- No. 23 Virginia Tech vs. Boston College: Saturday, Oct. 17, 8 PM, ACC Network
- Virginia Tech vs. BC Betting Line: Virginia Tech -12
- Virginia Tech-BC roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
Virginia Tech will return to Lane Stadium this Saturday to face the Boston College Eagles, who are fresh off an upset of the Pitt Panthers.
Was that game really an upset? Pitt was considered one of the ACC’s better teams when the season began, but they’ve now lost two games in a row to NC State and BC. Meanwhile, the Eagles sit at 3-1 on the season with an easy 26-6 win over Duke, that 31-30 win over Pitt, and a very close 26-22 loss to UNC that went down to the wire. BC’s worst game came in a 24-21 win over Texas State, thanks to a last second field goal.
BC has outperformed expectations so far, but when I look at their results, I think “how good is the ACC?” Or, perhaps a better way to phrase it is “how bad is the ACC?” A team that can barely get by Texas State can beat Pitt and take UNC down to the wire? I know the transitive property doesn’t always apply in football, but I’m just not sure this league is any good this year.
Back to the Eagles. This isn’t your typical BC team on the offensive side of the ball. Jeff Hafley is the new head coach, and he is a defensive coach with a background in the NFL and at Ohio State. Frank Cignetti is the offensive coordinator, and he’s been both an OC and quarterbacks coach at the NFL and in college. His wide receivers coach is Joe Dailey. In fact, Cignetti was Dailey’s coach back when Dailey was the starting quarterback at UNC in 2006.
With Cignetti at the controls and a running game that hasn’t been effective, the Eagles are throwing the ball around a lot. In fact, this BC offense is pretty much the opposite of what we’re used to. Let’s start this week’s preview by taking a closer look at that BC offense.
The Unbalanced Boston College Offense
If you’ve been following Virginia Tech football for a long time, then you are used to Boston College teams with strong running games but perhaps weaker passing games, Matt Ryan era excepted. This year it appears to be the other way around.
Here is what the Boston College running game has done in four games compared to what Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert has done in three…
BC (4 games): 129 carries, 241 yards, 1.9 ypc, 4 TDs
Khalil Herbert (3 games): 43 carries, 449 yards, 10.4 ypc, 5 TDs
The Eagles are averaging 60 yards per game on the ground, with their best effort coming against Texas State when they rushed for 87 yards and averaged 3.2 yards per carry. It’s hard to believe that a Boston College offense is having this much trouble running the football, but that has been the case.
Instead, it’s been Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec (6-5, 226, r-So.) who has ignited the offense. Jurkovec has completed 65.1% of his passes for 1,181 yards, with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s very strong in the pocket, and he can stand up to pass rushes while still making accurate throws down the field.
Jurkovec has a very strong “Big Time Throw” rate of 8.6%. He can make NFL-level throws, and he’ll likely be an NFL Draftee at some point. However, he also has a Turnover Worthy Plays rate of 6.1%, which is the third-highest of ACC quarterbacks. At this stage of his career, he’s very capable of making some dominant throws, but he’s also prone to making a couple of very bad decisions each game. It will be up to the Virginia Tech defense to take advantage of those bad decisions.
BC’s best player is tight end Hunter Long (6-5, 253, r-Jr.), and their top big-play threat is wide receiver Zay Flowers (5-11, 178, So.). Long has been targeted 46 times, which is an incredible amount for a tight end through four games. Flowers has been targeted 37 times. However, no other BC player has been targeted more than 15 times.
Long has 31 catches and two touchdowns, and he averages 11.7 yards per catch. Flowers has caught 21 passes and is averaging a whopping 19.3 yards per reception. Both players are capable of torching a secondary, and they’ve got a very good quarterback to throw them the ball.
However, the offense is still somewhat limited because of the lack of balance. The Eagles desperately need the running game to improve, and they’ll be looking to get running back David Bailey (6-0, 236, Jr.) going against the Hokies this week after watching film of the UNC game. At least, I guess they’ll try to get Bailey going, because they haven’t tried to do it so far.
Justin Fuente had an interesting comment this week, saying “I think their tailback will be back this game, so I think they’ll try to run the ball more than they have over the last couple of weeks.” Well, Bailey has played in every game, but he hasn’t gotten as many carries as you might think. His number of reps has also steadily increased by game, so perhaps there was a non-reported injury and the BC coaches decided to slowly bring him back up to speed. At any rate, Fuente thinks we’ll see more of Bailey this weekend, which could be worrisome.
Last season he rushed for 844 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and that was as AJ Dillon’s backup. With Bailey returning, and what was supposed to be a pretty decent offensive line, the BC running game was expected to be strong despite the loss of Dillon. That hasn’t happened. Instead, Bailey has just 148 yards and is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry. A 1,000-yard season seemed to be in the cards, but that’s not going to be the case.
