I’m off to Boston today on a solo trip, sans columnist. (Understandably, since Boston College isn’t a very marquee game.) But before I get on the plane here in Greensboro, here is the weekly matchups post.
For those wondering, the injury report didn’t have anything significant on it yesterday. Safety Michael Cole (neck) is out, as everyone knew earlier this week. Punter Ethan Keyserling (sports hernia) is the only other addition. He’s out for the year but hadn’t played in a game this season anyway.
If you missed this week’s podcast that we posted last night, you can get to it here.
Now for a look at the matchups. Feel free to leave your prediction in the comments section below.
Virginia Tech at Boston College
- Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
- When: Saturday, 12:29 p.m.
- TV: ACC Network
- Records: Virginia Tech 4-6, 2-4 ACC; Boston College 2-8, 1-5 ACC
- Series: Virginia Tech leads 14-6
- Last meeting: Hokies won 30-14 in Blacksburg last year
- Line: Virginia Tech by 10
When Virginia Tech passes
There’s been a shakeup at receiver this week. Demitri Knowles (13 catches, 201 yards, TD) and Corey Fuller (36 catches, 671 yards, 5 TD) will start in place of seniors Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts, a long overdue move in many peoples’ opinion, especially after video of Davis’ lackluster — or non-existent — blocking went viral this week. It might be just the kick in the pants those guys need, because Tech, which isn’t deep at receiver, will still need them to contribute. Quarterback Logan Thomas has now thrown as many interceptions this year (14) as touchdowns this year. He has thrown two interceptions in each of the last three games, although last week he also threw 298 yards, his second highest total this year.
Boston College is giving up 241.6 yards per game in the air (69th nationally), allowing 12 touchdowns through the air in the last five games. That’s not all on the defensive backs. The Eagles have only six sacks this year, tied for last in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They’re also 119th in tackles for a loss. So this isn’t a group that gets after the quarterback. That puts plenty of stress on the secondary, which, despite the yardage it has allowed, does have 10 interceptions, just as many at Tech. Cornerback Sean Sylvia is second on the team with 82 tackles.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Virginia Tech runs
The Hokies’ carries continue to be splintered among several players. J.C. Coleman got the most work last week, with 16 carries for 41 yards against FSU’s tough defensive front. He moved the ball a couple times but his (generously listed) 5-foot-8, 192-pound frame didn’t do him a whole lot of good on a couple of inside runs, where it looked like he ran into a brick wall. As some have mentioned before, physics are physics. Tony Gregory got the secondary carries last week. Michael Holmes had an unknown injury that kept him out, but coaches expect him to be back in the mix this week. Just like previous weeks, it’s unclear exactly how the Hokies will split carries. On the line, Tech seemed to move the ball best when Michael Via-Caleb Farris-Brent Benedict made up the interior line, although Benedict missed a key block late that could have paved the way for a touchdown on the Hokies’ second-to-last drive.
BC hasn’t had much luck with injuries on its defensive front. Nine different players have started there. Of the opening day starters, only end Kasim Edebali (43 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks) has started the majority of the year. The linebackers are solid. Nick Clancy leads the team with 107 tackles (although he suffered a concussion last week). Steele Divitto, an All-Name first-teamer, has 81 tackles. Kevin Pierre-Louis (68 tackles, 2 sacks) has missed the last two games with a leg injury. It’s unknown if he’ll play this week. The Eagles need all the help they can get. They’re allowing 228.4 yards per game, 116th nationally (only slightly better than Miami). That’s skewed by a few big games — Northwestern had 303 yards, Army 516 and Georgia Tech 396 — but the Eagles have done better the last few weeks, allowing less than 4 yards per rush against Maryland, Wake Forest and Notre Dame.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Boston College passes
The Eagles have put a lot on quarterback Chase Rettig‘s shoulders. The junior has 2,808 yards and 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions this season, averaging 280.8 yards per game. BC, in fact, has the 32nd-ranked passing offense nationally with 285.5 yards per game, although its yards per attempt average (7.2) is in the middle of the pack. Receiver Bobby Swigert is probably out for the year with a knee injury, but Alex Amidon is the team’s biggest threat, with 73 receptions, a school-record 1,157 yards and six touchdowns. His yardage totals are tops in the league and fourth nationally. Johnathan Coleman, a 6-foot-4 junior, has 30 catches for 439 yards and four scores. The offensive line is about the only part of the team that hasn’t been hit by injuries. The Eagles have started the same five linemen in nine games this year, although they’ve allowed 26 sacks (93rd nationally).
