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No. 16 Virginia Tech looks to rebound from a home loss to No. 2 Clemson this weekend at Boston College. The Eagles have a good defense, but their offense has been putrid, as has been the case for the last several seasons. With a 2-3 record on the season, BC will struggle for bowl eligibility as head coach Steve Addazio’s seat gets warmer.
Addazio is 26-30 overall and 11-23 in the ACC in five years at BC, and he’s guided the Eagles to three bowl games. However, his best seasons came with former head coach Frank Spaziani’s players. As he has filled the team with his own players, Addazio has lost more games. That says a lot, considering Spaziani wasn’t noted for his recruiting prowess.
2013: 7-6, 4-4 in ACC
2014: 7-6, 4-4 in ACC
2015: 3-9, 0-8 in ACC
2016: 7-6, 2-6 in ACC
2017: 2-3, 0-2 in ACC
The Eagles are just 2-16 over their last 18 ACC games. As a comparison, Virginia has won twice as many ACC games over the same time span. It’s fair to say that Boston College is the worst program in the ACC right now. You normally might not favor the Hokies by 16.5 points in a road game, but considering what the Eagles have done in league play over the last 2.5 seasons, I can see why Vegas is predicting a comfortable Virginia Tech victory.
Here are the scores of BC’s games thus far…
at Northern Illinois: 23-20 win
vs. Wake Forest: 34-10 loss
vs. Notre Dame: 49-20 loss
at Clemson: 34-7 loss
vs. Central Michigan: 28-8 win
Let’s take a closer look at Boston College and figure out why they have been struggling so much.
Quarterback Anthony Brown
For those of you who pay close attention to recruiting, you probably recognize the name Anthony Brown (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, r-Fr.). That’s because Virginia Tech recruited him to be a part of their 2016 class. Former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler wanted to take one quarterback that year, and it came down to Brown or Josh Jackson. Loeffler stayed on Jackson hard, and from what I gather prioritized him slightly over Brown. Brown ended up committing to Boston College, while Jackson committed to Loeffler because he knew him very well. Loeffler and Josh Jackson’s father Fred were assistants together at Michigan.
Poor Loeffler. He got a commitment from his No. 1 guy at Virginia Tech, and now he’s coaching his No. 2 guy at Boston College. If you’re a TSL Pass subscriber, here’s an article I wrote about Brown and Jackson from May 18, 2015.
In all seriousness, Brown is a talented player, but he’s a very different player than Josh Jackson. He isn’t as natural a passer as Jackson, and if you aren’t a natural passer then you are going to struggle as a young player in Scot Loeffler’s offense. Brown has indeed struggled thus far in 2017. Here are his numbers…
Passing: 89-of-167 (54.9 percent) for 743 yards, six touchdowns, seven interceptions
Rushing: 18 carries, 27 yards
Brown can run the ball decently, but BC’s offense is so bad as a whole that it isn’t going to show up in the statistics. His youth is part of the issue, but a general lack of talent is also a major problem. Young quarterbacks like Brown need help, especially from the running game, and he isn’t getting it.
Lack of a Running Game Hinders BC Offense
If you grew up on old school Big East football, you know that Boston College always seemed to have good backs. Mike Cloud and William Green were especially good backs. Perhaps even more importantly, the Eagles always seemed to have a good offensive line.
Between 1994 and 2004, eight Boston College offensive linemen were drafted by the NFL. However, only two BC linemen have been drafted since 2012. Gone are the days of Anthony Castonzo, Jeremy Trueblood, Dan Coppen, etc. This group just isn’t as good in the trenches anymore.
Boston College averages 159.2 yards per game on the ground, and on paper that is a solid number. However, if you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll see that the Eagle rushing attack has been ineffective. BC averages just 3.6 yards per carry despite only being sacked five times this year. Take a look at the numbers of their top two ball carriers…
Jon Hilliman (6-feet, 220 pounds, Jr.): 87 carries, 325 yards, 3.7 ypc, two touchdowns
AJ Dillon (6-feet, 240 pounds, Fr.): 79 carries, 298 yards, 3.8 ypc, two touchdowns
Those are big guys, but they aren’t exactly picking up big chunks of yardage.
