- Virginia Tech at Boston College: 4 PM, ACC Network
- Spread: Virginia Tech -4.5, per VegasInsider
- Virginia Tech-Boston College roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Chestnut Hill weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
- Tickets from StubHub:
Virginia Tech will open the 2019 football season at Boston College on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. The game will be broadcast on the brand-new ACC Network, and the Hokies will be looking to start their season 1-0 with an ACC victory on the road.
The Hokies are coming off a tough 6-7 season, their first losing campaign since 1992. Boston College went 7-5, and the end of the season left a sour taste in the mouths of Eagle fans. Here’s how BC closed the season…
27-7 L vs. Clemson
22-21 L at Florida State
42-21 L vs. Syracuse
BC’s bowl game against Boise State (the awkwardly-named SERVPRO First Responder Bowl, played at the Cotton Bowl) was canceled after a delay of more than one hour due to bad weather. It was the first canceled bowl game since Hawaii canceled a postseason game against San Jose State following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Partly as a result of that canceled bowl game, it’s been awhile since Boston College has won a football game. November 3, 2018, to be precise…in Blacksburg, VA.
There was some coaching turnover in Chestnut Hill in the offseason, with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler taking the head coaching job at Bowling Green, and Jim Reid being demoted from defensive coordinator to defensive ends coach, with linebackers coach Bill Sheridan now coordinating the defense. Head coach Steve Addazio is expecting improvement in the passing game, but that’s to be determined. Sheridan has a bit of a challenge as well, with only five defenders who have made more than one college start. One of those five is questionable for Saturday’s game.
Like most opening games, there is plenty of unknown for both sides. Let’s dive into Boston College.
We talk about Virginia Tech’s experience, or lack thereof, quite a bit. Exactly how inexperienced are the Hokies compared to the Eagles? I did a mathematical comparison of each team’s two-deep, and each player was assigned a number depending on how long he has been in the program.
Redshirt seniors: 5 years/points
Seniors and redshirt juniors: 4
Juniors and redshirt sophomores: 3
Sophomores and redshirt freshmen: 2
True freshmen: 1
I averaged the numbers for each squad, and here’s the average number for each team…
Boston College: 3.45
Virginia Tech: 2.98
The Eagles’ two-deep has about a half-a-year of experience advantage on Virginia Tech’s two-deep. Tech’s average age is basically akin to a true junior or a redshirt sophomore.
We can break it down even further.
Boston College Offense: 3.68
Virginia Tech Defense: 2.85
The Virginia Tech defense is still very inexperienced, and I didn’t even count true freshmen Josh Fuga or Mario Kendricks. Those two guys are listed with an “OR” between themselves and another player, but each is the second player listed, so I didn’t include them.
Boston College Defense: 3.23
Virginia Tech Offense: 3.00
The experience factor is nearly even here. The Hokies are still young, but the BC defense doesn’t have a huge experience advantage.
Boston College lost a lot more seniors and starters than the Hokies did following the 2018 season, yet they still have a more experienced football team than Virginia Tech. That shows exactly how young the Hokies were in 2018, and how young they still are at many positions.
Or, you can just sum it up like this…
Boston College seniors in the two-deep: 13
Virginia Tech seniors in the two-deep: 4
The Boston College Offense
The Boston College running game is getting all the hype heading into this game, and rightfully so. The Eagles basically have four players who can run the football very well, even though two of them are technically wide receivers. Here are their numbers from last season…
RB AJ Dillon (6-0, 250, Jr.): 227 carries, 1,108 yards, 4.9 ypc, 10 TDs
WR Ben Glines (6-2, 220, r-Sr.): 68 carries, 380 yards, 5.6 ypc, 3 TDs
RB David Bailey (6-1, 240, So.): 57 carries, 253 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs
WR Travis Levy (5-11, 205, Jr.): 49 carries, 215 yards, 4.4 ypc, 2 TDs
It was Levy’s 75 yards and two touchdowns that provided the knockout punch against the Hokies in Lane Stadium last season. He and Glines can both play running back if needed, though they’ll both figure in the passing game as well.
