Boston College might have had a coaching change in the offseason, bringing in Steve Addazio to replace Frank Spaziani, but all that appeared to do was reinforce what the Eagles want to do with the ball: run right at you.
“It’s going to be a fistfight,” Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “It’s going to be a brawl. That’s how they play. You’ve got to join them or they’re going to beat you down.”
The Hokies have faced their share of teams that utilize misdirection or the spread, trying to get players in space. BC doesn’t have much of that flash. It just hands the ball to 227-pound running back Andre Williams and runs repeatedly behind a veteran offensive line that features two seniors and three juniors.
Williams has thrived, running 183 times for 1,010 yards in eight games and scoring eight touchdowns. He leads the ACC in rushing by 187 yards and has 39 more carries than anyone in the league.
“I love this kind of style of offense,” Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said. “I love the power scheme because there’s not a lot of tricks. There’s not a lot of going the other way on blocks. There’s not a lot of misdirection. It’s just, you’re going to know what they’re going to do. They’re going to line up with a bunch of tight ends and play smashmouth style football and try to run you over and move you with their offensive linemen.
“They’ve got big backs that try to run you over. I like it, just because I think it plays into our hands a little more. We’re a physical style defense and it’s not a lot of going backward. It’s a lot of going forward.”
Virginia Tech’s defense has adapted well to play against spread teams recently, but Bud Foster‘s defense has always been adept at facing pro-style attacks.
The Hokies’ strength has always been against the run. Although its secondary is drawing rave reviews this season, Tech is tops in the ACC and fifth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 91.0 yards per game on the ground.
“This is as good a defense as I’ve really seen,” Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said. “It’s certainly in the top three in my career.”
Williams, at nearly 230 pounds, is the biggest back Tech has faced this year, although, despite that physical challenge, Tyler prefers going up against that type of runner.
“You know they’re not going to give you a lot of shiftiness,” he said. “For me in particular, I can just shoot for a certain part on their body, and you know if you take out their legs, they’re going to go down. There’s not a lot of missing. You’ve got to bring your big boy pads.”
The key for Tech is matching that physicality. The Hokies might take a pounding, but they can deliver one too.
“If we keep pounding them all game and decrease their desire to win, they’re not going to be as good as they’re capable of being,” Tyler said. “So that’s what we’re going to try to do in these type of games. Pound them, pound them, pound them until the fourth quarter and hope that they don’t run as hard through those holes.”
Boston College’s traditional formations could open up an opportunity for the Hokies to use defensive end Dadi Nicolas in a whip linebacker role similar to what they did against Pitt.
Nicolas, who lined up in a standing position over the tight end against the Panthers, essentially crashed the line on every play, holding the edge or, in passing situations, going after the quarterback. In doing so, he had his best game to date, with seven tackles, three sacks and two more quarterback hurries. Pitt ran for only 23 yards.
With J.R. Collins returning from a one-game suspension for a violation of team rules, the Hokies have enough defensive ends to allow Nicolas to play that position again.
“You want to get Dadi on the field, I know that,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “As much as you can.”
Wiles said Nicolas plays with an emotion that you don’t see in many players. After one tackle for a loss against Duke last week, his post-play celebration involved crawling on all fours.
“If I was on the other team, I’d probably think something was wrong with him,” defensive end James Gayle said with a chuckle. “That’s not the guy I’d probably want to run the ball to his side, because he’s an animal out there. But definitely, he’s a guy I love playing with. He’s going to continue to get better and keep making plays for us.”