Ugly. Undisciplined. Uninspired. Those all could describe Virginia Tech’s defensive performance versus Georgia Tech. We’ve seen the numbers: 78 carries for 465 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Now, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will be tasked with concocting a game plan for Boston College this Saturday.
The Eagles enter with a two-game winning streak and most recently handled Miami 27-13. Boston College star running back AJ Dillon excelled in his first game back from an ankle injury that caused him to miss two games. The sophomore carried the ball 32 times for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Hurricanes. The Eagles’ offense is predicated around Dillon’s ground game.
“He’s just a big, physical guy that has great vision and great balance,” Foster said. “He breaks tackles, sets up his blocks extremely well, deceptive speed. I just think he’s a really, really talented football player. A very dangerous guy with the ball in his hands.”
Last year Virginia Tech contained Dillon to the tune of just 10 carries for 35 yards. It was the following game that Boston College began to utilize Dillon as a workhorse back, as he exploded for 272 yards and four touchdowns against Louisville. The New London, Connecticut native recorded 23+ carries in every game after Virginia Tech, after only breaking 20+ carries once in the previous six games. This year, the Eagles return an experienced offensive line with four seniors.
“We’ve prepared for games like this since camp,” defensive end Houshun Gaines said. “We have always prided ourselves on being a physical team. We’ve played bigger o-linemen all year. I don’t really think it’s different. We just have to put our big boy pants on and get ready to play some downhill football. We stop the run and then it opens the playbook for everything else.”
The one area where Virginia Tech may be able to attack Boston College is by pressuring quarterback Anthony Brown into poor decisions. Last year as a redshirt freshman, Brown threw 11 touchdowns to nine interceptions and completed passes at just a 52 percent clip. He’s seen marked improvement this year, with 15 touchdowns to five interceptions while upping his completion percentage to 58 percent. In Boston College’s two losses, however, Brown has yet to eclipse 200 yards and he’s thrown four of his five interceptions.
“The Brown kid, he reminds me a lot of Josh Jackson in a lot of ways,” Foster said. “He’s got a good arm, he’s accurate, he’s going to take care of the football. He makes good decisions, and he’s coached very well.
“Up front, that’s been their strength over the years and their biggest asset, and that is their biggest strength without a doubt. Counting their tight end, they’re big and physical. That gives Brown enough confidence that he can sit in the pocket and make some throws. They’re able to run the ball, and that takes stress of that quarterback.”
Calling the plays for Boston College will be a face very familiar to Hokies faithful, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Loeffler held the same position with Virginia Tech from 2013-2015, and there were mixed reviews about his time in Blacksburg.
“I think Scot Loeffler, in my time, has been one of the outstanding quarterback coaches teaching fundamentals and those types of things,” Foster said. “I think he’s done an outstanding job.”
Since his time with Boston College, Foster has seemingly had Loeffler’s number, stifling any offensive attack the Eagles have tried to get going against the Lunch Pail Defense. Here’s a look at what the Hokies defense has done over the previous two years against Boston College:
2016: 0 points allowed. 6 first downs allowed. 124 total yards allowed. 1 interception.
2017: 10 points allowed. 16 first downs allowed. 344 total yards allowed. 5 sacks.
The 2016 performance clearly stands out a little more, but both demonstrate the success Foster has had against Loeffler in a small sample size. The 2018 version of Boston College will be a much stiffer challenge.
“He’s [Loeffler] done some things there that he’s done here, particularly with the multiple tight end stuff,” Foster said. “That’s where they are right now. It’s Steve’s [Addazio] offense, but you also see Lefty’s wrinkles and things of that nature. I think together they’re a good combination. Lefty is making some great calls and really being wide open. That’s concerning for me a little bit because they’re going to run the ball, run the ball, run the ball and take some shots or do some double moves. I have the utmost respect for him and his coaching ability.”
Virginia Tech will enter Saturday’s contest banged up. Khalil Ladler is ineligible to play the first half after he was ejected in the third quarter against Georgia Tech for targeting. According to the depth chart, true freshman Nasir Peoples is the next in line at the whip linebacker spot. However, true freshman rover Chamarri Conner replaced Ladler last Thursday in the second half.
“We haven’t decided actually yet,” Foster said. “We’ve got a couple options that we’re looking at. We looked at it a little bit Sunday. We practiced a little more Sunday than what we have in the past. We have a couple guys who we’re going to look at and see what best fits for us. That’s where we are with it right now.”
As Fuente noted yesterday, Jarrod Hewitt and Dylan Rivers are day-to-day, and their playing status for Saturday is uncertain.
“Hewitt is obviously a big, big factor for us being a guy inside who is our most experienced guy after Ricky as far as playing inside,” Foster said. “Dylan has improved as he played. We’re maybe not as thin at the linebacker spot as we are at the defensive tackle spot with numbers. I feel good about Dax Hollifield in Dylan’s spot. We’ll see where Dylan is as we move forward. I’m anxious to see what he looks like today. If he can’t go, then Jaylen Griffin is a guy who’s gotten reps.”
Rivers left the game on the first drive and Hollifield replaced him the rest of the way. Hollifield recorded six tackles in his place.
“We’ll need him to play very physical,” Foster said. “That’s one of Dax’s assets right now. His inexperience is also a liability at times. At the same time, he’s a guy who is eager and hungry.”
Kickoff is set for 3:45 p.m. from Lane Stadium on Saturday.