- Virginia Tech-Boston College, 3:45 PM, Raycom Sports (TV Affiliates)
- Spread: Boston College -2 (per VegasInsider.com)
- Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech rostercard: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg, VA Weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
- Tickets from StubHub:
Virginia Tech will look to get back on track this Saturday when they host Boston College in Lane Stadium for a 3:45 kickoff. The Eagles are back in the polls, ranked No. 22 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They are 6-2 overall, and 3-1 in ACC play, with a narrow 5-point loss against NC State standing as their only conference blemish.
This isn’t your typical Virginia Tech-Boston College game. The Eagles come into this one as the ranked team, and the favored team. It isn’t often that the Hokies are a home underdog against a team that isn’t ranked in the top 10, but that’s the case on Saturday. If Tech wins, it will be considered a minor upset.
Let’s take a closer look at Boston College, in particular their power running game that has caused teams so many problems over the past year.
AJ Dillon and the Boston College Running Game
Boston College (and former VT) offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is in hog heaven. He’s got an elite running back, a talented and veteran offensive line, and a whopping six tight ends in the rotation, which certainly makes it a lot easier to run a multi-tight end offense. He’s coaching his ideal offense right now. He’d probably like to have another playmaker at wide receiver, and a more experienced quarterback, but you won’t find him complaining, because he’s got a very good group of players at those key positions.
Very few teams have had success stopping sophomore tailback AJ Dillon (6-0, 245, So.). After he recorded just 10 carries against Virginia Tech last season, the Eagles changed their offensive strategy and begin giving him the football on a regular basis. Here are his game-by-game numbers since then…
Louisville: 39 carries, 272 yards
UVA: 24 carries, 89 yards
FSU: 33 carries, 149 yards
NC State: 36 carries, 196 yards
UConn: 24 carries, 200 yards
Syracuse: 23 carries, 193 yards
Iowa: 32 carries, 157 yards
UMass: 20 carries, 98 yards
Holy Cross: 6 carries, 149 yards
Wake Forest: 33 carries, 185 yards
Purdue: 19 carries, 59 yards
Temple: 28 carries, 161 yards
Miami: 32 carries, 149 yards
Purdue managed to stop him earlier this season, and UVA did a good job against him last year, but other than that he’s pretty much steamrolled all opposition since he became the primary Boston College ball carrier. He’s not eligible for the NFL Draft until after the 2020 college football season unfortunately, so the ACC will have to deal with him for at least another season.
Dillon isn’t the only weapon in the Boston College running game. He got hurt against Temple and missed games against NC State and Louisville. We can only imagine what he would have done to the Louisville defense. Still, even with Dillon out, the Eagles found some rushing success. Ben Glines (6-2, 220, r-So.), listed on the depth chart as a wide receiver, took over as BC’s primary running back with Dillon on the shelf. Here’s how he fared…
Temple: 23 carries, 120 yards
NC State: 16 carries, 90 yards
Louisville: 17 carries, 107 yards
It must be nice to have a part time wide receiver/part time running back that you can move full-time to running back in the middle of the season and have him average over 100 yards per game. I do think BC would have beaten NC State with Dillon (they lost that game 28-23), but there wasn’t as much drop off after he got hurt as you might think.
For what it’s worth, BC’s third tailback is freshman David Bailey, and he’s a monster as well at 6-1, 245 as well. He had 28 carries for 112 yards against Louisville, though he isn’t expected to get much action this weekend.
What’s the trend here? Big, physical running backs. They’ll be going up a Hokie defense that has been very susceptible to teams who have lined up and smacked them in the mouth. Virginia Tech starting defensive end Houshun Gaines, for example, weighs five pounds less than Dillon, and he’s three inches taller. If he gets a shot to tackle Dillon one-on-one, I’m not expecting him to win that battle, nor do I expect the other Tech defenders to win one-on-one battles with him. The Hokies need multiple defenders to beat blocks and gang tackle the ball carrier. They haven’t gotten much of that this season.
The Hokies will have to beat the blocks of a big, physical, veteran offensive line. The Eagles have always had the reputation of having an excellent offensive line, and though that hasn’t been true every year, it seems to be the case this season. Here’s their starting five from left to right, and as you can see they are very experienced.
LT Aaron Monteiro: 6-7, 320, Sr.
LG Sam Schmal: 6-7, 315, r-Sr.
C Jon Baker: 6-3, 290, r-Sr.
RG Chris Lindstrum: 6-4, 310, Sr.
