2009 Football Game Preview: Boston College at #5 Virginia Tech

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  • Date: Saturday, October 10th, 2009
  • Time: noon
  • TV: Raycom (affiliate

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Virginia Tech hosts a familiar foe on Saturday, as Boston College comes to
town for a game that will help shake out the ACC standings. The Eagles are
having a good season under first year head coach Frank Spaziani, and considering
their recent success against Virginia Tech, they will not be intimidated when
they come to Blacksburg.

Boston College has beaten Tech three times in a row in the regular season, as
well as four of the last five regular season games. The Eagles knocked off the
Hokies in 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Tech won in 2005, and then they managed to
beat BC in the ACC Championship Game in 2007 and 2008.

One of BC’s reasons for success against the Hokies has been a defense that’s
always been able to stifle the Tech offense. BC head coach Frank Spaziani knows
the style of Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech more than any other coach in college

Frank Spaziani’s Coaching Career vs. VT
















This Saturday will be Spaziani’s 27th game coaching against the Hokies. He has
faced Beamer and Tech at UVA and Boston College, and he was a long-time
defensive coordinator for both schools. This will be the first time he matches
up against the Hokies as a head coach.

So far this season, BC is 4-1. They have victories over Northeastern, Kent
State, Wake Forest and Florida State. Their one loss was to Clemson, but as
we’ll see later, that was a much different Boston College team.

The Boston College Offense

Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie (6-4, 216, Fr.) will be making his
third career start on Saturday. He took over following the Clemson loss because
Justin Tuggle (6-3, 222, r-Fr.) was ineffective. Against Clemson, Tuggle was
4-of-20 for 23 yards, with three interceptions. The BC offense managed only 54
yards in the 25-7 loss.

Shinskie started the next game against Wake Forest, and he’s led the Eagles
to wins over the Demon Deacons and Florida State. In those two games, he is
31-of-51 (60.9%) for 439 yards, with five touchdowns and just one interception.
Shinskie is a 25 year old true freshman who played Minor League Baseball, so he
doesn’t get rattled like a typical freshman. He is currently ranked 22nd in the
country in passing efficiency.

Here are BC’s offensive stats for the year, but take them with a grain of

Boston College Offense





151.4 ypg



176.8 ypg



328.2 ypg



30 ppg


Pass Eff.




1.4 per game




Those aren’t very impressive numbers. However, over the last two games BC is
averaging almost 400 yards per game. With Shinskie at quarterback, the Eagles
have been a very balanced team offensively.

BC Offense, Last Two Games

















Those are very balanced numbers, and to beat a Bud Foster defense, it’s
important for the offense to be balanced.

Boston College has the second leading rusher in the ACC in sophomore tailback
Montel Harris (5-10, 200, So.). As a true freshman last year, Harris ran for 900
yards, which was a Boston College freshman record. So far in 2009, he has rushed
for 449 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the process.
His 89.8 yards per game is second in the ACC, behind Ryan Williams (115.0 ypg).

He’ll be joined in the backfield by Josh Haden (5-8, 181, So.). Haden has 198
yards on the ground this year. He is small, but he’s a good back. He and Harris
combine to form a very good one-two punch for the Eagles.

Rich Gunnell (5-11, 196, r-Sr.) is BC’s most experienced receiver, and best
overall receiver. He leads the team with 16 catches for 212 yards, with three
touchdowns. Gunnell won’t wow you with great athletic skills, but he’s a solid,
reliable receiver who knows how to get open.

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Colin Larmond, Jr. (6-3, 200, So.) has 12 catches for 245 yards (20.4 ypc)
and two touchdowns. He is a big play threat for the Eagles. He had a 55 yard
touchdown against Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl as a freshman, and he also
has a 60 yard reception this year. He led the Eagles in receiving against
Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game as a true freshman last year.

Justin Jarvis (6-5, 196, Sr.) is another experienced receiver. Jarvis is a
solid possession receiver, but he’s never been a big playmaker for the Eagles.
He will probably draw a starting assignment against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Overall, BC has a solid and productive group of wide receivers. Their numbers
will get better throughout the season now that Shinskie is playing quarterback.
The Eagles will also use the tight end. Chris Pantale (6-6, 244, r-Fr.) has nine
catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

As usual, the identity of BC on offense is being big and physical in the
trenches. This year’s offensive line is exactly that … big and physical.