Dillon is the one to watch. He had a “down” season last year by his standards, after rushing for 1,589 yards and averaging 5.3 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2017. For his size, Dillon was a physical freak coming out of high school. Check out these numbers…
The rest of the ACC isn’t going to complain if Dillon declares for the NFL Draft after this season, though he’ll have to improve in the passing game to become a complete back. He has just eight catches for 41 yards in his career (all last season).
Quarterback Anthony Brown (6-2, 220, r-Jr.) is also a player who can create some issues in the running game, though so far in his career he has left a lot to be desired as a passer.
2017: 134-of-258 (51.9%) for 1,367 yards, 11 TDs, 9 INTs
2018: 158-of-285 (55.4%) for 2,121 yards, 20 TDs, 9 INTs
Brown improved from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign, but he still lacked the polish of a natural quarterback. Eagle fans are hoping that he can take the next step as a junior, because a good passing game paired with the dangerous BC rushing attack would give Steve Addazio a very dangerous offense.
However, even an improved Brown would be held back by the dearth of talent at wide receiver on the BC roster. Kobay White (6-1, 200, r-Jr.) returns as BC’s top receiver having caught 33 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns a year ago. However, the second-leading returning receiver is Travis Levy with just 19 catches and 8.4 yards per catch playing in a running back role. Right now he’s set to back up White at the X receiver, while fellow part-time tailback Ben Glines will start at the Y spot, backed up by true freshman Zay Flowers (5-11, 170, Fr.).
The Eagles could lean on their tight ends in the passing game. Though Tommy Sweeney is gone to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, BC still has plenty of talent at that position. They’ll have two tight ends in the game most of the time, and they could play as many as four players there. The two starters are a pair of redshirt seniors: Chris Garrison (6-3, 255) and Jake Burt (6-3, 260).
To me, BC’s biggest threat in the passing game will be off playaction or misdirection. Virginia Tech’s secondary should be much better this year with more stable coaching. Last year, safeties coach Tyrone Nix was hired after spring practice and never really had a chance to effectively learn the defense. That’s not the case with new safeties coach Justin Hamilton, and I expect a big jump forward at whip, free safety and rover. Overall, I feel good about how the Hokies match up against the passing game.
Boston College only returns two starters on the offensive line, but they are both good ones. The best is right tackle Ben Petrula (6-5, 310, Jr.). He was a Freshman All-American at center in 2017, and an Honorable Mention All-ACC performer at right tackle in 2018. He’ll line up next to fellow returning starter John Phillips (6-6, 305, r-Sr.) to create a formidable duo.
However, the rest of the BC offensive line doesn’t have nearly as much experience. Here are the projected starters from left tackle to center, and the number of snaps each player played last season, per Pro Football Focus.
LT Tyler Vrabel (6-5, 310, r-Fr.): 28 snaps. Yes, he’s the son of Mike.
LG Anthony Palazzolo (6-5, 305, r-Sr.): 19 snaps.
C Alec Lindstrom (6-4, 290, r-So.): 137 snaps.
Vrabel will go head-to-head with Tech right defensive ends Emmanuel Belmar and Eli Adams, while the much more experienced Ben Petrula will draw TyJuan Garbutt, Jaevon Becton and Jaylen Griffin.
How Virginia Tech’s defensive line performs against the Boston College offensive line will likely be the deciding factor in the game, if you throw out unpredictable things such as turnovers and penalties.
The Boston College Defense
The Eagles don’t bring back much experience on the defensive line, with the exception of one interior stalwart. First, let’s look at the projected two-deep at defensive end. The Eagles appear unsettled at both end positions. The starters are likely to be Richard Yeargin (6-4, 280, r-Sr.) and Marcus Valdez (6-1, 265, r-Jr.), though both players have an “OR” between themselves and their backups on the depth chart. Joey Luchetti (6-6, 260, r-Fr.) and Brandon Barlow (6-3, 250, r-Jr.) could also start.
