2010 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Boston College

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  • Date: Saturday, September 25, 2010
  • Time: Noon
  • TV: The ACC Network (formerly Raycom, check your local listings)

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
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Virginia Tech will open their ACC schedule on Saturday against familiar foes:
Boston College and Frank Spaziani. 1-3 with an 0-1 mark in the ACC would be a
very bad start for the Hokies. Unfortunately, they’ll be facing a team that has
given them a lot of trouble in recent years on the road.

Until last season’s 48-14 beating in Blacksburg, the Eagles had beaten the
Hokies three straight times in regular season meetings, though Tech came back to
beat BC in the 2007 and 2008 ACC Championship Games. The Hokies haven’t won in
Beantown since 2002. In fact, that’s the last time they scored an offensive
touchdown in Alumni Stadium.

Tech got trounced 22-3 in 2006 at BC, and lost 28-23 in 2008. In 2008, the
Tech defense scored two touchdowns, but wasn’t quite able to win the game for a
struggling Tech offense. In 2006, Tech had 28 carries for 33 yards as a team. In
2008, Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby combined for 23 carries for 42 yards. This
time around, the Hokie offense has to get something going, because they’ve
completely let the defense down in their last two meetings in Chestnut Hill.

Standing in their way will be long-time Tech nemesis Frank Spaziani. Spaziani
is in his second season as head coach after serving as long-time defensive
coordinator. He orchestrated those defenses that totally shut down the Hokies in
2006 and 2008 (not to mention 2007 in Blacksburg). He also has plenty of
experience coaching against the Hokie from his days at UVA.

Frank
Spaziani vs. VT
Years Team Job

1982-85
UVA DB

1985-91
UVA DC/DB

1997-98
BC RB

1999-2008
BC DC

2009-Pres
BC HC

As a former defensive backs coach, Spaziani has a great understanding of
different coverages. His defensive coordinator is Bill McGovern, who is doing a
very good job now that Spaziani has taken the next step in the coaching ranks.
You can bet that Spaziani has a big role in game-planning for the Tech offense
this week.

The Boston College Defense

Since Frank Spaziani got us going in a defensive direction, in this week’s
preview we’ll start with the defense rather than the offense.

Whenever the Hokies have an experienced group of wide receivers and an
offensive line that can block fairly well, they don’t’ have much trouble
lighting up the Eagle defense. However, that’s only happened in 2005 and 2009.

VT
Offense vs. BC Defense
Year Passing Rushing Total YPC Sacks
2005 280 212 492 4 1
2006 148 33 181 1.2 4
2007 149 116 265 2.8 3
2007 202 98 300 2.7 4
2008 90 150 240 3.9 1
2008 84 150 234 2.8 2
2009 206 235 441 4.6 4
Average 165.57 142.00 307.57 3.3 2.71

On most occasions, Boston College has dominated the Hokies in the trenches and
shut down the running game. Things began to turn last year, when BC’s talent
level dropped thanks to the loss of defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace
(both now in the NFL), and Tech’s talent and experience level shot up quite a
bit.

This is the same Virginia Tech offense that lit up the BC defense in Lane
Stadium last year. However, they aren’t playing as well as they were last
October when they faced the Eagles. BC will bring a tough defense that is used
to stopping people, and the Tech offensive line will have to be ready to play.

The Boston College defense has a couple of extremely talented linebackers in
Mark Herzlich (6-4, 244, Sr.) and Luke Kuechly (6-3, 235, So.). Herzlich plays
the strong side, and he was the best linebacker in the ACC two years ago.
However, he lost the 2009 season battling cancer in the form of Ewing’s sarcoma,
and has returned to the field this year. Herzlich isn’t likely back to his old
self yet, but he should still be a good player for the Eagles.

As a true freshman last season, Kuechly finished second in the country with
158 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss. He’s a big time football player, a
preseason All-American, and one of the best players in the country. He plays
middle linebacker for Boston College, and the Hokies will have to be very wary
of him.

The other linebacker isn’t nearly as experienced as Herzlich or Kuechly.
Kevin Pierre-Louis (6-2, 221, Fr.) is a true freshman who is starting on the
weakside of the defense. He has a great future at Boston College, and he’ll get
the first major test of his college career against the talented Virginia Tech
offense.