As he did at Virginia Tech, Scot Loeffler will try to get other players involved in the running game as well. Wide receiver Thadd Smith (5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Sr.) has carried the ball 16 times for 99 yards, and he leads all Eagles with more than six carries in yards per carry. A wide receiver can’t lead a rushing attack, however. That starts up front, and it starts in the backfield.
Statistically Speaking, the BC Offense is Among the Nation’s Worst
The Eagle offense can’t get out of its own way. They can’t run the ball effectively, which hurts the passing game, and their passing game is limited, which hurts their running game. They aren’t a difficult team to game plan against right now.
The numbers show this is one of the worst offensive teams in the country. We’re going to focus on the S&P+ advanced stats this week. Here is how the Eagles rank in some of the major categories, out of 129 teams…
Overall S&P+ offense: No. 124
Efficiency: No. 124
Explosiveness: No. 127
Finishing Drives: No. 122
Rushing Success Rate: No. 95
Rushing IsoPPP (big plays): No. 120
Opportunity Rate: No. 84
Power Success Rate: No. 22
Passing Success Rate: No. 128
Passing IsoPPP (big plays): No. 122
Boston College is among the worst teams in the country in almost all those categories. The only area in which they’ve had success is in power success rate, which is the percentage of runs on third and fourth down and two yards or less that achieve a first down or a touchdown. If the Tech defense can keep them out of short yardage situations, it is going to be very difficult for the Eagles to move the football and score points.
A Four Quarter Battle vs. the BC Defense
BC’s defense is pretty good, but they whither over the course of four quarters. That’s probably because as the game goes along, and it becomes obvious that they aren’t going to get help from their offense, it becomes easier to check out mentally. Boston College only averages 28:52 in time of possession, which is 86th in the nation, and it wears on their defense.
The Eagles have outscored opponents 20-19 in the first quarter this season. But by the fourth quarter, opposing teams are outscoring Boston College 54-10. Meanwhile, the Hokies have been notorious for their slow starts under Justin Fuente, but they always get it cranked up by the second half. Don’t be surprised if this game is close early, but the Hokies pull away after halftime. The Eagles allowed 21 fourth quarter points to Notre Dame and 27 fourth quarter points to Clemson. There is plenty of precedent.
The Boston College defense will probably play a good game for the most part on Saturday night, but it’s unlikely that they’ll hold up over the course of four quarters. However, if the BC offense has an unusually good game, that could potentially keep the Eagle defense involved mentally for all four quarters. It’s tough to see their offense having much success, though.
In case you’re curious, opponents outscore BC 41-31 in the second quarter and 31-27 in the third quarter. I’m not expecting the Hokies to take control of this game from the start. A gradual takeover is more likely.
Harold Landry and the BC Defense
BC’s best player, and one of the best defenders in the ACC, is defensive end Harold Landry (6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Sr.). He led the nation in sacks last season with 16.5, and he should be drafted in the first few rounds next May. Some projections even have him going as high as the first half of the first round. He’s an excellent player who is very difficult to block on the edge.
Boston College will line up Landry at various spots to make it difficult for offenses to double team him. They’ll line him up with his hand on the ground, and they’ll line him up as an outside linebacker. It’s tough to know where he’s going to be at all times. In the end though, he’s just one player. The Hokies held him to four assisted tackles last year, with no tackles for loss and no sacks. Tech won that game 49-0, and they put up big numbers because they were balanced offensively.
VT Rushing Yards: 223
VT Passing Yards: 253
VT Total Yards: 476
The Hokies were 7-of-14 on third down in that game, and they averaged 4.5 yards per carry. It’s not easy to do that against a solid Boston College defense. Again, some of that is because the Eagle defense knew that their offense had no chance to score, so they gradually checked out. It was only a 14-0 game late in the second quarter before Isaiah Ford made that great catch from Jerod Evans in double coverage. The Hokies then opened it up in the third quarter, scoring 21 more points.