Here are the snap counts for each of those guys from last season…
Yeargin: 0; Grad transfer from Clemson, has not played a down since 2016
Valez and Barlow have experience, but they are different players. Barlow lined up over or outside the tackle on 99% of his snaps, while Valdez was inside the offensive tackle on 58.7% of his snaps.
The starters at defensive tackle are Tanner Karafa (6-3, 285, r-Sr.) and Kyiev Bennerman (6-3, 300, r-Fr.), and they are backed up by Ryan Betro (6-4, 295, r-Fr.) and TJ Rayam (6-1, 300, Jr.). Here is their snap counts from last season…
Bennerman and Betro are young players with no game action, while Rayam played 127 snaps and graded out at a very average 68, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). However Karafa is a very good player, and the Ashburn, VA native will no doubt be fired up to play against his in-state team.
At linebacker, Max Richardson (6-0, 230, r-Jr.) is arguably BC’s best player on the defensive side of the ball. In 583 snaps last season, he graded out at a 79 according to PFF. Isaiah McDuffie (6-2, 220, Jr.) played 470 snaps last season and was solid, but he’s questionable for Saturday’s game. If he can’t go, then redshirt freshman Joe Sparacio (5-11, 225) could get the start. BC’s other starter is John Lamont (6-0, 240, r-Jr.), who got 314 snaps in a backup role last year, though he graded out poorly at a 54. (As a comparison, Rayshard Ashby graded at 75.6, while Dax Hollifield was at 63.5.)
Cornerback Hamp Cheevers, who led the country in interceptions a year ago with seven, declared early for the NFL, where he is currently not on a roster. His departure leaves a void in the secondary.
LC Brandon Sebastian (6-1, 190, r-So.): 716 snaps. Sebastian is a good, experienced player despite only being a redshirt sophomore.
RC Tate Haynes (6-1, 190, r-So.): 52 snaps. Haynes is a very inexperienced defender who got most of his snaps against Holy Cross and UMass. He is perhaps the most attackable member of the BC secondary based on his experience level.
FS Mike Palmer (6-1, 200, r-Jr.): 227 snaps. Palmer got a little bit of experience last season, though he didn’t start any games.
SS Medhi El Attrach (6-0, 205, r-Sr.): 41 snaps. El Attrach has spent his entire career on special teams, with nearly all of his defensive snaps coming in garbage time situations against overmatched opponents.
Most people would like the matchups in the passing game for Virginia Tech. Sebastian proved to be a good player last season, but the other three players seem vulnerable.
Overall, the BC defense gave the Hokies a lot of trouble last season, but Tech should find the going a little easier in 2019. I like the Hokies to put up some points and hit a few big plays in the passing game.
Boston College finished No. 118 in the country in S&P+ special teams a year ago. Here were their individual rankings…
FG Value: No. 119
Punt Efficiency: No. 102
Kickoff Efficiency: No. 113
Punt Return Efficiency: No. 4
Kickoff Return Efficiency: No. 24
The Eagles were efficient with their returns, but their field goal kicking, punting, and kickoffs left a lot to be desired. Also, return man Michael Walker graduated after leading the nation with a total of 1,294 return yards a year ago. BC’s kicking game should improve with the addition of Temple transfer Aaron Boumerhi (6-0, 200, r-Sr.). He made 31-of-43 (72%) career field goal attempts for Temple.
Despite the addition of Boumerhi, you don’t get the feeling that BC’s special teams is capable of seriously hurting the Hokies.
There are some things that concern me about this game, besides the usual unknowns of opening weekend.