BC Offensive Line







Anthony Castonzo





Nathan Richman





Matt Tennant





Thomas Claiborne





Rich Lapham




Four starters are back from last season. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been
starting since his true freshman season in 2007. You might remember him as the
right tackle who was abused by Chris Ellis all night long on that rainy night in
Lane Stadium two years ago. At that point he was an undersized player who lacked
strength. Now he’s developed into a most-likely First Team All-ACC selection.

The other returning starters are center Matt Tennant, right guard Thomas
Claiborne and right tackle Rich Lapham. Tennant is one of the conference’s best
centers, while Claiborne is a drive blocker with a low center of gravity. He is
somewhat similar to former BC offensive guard Josh Beekman, who is now in the

BC’s offensive line can drive block, and they have only allowed seven sacks
in five games this year. They always have one of the best lines in the ACC, and
this year is no different. It would help the Hokies a lot if they get John
Graves back healthy this week. He is Tech’s most physical defensive tackle.

With Shinskie making his first road start, expect Boston College to try and
establish the running game on early downs. If they can get into third and short
situations, it will be much easier to keep the chains moving. The Eagles need to
be balanced to beat the Hokies, but they also must guard against turnovers.

The BC Defense

The Boston College defense prides itself on being physical and tough in the
trenches, just like the offensive line. The Eagles lost star defensive tackles
B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, as well as All-ACC linebacker Mark Herzlich (get there
early on Saturday to see Darren Evans present Herzlich with a check for his
cancer treatment), but they are still stingy on the defensive side of the ball.

Boston College Defense





101 ypg



193 ypg



294 ypg


Pass Efff.




7.2 per game



0.8 per game




BC had three players returning at defensive end with a lot of starting
experience, so they moved one to defensive tackle to make up for the loss of
Raji and Brace. Austin Giles (6-3, 278, r-Sr.) was a starter at defensive end
last year. He is better suited to his current defensive tackle role. He has 2.5
tackles for loss this year, and he’s tough to move off the line of scrimmage.

Joining him inside are Kaleb Ramsey (6-3, 274, So.), Nick Rossi (6-6, 295,
r-Sr.), Damik Scafe (6-3, 291, r-Jr.) and Conor O’Neal (6-3, 299, Fr.). Scafe is
a solid player, but he has been banged up for part of this season, and he’s not
listed in the two-deep for BC heading into this game. Ramsey is listed as the
starter opposite Giles. Whoever starts, there will be plenty of rotation on the
inside for the Eagles.

BC’s top defensive end is Alex Albright (6-5, 248, r-Jr.). He is the biggest
playmaker on the BC defense. He has 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack through five
games. Albright took a medical redshirt last season, but he led the team in
sacks with 8.5 in 2007. He is BC’s most athletic defensive lineman, and he’s
difficult to block.

However, Albright suffered a sprained ankle against Florida State and left
the game. He is questionable for Tech game. If he can’t go, it would be a big
blow to the BC defense.

Jim Ramella (6-4, 247, r-Sr.) is the other starting defensive end. He’s not
as athletic as Albright, but he’s a very physical player who has played well
against Virginia Tech in the past. Ramella had three tackles for loss and a sack
in last year’s ACC Championship Game.

Brad Newman (6-2, 256, Jr.) and Dan Williams (6-2, 240, r-So.) are the
backups at defensive end. Newman is a solid player, but he’s not a playmaker
behind the line of scrimmage. Williams is a converted linebacker who is in his
first season at defensive end.

Boston College has an inexperienced and injury plagued group of linebackers,
but they have played pretty well this year. Middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin
(6-0, 245, r-Sr.) tore his ACL in the spring, and he has played in just two
games this season. He played in BC’s most recent game against Florida State, and
he will likely play against the Hokies as well. He is the tough, hard-nosed
middle linebacker that you typically see at Boston College.

Starting at strongside linebacker is Dominick LeGrande (6-2, 218, So.).
LeGrande played safety as a true freshman last year, so he is a very athletic
linebacker. He brings the element of speed to the Eagle front seven. So far this
year, he has two tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions. He is a
playmaker for the BC defense.