The Boston College defensive line is tough, though there was a serious
dropoff in talent after the departure of Brace and Raji following the 2008
season. Alex Albright (6-5, 251, Sr.) has started over 20 games in his career,
and he’s one of the ACC’s most underrated defensive players. He’s BC’s top pass
rusher by a wide margin, and he’s from the same high school as Kuechly. They
apparently grow outstanding defenders on trees at St. Xavier High School in
Cincinnati, OH.

Brad Newman (6-2, 257, Sr.) is the other starting defensive end. He’s a tough
player in the trenches who has also seen action at fullback earlier in his
career. He’s not a great athlete or a great pass rusher, and he’s not going to
play in the NFL. However, Newman is a typical tough Boston College defender.

Damik Scafe (6-3, 309, Sr.), Conor O’Neal (6-3, 286, So.) and Kaleb Ramsey
(6-3, 295, Jr.) are BC’s top defensive tackles. They can also play true freshman
Jaryd Rudolph (6-4, 287, Fr.), though a player so young might not be a great
matchup against the Hokie front.

Scafe is the strongest BC defensive tackle, and he plays his best against the
run. Ramsey is a solid all-around player and probably the best pass rusher of
the Eagle defensive tackles. This is a solid group of players, but it’s also one
that the Hokies blocked fairly easily last season.

The Boston College secondary is the most experienced part of their team.
Cornerback DeLeon Gause (5-11, 184, Sr.) is a solid player who has seen starting
time since he was a freshman. He’s the most experienced member of a very
experienced secondary, and he plays the boundary cornerback position for BC.

The other cornerback is Donnie Fletcher (6-1, 200, Jr.), who has also been
starting since he was a true freshman. Fletcher is a cornerback in the body of a
safety. He’s probably more suited to play safety, but the Eagles need him at
corner. BC’s corners are good football players who don’t make mistakes, but
they’ll have trouble with Tech’s talented wide receivers in man coverage.

Free safety Wes Davis (6-1, 217, Sr.) and strong safety Dominick LeGrande
(6-2, 215, Sr.) are both returning starters. They are very physical safeties,
but will struggle in coverage against good passing teams.

You won’t see the BC defensive backs blowing any coverages, because they are
smart, experienced football players. However, the Tech wide receivers do have
the talent advantage in one-on-one matchups. In the past, BC has used a two deep
umbrella coverage to keep the Hokies from beating them deep, while using only
their front seven against the Tech running game.

It will be interesting to see what Frank Spaziani and Bill McGovern elect to
do in this game. Their defensive backs can’t hang with the Tech receivers in man
coverage, but will the Tech passing game be able to take advantage if BC decides
to go Cover-0 or Cover-1?

Just my opinion, but with Ryan Williams out, I think BC will attempt to stop
Tech’s running game using only their front seven. If the Hokies have success
running the ball, the Eagles can always bring one of their big safeties up in
the box. However, a couple of big pass plays to Jarrett Boykin against man
coverage can blow this game wide open, which is why I think BC will come out in
their typical 2-deep zone.

The Boston College Offense

The core principles of the Boston College offense are the same as Virginia
Tech’s, though the Eagles don’t have the talent at the skill positions. BC likes
to get tough in the trenches, run the football, and make plays in the passing
game off playaction.

With Matt Ryan now in the NFL, the Eagles’ strength is with the ground game.
Montel Harris (5-10, 200, Jr.) ran for more yards in his first two seasons
(2,357) than any other runner in ACC history. He could be the best back in the
country that most people have never heard of.

It’s imperative that the Hokies stop Harris in this game. Last year they held
him to 43 yards on 11 carries, and put the game in the hands of quarterback Dave
Shinskie (6-4, 220, So.). Shinskie was a 25 year old true freshman last year,
and he didn’t handle the situation well, going 1-of-12 for four yards with two
interceptions. It was a horrid performance.

Shinkie is a better player now, but the BC coaches still don’t entirely trust
him. He’s thrown two interceptions already this year despite playing against bad
competition. He’s not the type of quarterback that is going to be able to beat a
quality football team by himself. He depends on his team establishing a running
game. If the Hokies shut down Montel Harris and force Shinskie to beat them, he
probably won’t be able to do it.

