Didn’t get an opponent beat writer breakdown for you this week. I apologize for that. But here’s link to a replay yesterday’s live chat if you missed that.
Also, Aaron McFarling and I recorded a new podcast this week. It’s at the bottom of this post about Virginia Tech possibly scheduling Old Dominion as more than a 2-for-1 deal in future years.
Virginia Tech at Boston College
- Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass. (44,500)
- When: 12:06 p.m., Saturday
- TV: ABC/ESPN2
- Records: Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1 ACC), Boston College (3-4, 1-3 ACC)
- Series: Hokies lead 15-6
- Last meeting: Hokies won 30-23 in overtime in Chestnut Hill last year
- Line: Virginia Tech by 4.5
When Virginia Tech passes
What had been such a promising start to ACC play for Logan Thomas came crashing back to earth against Duke, when the senior threw four interceptions, including one in the end zone, during the Hokies’ 13-10 loss. It was a big step back for Thomas, who hadn’t put up gaudy stats the first half of the year but had protected the ball and at least made some plays. You can’t say that the Hokies’ receivers weren’t open. Willie Byrn was running free in the secondary on Thomas’ final pick. Make one play there and Tech probably wins the game. It didn’t seem like receiver drops were too much of an issue in the Duke game (even the tipped balls that were picked were thrown into tight spots). Thomas just needs to make the right passes. The positive sign for the Hokies is that those receivers were open at times. And the offensive line did a pretty good job of keeping Duke’s defense off of Thomas, who wasn’t sacked by an FBS team for the first time this year.
Teams have thrown the ball on BC this year. The Eagles are 76th nationally, allowing 239.3 yards per game. But their pass defense efficiency is far worse, 115th nationally at 159.68. They’ve picked off only five passes this year and opponents are completing passes at a 66.8 percent clip. UNC’s quarterbacks were 22-for-29 against BC last week. USC’s were 17-for-19 earlier this year. Cornerback Manuel Asprilla is an active player, with 34 tackles and, surprisingly for a defensive back, seven tackles for a loss. He’s one of three juniors on the back end of the defense, along with sophomore corner Bryce Jones, the youngest group on the defense. BC has 20 sacks this season, led by end Kasim Edebali, who has five. Kaleb Ramsey, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound senior on the other end, gives BC two big, bookend pass rushers who should challenge the Hokies’ tackles. So should the Eagle’s aggressive, blitzing scheme. If VT can protect Thomas, though, and the senior can make the throw that eluded him against Duke, the Hokies should be able to move the ball in the air. There’s yardage to be had here. That’s a big if, though.
When Virginia Tech runs
Virginia Tech’s run blocking was better against Duke, and the Hokies ran for 173 yards, although most of that was by Thomas on read plays. Still, their total against the Blue Devils nearly matched their total the first thee ACC games (179). The problem is, the running backs aren’t doing much. Trey Edmunds (12 carries, 44 yards) and J.C. Coleman (10 carries, 28 yards) haven’t gotten a whole lot of work, although Edmunds looked OK for stretches against Duke, running straight ahead. A lot will be put on the line to match Boston College’s physicality up front. The Hokies probably run blocked as well as they have since the Alabama game against Duke, even in a losing effort. If things get down to a short-yardage situation, don’t be surprised if defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins comes on the field as a fullback again. Coaches like the extra beef he brings to those situations. And he’s plenty nimble. He was in for one play against Duke. It didn’t work, but Hopkins still did his job.
The Eagles haven’t exactly shut down the run this year, giving up 184.3 rushing yards per game. That includes 257 against USC but is also a figure skewed by Army’s 356-yard day (the Black Knights are an option team). BC’s strength, as is usually the case, is its linebacking corps. Outside linebacker Kevin St. Pierre leads the team with 65 tackles. Middle linebacker (and apparent future soap opera star) Steele Divitto has 58 tackles. The other outside linebacker, Steven Daniels, has 53. Those three are the top three tacklers on the defense and average an ACC-best 25.1 tackles per game, so it’s clear that BC’s goal is to free its linebackers up make plays. The Eagles make them. They’re 22nd nationally with 50 tackles for a loss, so they can get teams behind the sticks, a nod to their aggressive nature. All told, BC has five seniors in its front seven. That kind of experience will show up on Saturday.
Edge: Boston College
When Boston College passes
The Eagles have issues here. Chase Rettig, who has been around for what seems like an eternity, has yet another offensive coordinator to work under and has had some issues lately. He’s thrown for 1,140 yards this year and has 10 touchdowns to only four picks, but BC had only 59 passing yards against a porous North Carolina secondary last week in a 34-10 loss. Rettig was 10-for-20. He’s topped 200 yards in only two games against FBS competition this year. Part of that is probably due to his limited number of receivers. Alex Amidon is the star, with 46 catches for 585 yards and three touchdowns. Tech will have to be wary of him. BC’s next leading receiver? Backup fullback Bobby Wolford with eight catches for 90 yards. In fact, Amidon has 46 catches; the rest of the team has 48. The line, while massive, has given up 17 sacks this year, an average of 2.43 per game.