The best linebacker on the team might be weakside backer Luke Kuechly (6-3,
225, Fr.). A true freshman, Kuechly leads the team with 45 tackles. He is also
second on the team with four tackles for loss. Kuechly has probably been the
most impressive freshman defensive player in the ACC this year, and he looks
like a future start at linebacker for the Eagles.

Mike Morrissey (6-2, 219, r-Jr.), a former walk-on, also gets time at the
strongside position. He has four tackles for loss on the year. Alexander DiSanzo
(6-3, 230, r-Fr.) has also played well this year, with 17 tackles and three
tackles for loss. He will split time with Kuechly at the weakside position.

BC always seems to have depth at linebacker, and this year is no exception.
Imagine how good this front seven would be with Mark Herzlich playing.

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Boston College has also improved their secondary over the last few years.
They have four experienced cornerbacks who should play against Virginia Tech. At
the field corner position, Donnie Fletcher (6-1, 196, So) is a quality player
who started nine games as a true freshman last season. He generally splits time
with DeLeon Gause (5-11, 179, Jr.) at the field corner spot. However, starting
boundary corner Roderick Rollins (6-0, 189, Sr.) has a hamstring injury and he
is questionable for this game.

With Rollins probably not starting, Gause will move to boundary corner and
Fletcher will move into the starting lineup at field corner. Backing up Gause at
boundary will be Isaac Johnson (6-0, 183, So.). Johnson is third on the team in
tackles, with 23.

BC also has very experienced safeties. Wes Davis (6-1, 221, r-Jr.) started 12
games for the Eagles last season, and he had two interceptions. Marcellus Bowman
(6-2, 225, r-Sr.) has played free safety and strong safety during his career.

Neither Davis nor Bowman are major ball hawking safeties. However, they are
very big and they are good in run support. Bowman is second on the team in
tackles with 27. They are solid all-around players who will give Tech a major

BC has had a lot of success against the Tech offense recently. Part of that
is because B.J. Raji, Ron Brace and the rest of the BC front seven thoroughly
dominated the Tech offensive line, and the Hokie passing game wasn’t good enough
to exploit the BC secondary. The Eagles are very physical up front, and Tech has
been outmanned on the offensive line. They also play a good zone defense that is
designed not to give up the big play. They make opponents be consistent in the
short passing game, something the Hokies haven’t been good at recently.

Tyrod Taylor certainly showed his ability to throw the football last week,
but I still expect BC to go with their usual strategy against the Hokies.
They’ll be physical up front and try to stop the run, and play plenty of Cover 2
in the secondary.

Special Teams

Steve Aponavicius (5-10, 193, Sr.) is BC’s place kicker. He is a perfect
5-of-5 this season, after converting exactly 66.7% of his kicks over the last
two seasons. He has not attempted a field goal beyond 33 yards this year.
Aponavicius is a solid kicker, but he’s certainly not the best the Hokies have
faced this season.

Ryan Quigley (6-3, 191, So.) is averaging 41.9 yards per punt this year, with
a long of 58 yards. He’s a good punter, but the Eagles have allowed a punt
return for a touchdown this year, and opponents are averaging 13 yards per
return, tying BC for 93rd in the nation (in a bad way).

Wide receiver Rich Gunnell is having a good year as BC’s punt returner. He is
a steady, reliable player who won’t turn the ball over. He also has a 56 yard
return for a touchdown this year, and he’s averaging 15.6 yards per return, 15th
in the nation.

BC has a top notch kickoff team. Opponents are averaging just 16.4 yards per
return against the Eagles, good enough for 5th in the country. BC has the luxury
of having Jeff Smith (5-9, 204, r-Sr.), who is a capable kickoff return man. He
was first in the ACC and sixth in the nation in kickoff returns in 2006 as a

Neither team appears to have a major advantage in special teams, though I
think the edge goes to the Hokies. If either team manages to make a big play in
the kicking game, it could be the difference between a win or a loss.


I’m not getting the feeling that Tech fans have a lot of respect for Boston
College, and I’m not sure why. The Eagles have a habit of handing the Hokies
their butts at the line of scrimmage recently. They have the same mentality as
the Hokies. The same offensive and defensive philosophies. They have a coaching
staff that is easy to respect (now that Jagz is gone). They are a blue collar
team that always seems to do better than expected. This is a good football team
the Hokies will be facing on Saturday. They are the most balanced team in the
Atlantic Division, and for the third year in a row, this might not be the only
meeting this year between the two teams.