The offensive line could certainly be part of the issue. The Eagles’ run blocking grade so far this season ranks 10th in the ACC, just barely ahead of Florida State, and we know how bad the Seminole offensive line has been. Whatever the issue, the Eagles have all but given up on the run recently. Take their recent game against UNC as an example. This was a very close 26-22 loss, but BC completely abandoned the run. They threw it 56 times against the Tar Heels and ran it just 19, and three of those 19 “rushes” were actually sacks.
So BC has been scared to try to run the football, even against a team like UNC whom the Hokies proved last week aren’t particularly good at stopping the run. We have to assume that the BC coaches aren’t bothering to run the football because they don’t believe they are any good at it, but after watching film of the Virginia Tech defense against the Tar Heels, they’d be wise to try and gain at least a small semblance of balance on Saturday.
The Boston College Defense: Tech’s Biggest Test So Far
Saturday’s game will easily be Tech’s biggest defensive test of the season. According to PFF’s grades, here’s where the Eagles rank in the ACC in defense…
Overall: No. 3
Rushing: No. 3
Tackling: No. 7
Pass Rush: No. 5
Coverage: No. 2
Boston College is solid across the board. Balanced defenses are always the most difficult to attack because they have no discernable weaknesses.
Those numbers above are advanced metrics. If you are more into the basic stats, here are a couple for you…
1: Duke scored 31 points on Virginia Tech, and they scored just six against BC.
2: UNC scored 56 against Virginia Tech, but only 26 against the Eagles.
This is a good defense, and they are a much better one than the one the Hokies faced in Chapel Hill last week. As a comparison, BC’s overall rush defense grade is a 76.3, while UNC’s is a 29.0 (Virginia Tech’s is also a 29.0…the Tar Heels and Hokies really wrecked each other’s defensive metrics).
The two highest-grading players are defensive ends Marcus Valdez (6-0, 258, r-Jr.) and Maximillian Roberts (6-1, 250, r-Sr.). However, note that Roberts has only played 84 snaps. He’s played very well, but the BC coaches have been hesitant to play him a lot. As a transfer from Maine and Fordham, it could be that he lacks overall athletic ability, and the coaches are trying to hide that by playing him limited snaps.
Cornerbacks Josh DeBerry (5-11, 180, So.) and Elijah Jones (6-2, 185, r-So.) have played extremely well, with ratings of 80.3 and 74.6 respectively. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Chibueze Onwuka (5-11, 285, r-Sr.) has been stout up the middle. His rush defense grade of 82.3 is the third-best of all ACC defensive tackles at this point in the season. The interior of the Virginia Tech offensive line will have a much bigger challenge that it has faced over the last two weeks.
The Eagles have still had some issues on the edge at defensive end and at linebacker. The other defensive ends in the rotation haven’t played nearly as well as Marcus Valdez, and though he leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and stats, linebacker Isaiah McDuffie (6-1, 224, r-So.) has mostly been a liability. His grade of 44.6 is the worst on the team, and he’s been equally bad against the run and the pass. We could see the Hokies go after McDuffie as well as BC’s mostly mediocre defensive ends.
Justin Fuente wasn’t particularly happy with his special teams against NC State, but on the whole James Shibest has fielded one of the country’s best special teams units thus far. The Hokies are No. 10 in the nation in special teams rating, with a PFF grade of 89.6. In fact, if there is a better special teams coach in the country than James Shibest, I want to see him. Here are Tech’s special teams grades since Shibest took over in 2016…
2016: No. 12
2017: No. 14
2018: No. 29
2019: No. 24
2020: No. 10
That level of consistency is impressive, especially in 2018 when the Hokies had to play so many freshmen. For those who asked the question when he was first hired, that’s why Shibest was paid a higher salary than Charley Wiles.
BC comes in at No. 70 on the special teams rankings this week. They’ve been solid on field goals, though they haven’t kicked any long ones, and their coverage has been good as well. However, they’ve struggled in the return game in their own right, averaging just one yard per punt return.
The numbers, plus Shibest’s history as a special teams coach, indicate a special teams advantage for Virginia Tech this weekend.
Virginia Tech-Boston College Final Thoughts
The Hokies have the advantage on special teams, and their balance on offense with Hendon Hooker gives them the advantage on that side of the ball as well. The big question is defense. Boston College is clearly better, but are they so much better that the BC defense can make up for VT advantages on offense and special teams?
I wasn’t expecting too much out of BC this season, and in fact I had done no research on them at all until this game preview. I knew they couldn’t run the ball, but that’s it. Now I know that Jurkovec is a good player, and their defense is pretty good. As usual, they don’t have much skill position depth on offense, but the two really good players they do have are just that…really good.