One thing to note is that Virginia Tech’s top three rushers from last year’s game are all gone.
Marshawn Williams: 15 carries, 81 yards
Jerod Evans: nine carries, 48 yards
Brenden Motley: two carries, 37 yards, one touchdown
Travon McMillian averaged just three yards per carry against the Eagles last season, and he’s the only Tech player who actually carried the ball against Boston College in that game. Sam Rogers, DJ Reid, Shai McKenzie and Jack Click also carried it, but they are all gone.
That worries me a bit. Williams, Evans and Motley were all big guys, and they all had success against BC. The Hokies don’t have those big, bruising runners this season.
Tech will need to establish that running game though, because the Eagles have been susceptible to it this season. Opponents are averaging 259 yards and 5.7 yards per carry against Boston College through the first five games of the season. That’s almost hard to believe, because BC is usually so tough up front. Some of their issues have been caused by the loss of linebacker Tyler Strachan, who was lost for the season after playing in the first two games.
Here’s a look at BC’s overall S&P+ defensive numbers…
Overall S&P+ defense: No. 33
Efficiency: No. 77
Explosiveness: No. 33
Finishing Drives: No. 124
Rushing Success Rate: No. 102
Rushing IsoPPP (Big plays): No. 109
Power Success Rate: No. 96
Passing Success Rate: No. 36
Passing IsoPPP (big plays): No. 5
Boston College has done a very good job in the passing game this year. In particular they’ve have been outstanding at preventing big plays. However, their rushing defense has left a lot to be desired. Still, when you look even deeper, much of their issues came in just two games.
Northern Illinois: 164 rushing yards, 4.7 ypc
Wake Forest: 158 rushing yards, 3.0 ypc
Notre Dame: 515 rushing yards, 10.1 ypc
Clemson: 342 rushing yards, 5.9 ypc
Central Michigan: 116 rushing yards, 3.5 ypc
BC had trouble stopping a pair of mobile quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s Brandon Wimbush and Clemson’s Kelly Bryant.
Wimbush: 21 carries, 207 yards, 9.9 ypc, four touchdowns
Bryant: 22 carries, 106 yards, 4.8 ypc, two touchdowns
Expect to see some quarterback power runs and read options on Saturday.
Stopping Michael Walker
Boston College punt returner Michael Walker (6-feet, 195 pounds, Jr.) has been very dangerous this season. On 14 punt returns, he has gained 253 yards. That’s an average of 18.1 yards per return. He hasn’t returned one for a touchdown yet, but his performances have been very consistent. One or two returns aren’t inflating his average.
He will meet a stiff challenge on Saturday night. Only three of Oscar Bradburn’s 24 punts have been returned, and all three returns netted a grand total of one yard. Virginia Tech’s coverage team, and Oscar Bradburn, need to continue to do a great job on Saturday night. In a game where the BC offense is very unlikely to do much damage, only things like big special teams plays or defensive touchdowns can keep the Eagles in the game over four quarters.
I didn’t realize the Eagles were as bad as they were until I looked at their overall stats, looked at their individual box scores, and looked at their record dating to the start of the 2015 season. I realize that Tech has had trouble in Chestnut Hill before, and that games up there are usually ugly, but with as bad as BC’s offense is, I just can’t see the Hokies dropping this game.
Why is Boston College so bad? They simply don’t have very many good players anymore. Check out their recruiting rankings over the last few years…
2012: No. 63
2013: No. 87
2014: No. 42
2015: No. 47
2016: No. 83
2017: No. 66
You aren’t going to win too many games in a Power 5 conference with recruiting like that. On the other hand, Wake Forest’s recruiting hasn’t been any better from a rankings standpoint, but Dave Clawson still has a pretty solid team down in Winston-Salem.