I’m worried about this game. Legitimately worried. I’m going to pick Tech
because I think they are the better team, but BC can definitely win this one.
Like everyone else the Hokies have played, I don’t think the Eagles will be able
to consistently move the football. However, I am worried about big plays. Sooner
or later Tech’s red zone defense isn’t going to be as impressive if they keep
giving up big plays. Some of those will pop for touchdowns.

If BC can hit a couple of big plays for touchdowns, and the Tech offense gets
bogged inside Frank Spaziani’s umbrella zone coverage, then this one will be a
battle into the fourth quarter. I don’t think the Eagles will be giving up those
deep balls like Duke did, so the Hokies will have to be consistent underneath.

All that said, I like what I’ve seen from the Tech offense recently. They
have yet to put together a completely balanced game. They ran all over Marshall,
they ran all over Miami, they passed all over Duke, etc. I think we’ve yet to
see them play a complete game, but I think they can do that this weekend. BC has
some injuries up front, and I think Tech will be a lot more focused than they
were against the Blue Devils.

I was going to pick 27-17, but it seems like a lot of other folks are picking
that score as well. So I’ll modify mine a bit.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 20

Will Stewart’s Take: Virginia Tech beat the Eagles seven straight times
from 1996-2002, but ever since the Hokies got their ACC invitation in the summer
of 2003, things have gone bad for VT in this matchup. Tech has gone 3-4 against
BC since 2003, including just 1-4 in the regular season. Thank God for those ACC
Championship Game wins, because otherwise, this rivalry would have been a train
wreck for the Hokies.

Throw out 2003, because by the end of the season, that team couldn’t win a
flag football game against the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. (That doesn’t mean I
wouldn’t watch it, though.) I just spent some time looking over box scores for
the six games since 2005, trying to figure out what needs to change.

My answer is not surprising: this one’s on the offense. Tech’s defense
against Boston College has been steady in the last six games, limiting the
Eagles to an average of 17 points and 293.5 yards per game. When players not
named Matt Ryan are quarterbacking the Eagles, BC has averaged just 263.8 yards
per game, never going over 308 yards, with points production remaining about the

The Hokie D has had their lapses along the way, but when the Hokies have lost
to BC, it has generally been a horror show on offense.

VT’s Offense in the Last Three Losses to BC




Offensive Points*


L, 22-3




L, 14-10




L, 28-23




L, 21-12



*Includes field goals

As noted by Chris (and Raleigh Hokie on the boards), the BC defense tries to
keep the offense in front and force their opponents to use the short passing
game and the running game to work their way downfield.

The Hokies haven’t been able to do that in the regular-season matchups the
last three years. The one regular season win since entering the ACC was a 30-10
whipping the Hokies put on BC in 2005, when Tech had 492 yards of offense (212
rushing, 280 passing) in a balanced display that left the Eagles helpless.

Anyone ready for a replay of 2005? I am, and I wonder if the Hokies are, too.
Virginia Tech has the top rusher in the ACC in Ryan Williams, averages over 200
yards a game running the football, and has the 27th ranked QB in the country in
passing efficiency. The Hokies are doing a better job keeping defenses off the
QB, and you can tell that Virginia Tech has been working hard on the short
passing game this year.

VT has been working on and improving the very things that brought them up
short against the Eagles the last few years. Boston College has a balanced
defense that ranks 26th in the nation in total defense and 20th in scoring
defense, so I’m anxious to see the Hokie offense measure itself against this

I doubt Tech will compile 492 yards like the 2005 team did, but you never
know. I’ll settle for 350 yards and 28 points, both of which would be huge
improvements over the last three regular season games.

This Tech team is hard to peg, because they have been so inconsistent on
offense and defense, and we don’t know a whole lot about Boston College, either.
This is an intriguing matchup of two teams that are still developing, and each
team is going to learn a lot about itself Saturday.

If the Hokies are going to make a run at the ACC Championship, they’re going
to have to smooth out the bumps, starting right now, with this game. I think
they know that, and it’s what I’ll be looking for. I don’t think this will be
easy for the Hokies, by any stretch of the imagination, but I see Tech coming
out on top.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 17

(LOL — I always do my “take” and prediction without reading
Chris’s. Interesting to see his note about “a lot of other folks”
picking that score.)