RT Ben Petrula: 6-5, 325, So.
This is a physical group, and last week’s game against Georgia Tech provided the proof that the Virginia Tech defense struggles against physical offenses. Usually when the Hokies struggle against the Yellow Jackets, it’s because of cut blocks. However, last week they struggled against traditional blocking. Brandon Patterson did this video for his breakdown yesterday, and I’ll use it for purposes of this preview today…
Boston College is going to block Virginia Tech in a traditional manner on Saturday, except they are going to do it better than the Yellow Jackets did it. Houshun Gaines said on Tuesday that the Hokies need to put their big boy pants on, and he’s right. It seems like each and every week, the young members of the Virginia Tech defense are seeing something that they’ve never seen before. That’s the case again this week, as the BC offense is unique to the ones Tech has faced thus far, and no team on Tech’s schedule is as physical as the one they’ll play this Saturday.
They’ll get that physical play not only from the running backs and offensive line, but also from BC’s tight ends. The Eagles list two tight end positions on their depth chart, with a whopping three players at each spot. That’s six tight ends that Scot Loeffler can use in his many multi-tight end formations. Compare that to the tight ends he had on his roster in his final season at Virginia Tech…
Darius Redman: Moved to OL
Dakota Jackson: Never played
Duan Perez-Means: Moved from DL, never played
Zack McCray: Moved from DL, never played
Ryan Malleck: NFL practice squad player
Kalvin Cline: true freshman
Loeffler had two tight ends that he could rely on, one of whom (Cline) was a true freshman who had only played one year of high school football. No wonder his offense was always limited. He’s a multi-tight end coach, and he didn’t have multiple tight ends.
All six of the BC tight ends have caught at least three passes, and collectively they have combined for 42 receptions for 510 yards and six touchdowns. Tommy Sweeney (6-5, 260, r-Sr.) has been the most productive of that group with 20 catches for 169 yards and three touchdowns.
Overall, the BC offense starts six seniors, and in general they are big, physical players with multiple years of experience in the program, and a lot of offseasons in a college weight room. It will take a significant effort, and perhaps even some luck, for the Virginia Tech defense to overcome those advantages.
Anthony Brown and the Passing Game
Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown (6-2, 220, r-So.) was once heavily recruited to Virginia Tech by Scot Loeffler. Loeffler eventually signed Josh Jackson, before moving on to coach Brown in Chestnut Hill.
Brown struggled a bit as a redshirt freshman starter last season, as you might expect. He completed just 51.9% of his passes for 1,367 yards, with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Those numbers have improved this year.
Completion %: 57.9%
His interception rate has dropped, and his completion percentage has gone up. That’s what you would expect from a guy who was so raw as a freshman.
Still, Brown is hardly perfect. In fact, he has failed to reach 200 yards passing in each of his last five games, and failed to complete 50% of his passes in two of those games. He also lacks talent at wide receiver. Jeff Smith (6-1, 195, Sr.) is a pretty good player, but on the whole the Eagles don’t have depth at this position, nor are they as talented as most of the other teams on Tech’s schedule.
Outside of Georgia Tech and their one pass attempt, this is the best matchup the Virginia Tech secondary has had in a long time. They need to take advantage by shutting down the Eagle passing attack and making their offense one-dimensional. Still, I worry about those tight ends. Even if the BC wideouts aren’t productive, it’s hard to imagine all those tight ends getting shut out, especially if the Hokies sell out to stop the run.
The BC Defense: A Veteran Group
Virginia Tech has six scholarship seniors on their entire roster, and that counts Steven Peoples, who was originally a walk-on. Meanwhile, Boston College starts eight seniors on the defensive side of the ball alone. They are joined by a redshirt junior, a true junior, and a redshirt sophomore. It’s likely that the Hokies won’t face a more experienced defense at any point this season.
That said, the Eagles aren’t a statistically dominant group.
Rushing defense: No. 66 nationally
Passing defense: No. 49
Pass efficiency defense: No. 16
Total Defense: No. 52
Scoring Defense: No. 50
This defense is good, but they aren’t unbreakable. They are very efficient against the pass, but overall they’ve only been slightly above the middle-of-the-pack in the national rankings.
What they do well is penetrate the opposing offense and make tackles in the backfield. The Eagles rank No. 25 nationally with 61 tackles for loss, and are tied at No. 3 nationally with 28 sacks. The Tech offensive line has to show up on Saturday, or else the offense will find itself in a lot of long yardage situations. It’s very important for the Hokies to not get themselves behind the chains.