To stop Harris, the Hokies will have to deal with BC’s big, experienced
offensive line.

Boston
College Offensive Line
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Starts
LT
Anthony Castonzo
6-7 308 Sr. 43
LG
Emmett Cleary
6-7 300 So. 6
C
Nathan Richman
6-6 300 Jr. 12
RG
Thomas Claiborne
6-3 332 Sr. 28
RT
Rich Lapham
6-8 323 Sr. 27

Anthony Castonzo has been starting since his true freshman year, when he was
completely embarrassed by Chris Ellis and Orion Martin on that rainy night in
Blacksburg. Three years later, he’s the best offensive tackle in the ACC and is
projected to be a very high NFL Draft pick. Don’t look for the Hokies to get
much of a pass rush off the left side. The right side is also good, with
experienced starter Rich Lapham.

Thomas Claiborne is BC’s best and most physical guard. However, he’s not
listed as a starter this week. Instead, Mark Spinney (6-4, 282, Jr.) has been
inserted into the starting lineup, and he doesn’t have much experience in actual
games. BC hasn’t announced why Claiborne is not in the starting lineup, but he
is listed as second string in this game. My guess is that he isn’t starting due
to some minor infraction, but he’ll still see playing time against the Hokies.

Virginia Tech won’t see the wide splits that they got from the East Carolina
offense last week. The Tech defensive ends will have shorter routes to the
quarterback, though beating the BC offensive tackles will be a totally different
challenge. Tech’s best bet of getting pressure in this game is probably right up
the middle with zone blitzes, as well as Steven Friday off the edge in obvious
passing situations. Friday is an excellent pass rusher when he knows the
opponent has to pass. Not needing to pay attention to the run, he can pin his
ears back and use his natural athleticism to get to the quarterback.

Colin Larmond, Jr., BC’s top receiver, was lost for the season to a torn ACL
in the month of August. The Eagles aren’t particularly talented or deep at
receiver. Their best receiver appears to be Johnathan Coleman (6-4, 214, r-Fr.),
who will be making his first collegiate start against Virginia Tech. Through two
games, he has seven catches for 150 yards.

Besides Coleman, BC’s receivers have never been big producers. Ifeanyi Moman
(6-6, 240, Sr.) is a big target, but he hasn’t had a great career. He was going
to move to defensive end this year, but he was needed at receiver with the
injury to Larmond. Clyde Lee (6-0, 193, So.) is in the playing rotation for the
first time in his career, and Billy Flutie (6-2, 186, Sr.) is an experienced
player, but his talent is limited. He has more punts in his career than
receptions.

So far this year, BC hasn’t been able to get their running game going. Montel
Harris is averaging just 4.1 yards per carry despite the bad competition from
Weber State and Kent State. In fact, Kent State held him to just 80 yards on 29
carries in BC’s last game, which is only 2.8 yards per carry. Without having
seen any of BC’s games, my guess is that Kent State sold out to stop the run and
hoped their secondary could stop the BC passing game.

That was a pretty good strategy, but Boston College won the game 26-13. The
Kent State offense just couldn’t get enough going to pull the upset.

Look for the Hokies to attack the Eagles with a lot of run blitzes and zone
blitzes. Stopping Montel Harris and confusing Dave Shinskie will be the key to
winning this football game.

Special Teams

Nate Freese (6-0, 180, r-Fr.) is a new kicker who is a perfect 5-for-5 so far
in his career. However, his longest make is only from 33 yards. His leg strength
is a big unknown at this point, though if he attempts a field goal from inside
35 yards he seems to be very accurate.

Ryan Quigley (6-3, 189, Jr.) is averaging 46.6 yards per punt, with a long of
71 yards. Three of his eight punts this season have gone for 50 yards or more.
He is arguably the best punter in the ACC now that Brent Bowden has moved on.

DeLeon Gause doubles as BC’s kick and punt returner, and the Eagle return
game has not been good thus far. Gause is averaging just 18.2 yards per kickoff
return and just 3.5 yards per punt return.

Virginia Tech’s return teams have also not been impressive thus far. If
either team can get over the hump and make a big play on special teams, it could
be the difference in the game.

Final Thoughts

Boston College can’t beat Virginia Tech’s A-game. We saw what happened in
Blacksburg last year when the Hokies were firing on all cylinders. They probably
can’t beat Tech’s B-game either.