I’ve gone from knowing with 100% certainty that I was going to pick Virginia Tech to actually hesitating a bit. The BC offense certainly isn’t UNC’s, but I don’t see the Tech defense shutting anybody down this year. They’ve had too many issues, and we’ve covered all of them that we can think of. I certainly think Tech -11.5 is too high a line, though I’d like to be proven wrong.
I think simply a mediocre defensive performance would basically guarantee a win for the Hokies, but are we going to get that? I don’t know. So far this year, both the Hokies and their opponents are scoring more points than I’ve been predicting, and that’s true for all three games. My gut says something like 31-24 Virginia Tech, but I’ll go higher because of my picks over the last three weeks.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Boston College 31
Will Stewart’s Take: I just made myself really mad. I went back and read my Monday Thoughts after Virginia Tech’s season-opening 35-28 loss to Boston College last year. I had picked the Hokies to beat BC 31-21, because I always pick Virginia Tech to beat Boston College. It’s a thing with me.
But instead the Hokies lost 35-28 in a game that didn’t feel that close. Ryan Willis turned it over four times in the first indication that something wasn’t right with him, but more troubling, the Hokies looked soft. Boston College backup tailback Travis Levy, all 5-11, 205 pounds of him, personally knocked four Hokies out of the game, as Tech suffered six injuries that caused players to leave the field.
For all the puffing of my chest and refusing to pick Boston College to win that I do, the fact is that BC has beaten the Hokies four out of the last seven times they’ve played. Virginia Tech fans consider themselves to be above BC in the college football pecking order, but they’re not, at least not since about 2012.
That’s history. What about this year? Boston College beat Duke by a larger margin than Virginia Tech did (26-6 vs. 38-31), they actually put up a fight against UNC, and they beat a physical Pitt team 31-30. If you asked me which team is more physical top to bottom, I would answer Boston College. That’s not a good thing.
If BC has a brain, they’ll run David Bailey (6-0, 236), then they’ll run him some more, and then they’ll keep running him. That would be a departure from what they’ve done all year, though, so we’ll see.
Defensively, the Hokies looked scary against North Carolina. Virginia Tech expects to get Divine Deablo and Brion Murray back into the rotation, and that should help, but the defensive tackle and linebacker play needs to improve. The bottom line is that I think things will improve, but they can improve a lot and still be bad. Boston College has the weapons at all levels – QB, RB, TE, and WR – to exploit Virginia Tech. The question is, will they?
On the other side of the ball, Virginia Tech hasn’t been firing on all cylinders but has still managed to score 42.7 points per game. That’s pretty amazing. What happens when they do start hitting at all levels? Virginia Tech is 35th in the nation in team passing efficiency, which is frankly higher than I expected. Hendon Hooker was a top-ten passing efficiency guy last year. What happens if he gets back to that level, with the crazy running game Virginia Tech has (3rd in the nation in yards per game)?
Boston College’s defensive backs will get up on you, and the Hokies receivers haven’t done a good job getting separation this year. That’s something to watch.
If you’re looking for an edge for the Hokies, here’s one: Virginia Tech has been stellar with regards to penalties, clocking in at No. 9 in the country with exactly four per game. BC is way down at No. 55 (out of 76 teams) at 7.25 per game. In penalty yards, it gets even better: VT is No. 6, BC is No. 57.
Turnover margin? Not good. VT is No. 39, and BC is No. 8, with just three turnovers in four games. What Virginia Tech gains in penalties, they might give back in turnovers. The Hokies don’t turn it over much, but they have only forced three for the season, while BC has forced eight.
That’s my stream of consciousness. I’m searching for justification for my annual pick of Virginia Tech over BC, and while I’m finding that Boston College is better on defense and probably the more physical team top to bottom (we’ll find out Saturday), the Hokies commit fewer penalties and have a more explosive offense. Boston College has the far superior defense, while the Hokies have the superior offense.
It’s looking like an even matchup. I’ll go with the high-scoring option. If the Hokies don’t put up at least 35, they’ll probably lose.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Boston College 34
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-Boston College game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (21%, 270 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (57%, 732 Votes)
- BC wins by 1-10 (18%, 234 Votes)
- BC wins by 11+ (3%, 42 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,278
Last Week’s Virginia Tech-UNC Prediction Poll Results
Game Result: North Carolina 56, Virginia Tech 45
What's your prediction for the 2020 Virginia Tech-UNC game?
- Hokies Win by 11+ (14%, 277 Votes)
- Hokies Win by 1-10 (58%, 1,176 Votes)
- UNC Wins by 1-10 (20%, 414 Votes)
- UNC Wins by 11+ (8%, 169 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,036