this one relatively close.

Yes, I just completed another scintillating, knowledgeable, in-depth analysis of the matchups and drew a brilliant conclusion.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Boston College 10

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