The Eagles might have it tougher than any team in the ACC. Not only do they have to play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville every year, but their crossover opponent is Virginia Tech. That’s four games that the Eagles are very likely to lose each and every year, which means they would have to win 100% of their remaining games just to go 8-4. That’s tough to do when your recruiting classes rank between 42nd and 87th.
I do think Steve Addazio is a tough guy, and I view him as a pretty good X’s and O’s coach. But he’s in year five of his tenure, and he hasn’t been able to build a team that can win. When I look at that BC roster, I don’t see guys like Matt Ryan, Kevin Pierre Louis, Andre Williams, Luke Kuechly, BJ Raji, Mathias Kiwanuka, etc. This was a program that had ten first round picks between 1999 and 2012. They were never a team that was as talented as Virginia Tech from top to bottom, but they had difference makers on their roster. Now the only difference maker is Landry, and how much good can one defensive end do?
Virginia Tech games at Boston College are rarely exciting, and I’m not expecting Saturday night’s contest to be any different. My goal is to get a win and to escape with no injuries. The Hokies would have to play very poorly to lose this game. I just don’t see it happening. Tech will win a slow, methodical game over the course of four quarters.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 10
Will Stewart’s Take: These two teams started playing regularly in 1993, with the advent of Big East round-robin play, and since then, have clashed 25 times. The Hokies have run off winning streaks in the series of seven games (1996-2002) and five games (2008-2012), but outside of that, are 5-8 against BC. The Eagles have at times dealt some pretty painful losses to the Hokies, including the 22-3 Brenden Hill dancing game and the 14-10 Matt Ryan game in 2007.
But these are tough times for Boston College football. They’re struggling to stay relevant, and most college football fans don’t pay much attention to them anymore. The athletic department as a whole is seeking bottom, with BC’s football and men’s basketball teams earning the dubious distinction of going winless in conference play in 2015-16, the only time that has ever happened in the ACC. Last year they won just four games combined.
None of which is relevant to this game. I just like going on tangents.
I’ve said many times over the years that I’ll never pick BC to beat Virginia Tech. Googling “i will never pick bc to beat virginia tech techsideline” produces at least three instances where I have said that. With that mindset, I never put much thought into my game predictions for this matchup, other than to repeat that phrase above in some form before pulling numbers out of a hat. Sometimes, I get burned.
As Boston College’s program continues to slide and fans continue to lose interest — they have averaged between 30,000 and 35,000 fans every year since 2012, which is almost Duke-like numbers — I worry that a sleepy, poorly-attended game at Boston College will drag the Hokies’ performance down. Fortunately, ESPN for some reason scheduled this game as a night game. Everybody loves a night game, so I hope that’ll keep the Hokies sharp.
I don’t think Boston College’s defense will cave like it did last year in Lane Stadium, but I do believe as the game goes on that, like Chris notes, they’ll wear down, more mentally than physically. This will be sort of close for a while, but I expect Virginia Tech to win comfortably.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Boston College 6
Ricky LaBlue’s Take: Wait a minute, I’m still allowed to pick games? After picking Virginia Tech to beat Clemson last week, I thought for sure they would have revoked this privilege. Guess not.
Boston College has won two games this season, but is 0-3 when they play Power 5 opponents and Notre Dame. In those three games, they’re averaging 12.3 points per game. Sorry Scot Loeffler, that’s not going to cut it.
Virginia Tech’s offense looked pretty rough last weekend, but this is different. As Chris noted earlier, Boston College simply isn’t recruiting the type of talent that Clemson is. And when you take into account all the losing that goes on up at Chestnut Hill, it’s easy to see why they can’t recruit.
The Hokie offense seems to sputter at the beginning of almost every game, and I can see them doing the same on Saturday night. It’s the first road game of the ACC schedule, the crowd likely won’t be inspiring and Boston College’s pass defense is actually quite good statistically. I do believe Virginia Tech will slowly separate themselves in this game, winning the game in comfortable fashion. If they don’t, I might lose my picking privileges.
Ricky’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 10