1: The Tech defensive line against the BC running game. The Hokies could play as many as three true freshmen at defensive tackle, and a pair of redshirt freshmen at defensive end. Plus, redshirt sophomore defensive end Jaylen Griffin was a linebacker in the spring. I have confidence in Tech’s rush defense at both linebacker spots, whip, free safety, and rover, but inconsistent defensive line play can make all of those guys look worse than they actually are.
2: I’d feel better if Brock Hoffman was going to be eligible. He’s not.
3: Tech’s overall experience level is still quite low. The Hokies only have four seniors in the two-deep. Meanwhile, the same two-deep features seven true sophomores, eight redshirt freshmen and eight true freshmen. A lot of young players are going to be playing a big role for the first time.
However, there are several things I like as well.
1: The loss of so many key Boston College defenders from last season. Meanwhile, nearly all of Tech’s offensive players return.
2: I like Tech’s passing game against the BC pass defense, and I like Ryan Willis better than Anthony Brown.
3: Ever since Justin Fuente was hired, the Hokies have been extremely well-prepared for early season big games. They hammered FSU last year. In 2017, they managed to score 30+ points against WVU with a freshman quarterback, a true freshman tight end who had never played the position in his life, a true freshman slot receiver who was moved to corner after transferring to Maryland, and key contributors at wide receiver and tight end who now play for Old Dominion. They won that game 31-24. Tech also greatly outcoached Tennessee in 2016, but fumbles were their undoing.
Steve Addazio hasn’t necessarily shown the same ability in early season games. Here are the results of BC’s first game of the season against Power 5 competition…
2013: 24-10 W vs. Wake Forest
2014: 30-20 L vs. Pitt
2015: 14-0 L vs. FSU
2016: 17-14 L vs. Georgia Tech
2017: 34-10 L vs. Wake Forest
2018: 41-34 W vs. Wake Forest
Addazio has picked up a couple of early wins against Wake Forest (as well as a loss to the Demon Deacons), but that’s it.
I’m expecting a good game, but to me Tech has a better squad as well as a coaching staff that is better in early season situations, so I’m picking the Hokies in a good game.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 23
Will Stewart’s Take: I’m drinking the Kool-Aid by the gallon here. I believe in the improved chemistry the Hokies have, and that it’ll make a difference, and being one year older and more mature will help a lot of the guys take that next step.
Barring any surprise announcements over the next couple of days, the Hokies are pretty healthy heading into this game in Chestnut Hill. Despite going just 3-3 against the Eagles in the last six years, Virginia Tech has fared well in Alumni Stadium, winning four out of the last five games at Boston College.
Virginia Tech typically plays well in season openers and early-season big games under Justin Fuente, and I expect this game to be no different. Don’t get me wrong. I respect Boston College’s maturity as a program, their physical nature (the ACC hasn’t worn them down into something soft yet, haha), and A.J. Dillon. I even think that QB Anthony Brown is going to take a step up.
I harbor no illusions that the Hokie defense is going to shut down the Boston College offense. Boston College probably doesn’t have the passing game to exploit what I still consider to be questionable cornerback play from the Hokies (until they prove me otherwise), and though Tech’s defensive line is young and unproven up the middle, I think the linebackers can cover for some DL sins. I still think Boston College will score some points here.
But there are aspects of the Hokies’ passing game that I think are going to give Boston College real trouble. Virginia Tech is going to make hay through the air in this one, more so than the Eagles are, and Virginia Tech is going to have more of an advantage in the passing game then BC is going to have in the running game. (There, I said it.)
First games are chock full of mistakes and crazy plays, but it’s hard to say what will happen there. It’s the unknown, the x-factor. In the end, I think that Virginia Tech’s offense, which has only scored 30+ points three times in their last 16 ACC games, is going to eclipse that number this year alone, starting with this game, and while Boston College will have some success on offense, it won’t be enough.
I’m flipping last year’s score for this one.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 31, Boston College 21
(One of these days, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict a crazy score, just so Chris and I don’t wind up picking nearly the same score every time.)