Two of the players to watch out for are defensive ends Zach Allen (6-5, 285, Sr.) and Wyatt Ray (6-3, 255, Sr.). Allen has 12.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, while Ray has 10.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks (tied for third in the nation). The Hokies start true freshman Christian Darrisaw at left tackle, and going up against two talented, experienced seniors could be his toughest matchup of the season.
Other players to watch are as follows…
MLB Connor Strachan (6-0, 230, r-Sr.): Strachan leads the team with 63 tackles, including six tackles for loss and three sacks. He has been a regular in the starting lineup since midway through his sophomore season. He’s one of the better middle linebackers the Hokies will face this year.
CB Hamp Cheevers (5-10, 180, Jr.): Cheevers leads the team with five interceptions, and he would make the All-Name team for any college football program.
For the season, Boston College has allowed the following amount of points…
Holy Cross: 14
Wake Forest: 34
NC State: 28
The BC defense has been good the last two weeks, though they’ve faced a pair of teams that have quarterback issues. Ryan Willis is perhaps the best quarterback they’ve faced this year outside of NC State’s Ryan Finley. Willis is a good player, but he’ll need his offensive line and running game to help him out.
I think the Virginia Tech offense can have some success against Boston College. A worse VT offense scored 23 against the Eagles on the road last year, and it stands to reason that this year’s better Hokie offense can put up more than that. I think the offense will score the required amount of points to win most games Tech has played through the years.
But this is a different year. When Ryan Willis became Tech’s starter, I thought it gave the Hokies a better chance to score between 30-35 points, and I thought that was important because I thought they were going to have to do that a decent amount this year. I was wrong. They’ve only broken 30 points once under Willis, and as it turns out, would have needed to score 50 points, or thereabouts, to beat Old Dominion, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech. It’s unfair to ask that of just about any quarterback and just about any offense.
To me, this one is about how many points the Virginia Tech defense can hold Boston College to on Saturday. If they can hold the Eagles to under 30, then the Hokies will have a chance. But if BC gets up around the 35 point range, or worse, if they score over 40 as ODU, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech did, you can go ahead and write this one off.
BC failed to do that against NC State (23 points), Miami (27), and Purdue (13). However, they did it against Wake Forest (41), Temple (45) and Louisville (38). I’d like to tell you that Virginia Tech’s defense is closer to NC State, Miami and Purdue than Wake Forest, Temple and Louisville, but if I did, I’d be lying to you.
I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see Tech slowing down that offense. I’m expecting a pretty good game, but I just can’t see the Hokies keeping up.
Chris’s Prediction: Boston College 34, Virginia Tech 28
Will Stewart’s Take: Things look grim for the Hokies in the wake of the Georgia Tech loss, but when I look at this game, my take on it isn’t an overreaction to that GT loss, or even the ODU loss or any other bad thing I’ve seen. My trepidation comes from what a bad matchup this is.
This is a bunch of grown men (BC) going up against a lot of guys who are either downright young or still developing (VT). BC’s got a tough, hardnosed defense that plays behind the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Zach Allen, for Pete’s sake, is 6-5, 285. His counterparts on Virginia Tech’s defense, Houshun Gaines and Emmanuel Belmar, are 6-3, 235 and 6-2, 250, respectively. Offensively, BC is just as tough and hardnosed, and they’ve got the Hokies outmanned. Steven Peoples is a hoss, but A.J. Dillon is three inches taller, 23 pounds heavier, and faster.
Boston College is a program that will peak every 3-4 years as they produce a group of experienced players. This is one of those years. As I said on the latest TSL Podcast, can you imagine this BC team with Matt Ryan as their QB, instead of Anthony Brown?
I think Virginia Tech is going to win one or two more games this season, but I don’t think this is one of them. To win, the Hokies are going to need a strong, 35-40 point outing from their offense, a little luck, and a day from Scot Loeffler where Loeffler overthinks it and gets cute. Frankly, Loeffler’s an idiot if he does anything but line up and play smash mouth and throw maybe 12-15 passes the whole day. And for the record, I don’t think Loeffler is an idiot.
Strange things happen in college football all the time, so a VT victory wouldn’t actually surprise me. But as I’ve said before, I always pick games by thinking to myself, “If they played this game ten times, what do I, on the aggregate, think would happen? What would be the average score and average result?”
On the next line, I do something I said I’d never do, and Hell freezes over.
Will’s Prediction: Boston College 35, Virginia Tech 24