However, they certainly can beat Tech’s C-game, and at this point it’s hard
to predict what Virginia Tech will show up. Will it be the one that outscored
Boise State 30-9 through a big portion of that game, and the one who outscored
ECU 28-3 in the second half last week? Or will it be the one who lost to JMU?

You probably don’t feel too good about this game because the Hokies are 1-2,
but think about it this way: if the Hokies hadn’t given up that blocked punt,
they probably would have beaten Boise State. Had they beaten the Broncos, they
would have beaten James Madison. Tech is probably just one play away from being
3-0 and ranked in the top five, in which case you’d feel much better about this
one.

Ryan Williams is not going to play this weekend (I don’t care if Tech hasn’t
made the announcement yet), so Tech will have to go with Darren Evans and David
Wilson. If the Hokies get their running game going, and they convert their red
zone trips into touchdowns, they’ll win this football game.

I don’t think Montel Harris will have a huge day, but I don’t think Tech will
completely shut him down either. However, I don’t see Dave Shinskie generating
enough plays in the passing game to beat the Hokies. I think Tech wins a pretty
close one, getting their first victory in Boston since 2002.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 20

Will Stewart’s Take: A few weeks ago, when the Hokies were a top ten team
and we all thought they had a shot at playing for a national championship, most
people were treating games 2-8 on the schedule as a black box that was going to
spit out seven consecutive wins for the Hokies.

Not me. I saw this trip to Chestnut Hill as a serious roadblock. A few weeks
later, I don’t feel any better, and as a matter of fact, I feel worse about it.

More on that in a second, but let me give my thoughts on O and D first.

Offensively, if BC comes out and defends the Hokies with the front seven, as
Chris suspects they will, I don’t anticipate that Darren Evans will be the
difference maker here. David Wilson has the best opportunity to be the guy that
foils that strategy. I think the Hokie coaching staff needs to get Wilson out in
open space and see what he can do.

If instead BC loads eight in the box and plays man coverage, which has not
been their strategy against VT in years past, that puts the onus squarely on the
Tech wide receivers to get open, and the Tech offensive line to keep rushers off
of Tyrod Taylor. Lastly, Taylor must hit the open man downfield, an area in
which he has been inconsistent.

Defensively, I expect the Eagles to try to ram the ball down Tech’s throat.
The Hokies’ defensive line doesn’t have any outstanding playmakers and is thin
on depth, so if I were BC, I would try to wear them down. Boston College’s
offensive line averages 3 inches taller and over 30 pounds heavier than Tech’s
DL.

That means the linebackers will have to step up and fill the gaps
consistently in the running game. Bruce Taylor, Lyndell Gibson, and (probably)
Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will need to step up their games another level to force
Boston College to resort to the passing game, where I like Tech’s chances.

This matchup makes me skittish for two reasons: (1) The Tech offense cannot
afford to start slow, which would give BC the upper hand and allow the Eagles to
stay with the running game; and (2) I don’t think this edition of the Hokie
defense is set up very well to stop a power running game.

Number (1) is problematic because I just don’t trust the Tech offensive
coaching staff to come out of the gate with a good, effective game plan. They
got off to a slow start against Boise State, they scored just one touchdown
against JMU, and it took them two and a half quarters to quit messing around
with ECU and pound them with the running game. Tech’s offensive coaches haven’t
distinguished themselves this season.

I’m less nervous about item (2), because if the Hokies load up the box to
defend the run, Boston College doesn’t strike me as a team that can make you pay
for it with the passing game. But, we’ll see.

I had my misgivings about the Boise State game (“The list of items that
can derail the Hokies is, in my opinion …”) and the JMU game (“If
the Hokies were ever going to be upset by a 1-AA team, this would be it”).
I have misgivings about this game, as well. Watching the Tech offense completely
flounder two straight games in Boston will do that to you. The Hokies have
looked their worst in Chestnut Hill the last two trips there.

With national championship hopes long gone and the ten-win string in
jeopardy, thoughts of an ACC championship occupy everyone’s mind who is part of
the program and who watches it from outside. Starting 0-1 in the ACC, with a
road trip to improved NC State next on the docket and a brutal November looming,
is not an option.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Boston College 23

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