That has to be music to the Hokies’ ears. They brought the house last week and sacked Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel five times (and missed out on a few potential sacks when he slipped out of their grasp). Defensive line coach Charley Wiles told Frank Beamer‘s website that Dadi Nicolas might get more time this week. The redshirt freshman had a sack and a hurry last week in limited snaps. The Hokies are pairing him up with James Gayle on the other side to ramp up their pass rush. The secondary needs a bounceback game. Tech gave up 326 yards and three touchdown last week, including two in two-minute situations that proved costly. With Michael Cole (neck) out, true freshman Desmond Frye will go in the game in the nickel. Tech can’t afford any more injuries on the back end.
Edge: Boston College
When Boston College runs
Injuries to Tahj Kimble and Andre Williams allowed last year’s leading rusher, Rolandan “Deuce” Finch, to work his way out of coach Frank Spaziani‘s doghouse and run seven times for 40 yards against Notre Dame. That’s considered pretty good for a Boston College ground game that has been abysmal for most of the season. The Eagles are averaging only 72.5 rushing yards per game this year, a figure that’s third to last in the FBS, ahead of only Tulane and Washington State. The Eagles are averaging just 2.68 yards per carry. They’ve eclipsed the 100-yard mark only twice. The last two games have been especially bad. BC ran 27 times for 8 yards against Maryland and 21 times for 12 yards against Notre Dame.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is coming off one of its best efforts ever at stopping the run, limiting the Seminoles to negative 15 yards last week, their lowest total since at least 1973. Whatever issues the Hokies had earlier this year, they seemed to have it figured out last Thursday. Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins had a very active game last week against the run. Behind him, Jack Tyler (93 tackles, 11 TFL) and Bruce Taylor (54 tackles, 5 TFL) continue to make plays. It remains to be seen if Alonzo Tweedy or Ronny Vandyke will get the majority of the reps at whip linebacker. Tweedy had six tackles last week in a very specific game plan to harass the quarterback, but Tech might go with a more conventional defense against BC.
Edge: Virginia Tech
The Hokies didn’t have any special teams meltdowns last week, but there were still little things that happened that contributed to the loss. Cody Journell missed on a 43-yard field goal, failing to capitalize on a muffed FSU punt. Tech also gave up a 42-yard kickoff return. A change of kickoff specialists might help that. The Hokies are considering going back to Michael Branthover instead of freshman Brooks Abbott, who has handled the job since the fourth game. Teams start with the ball on average at their 17-yard line with Branthover kicking off; the 33-yard line with Abbott. Kyshoen Jarrett (14.5 avg. on punt returns) and Demitri Knowles (28.1 avg. on kick returns) are still threats. Despite last week’s miss, Journell is still 14-for-17 this year. After a rough game at Miami, punter A.J. Hughes had a 44.5-yard average last week.
How’s this for a stat? BC is first nationally in punt returns, thanks to Spiffy Evans‘ 31.6-yard average (he’s another All-Name first-teamer). Granted, the Eagles only have nine returns all year. Nobody else in the ACC has fewer than 14. They’re on the other end of the spectrum on kick returns, ranking 115th nationally. Kicker Nate Freese is 14-for-16 this season, with his only misses coming from longer than 40 yards. BC is second in the ACC with a 37.76 net punting average. Gerald Levano averages 42.3 yards per punt.
Both coaches are feeling a little heat, although it’s only going to cost one of them their jobs. Spaziani has watched the Eagles’ win total drop in each of his four years, from eight to seven to four and now two. That’s a downward trend new athletic director Brad Bates will have a hard time ignoring when making a decision about the future of the program soon. This could be Spaziani’s last home game at BC. You wonder if the Eagles will rally around that fact or crumble because the season has gotten away from them. Beamer is simply trying to right the ship, something he’s been unable to do in his first three-game conference losing skid since 2002. Tech was a properly motivated team last week against Florida State. We’ll see if that carries over to a game that’s not at home and not on national TV.
Edge: Virginia Tech
The Hokies haven’t done much to give the fans a whole lot of confidence heading into this game. They’ve lost three straight. They’re winless on the road this year. In fact, they’ve lost seven straight away from Lane Stadium, the team’s longest streak since 1987-88. But Boston College seems like a defeated team with not much to play for. Tech at least has bowl eligibility to reach. BC is simply playing out the string. That could mean a dead environment at Alumni Stadium. I’m guessing a 12:30 start for a struggling team in a town that doesn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to college football to begin with probably will make for a less-than-electric atmosphere. Virginia Tech can’t be sucked into having no energy because of that, something that’s been a problem before.
With Rettig, BC can pass the ball. And Virginia Tech’s pass defense has been suspect at times. That’s the only thing that gives me some pause in this prediction. I think the Hokies will do enough offensively against a banged up Eagles defense to get out of Chestnut Hill with a victory. Not a blowout, but not a particularly close game either.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 23, Boston College 13