That has to have Virginia Tech’s defensive front licking its chops. The Hokies only had one sack last week against Duke, although they were able to generate some pressure. J.R. Collins is back from a one-game suspension, giving Bud Foster the choice of whether or not to play Dadi Nicolas in that whip linebacker/defensive end spot to complement Collins and James Gayle. Tech’s 28 sacks are tied for second nationally. The Hokies’ secondary is as healthy as it has been, with Kyle Fuller (groin) and Brandon Facyson (concussion) set to play, joining Antone Exum and Kendall Fuller. Tech will have no shortage of fresh cornerbacks to throw at Amidon, who is really the only consistent receiving weapon that the Eagles have. BC uses more traditional personnel, so there might not be as much nickel come Saturday. That will complicate the rotation at cornerback, but that’s a good problem to have.
Edge: Virginia Tech
When Boston College runs
Here’s where the Eagles thrive. Running back Andre Williams, a 227-pounder, leads the ACC with 1,010 yards in only seven games, with a 5.5-yard average and eight touchdowns. BC has given him the ball 183 times so far this season, more than 26 times a game. He’s topped 200 yards twice this year (against Army and Wake Forest). So there’s no secret about what the Eagles want to do when they have the ball. Paving the way for Williams is a veteran offensive line that has combined to make 102 career starts. Left tackle Matt Patchan, a transfer from Florida, is 6-foot-7, 300 pounds. The rest are all pretty big too. It’s why this line is drawing favorable comparisons, at least in terms of size and physicality, to the ones Virginia Tech faced against Alabama and Pittsburgh. BC is usually one of the bigger physical tests of the season for the Hokies’ defense. That rings true this year as well.
That runs right into the strength of this Virginia Tech defense, however. The Hokies, traditionally, have fared well against pro-style, no-frills rushing attacks, which fits Boston College to a T. Hopkins and Luther Maddy have held down the middle, with 72 combined tackles and 15 tackles for a loss. Behind them, linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards leads the team with 63 and 43 tackles, respectively. The Hokies have faced all sorts of spread teams this year and adapted well, but they’re usually at their best against traditional offenses that utilize one- and two-tight end sets. Alabama only ran for 96 yards this year. Pitt ran for 23. If Nicolas reprises his outside linebacker role and can duplicate his success against Pitt, the Hokies have a very good shot at matching BC’s physicality up front. If they can take away the run, BC doesn’t have a whole lot in its offensive arsenal.
Edge: Virginia Tech
About the only thing going for Virginia Tech’s special teams right now is punter A.J. Hughes, who still leads the ACC with a 44.8-yard average. Other than that, it’s a mess. Kicker Cody Journell missed two field goals that proved costly last week, giving him six misses this year. The estimable Doug Doughty pointed out this week that Virginia Tech’s nine missed field goals this year are more than any two ACC teams combined. Kick and punt returns have been non-existent, and the kickoff team had to page the backup from the stands last week to come in after kicker Mitchell Ludwig injured himself during warmups. It’s about as far from “Beamer Ball” as you can get.
Boston College has been solid here. Kicker Nate Freese is 7-for-7 this year. He also punts, with a 41.9-yard average that’s respectable. The Eagles are hurt on punt returns by the absence of Spiffy Evans, who had a big return last year against the Hokies. He fractured his clavicle against UNC and is out for the year. He was averaging 12.2 yards per punt return. David Dudeck steps in. He’s only had one punt return this year, although it went for 15 yards. The Eagles kick return defense is second nationally, allowing only 15.0 yards per return. Their punt return defense is 27th nationally, giving up 5.0 yards per return.
Edge: Boston College
This mostly comes down to experience. Virginia Tech’s coaches — at least Frank Beamer and Foster — have it. Steve Addazio and Co. are still relatively new to the scene. Addazio has done wonders to make BC, a team that won only two games last year, competitive this season, and seems to have given a shot of life to a program in desperate need of it. While you can question some of the in-game decisions lately by Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, there’s still no doubting the way Foster has that defense playing. Duke still finished with less than 200 yards in last week’s game. Of the coaches on either team, he’s still getting the most out of his players. And when everything else is relatively even here, that pushes the edge one direction.
Edge: Virginia Tech
This was the game I picked as the trap game before Miami. Oops. Duke proved to be just that. That’s not to say Boston College still can’t be (at that point, wouldn’t it just be a tough game?), and I still envision this contest being somewhat close. I think the Eagles are an improved team, but not one that’s quite there yet under Addazio to being regularly competitive, as last week’s 24-point loss to UNC showed. That said, it’s not like Virginia Tech went up to Chestnut Hill and played great last year against a struggling BC squad. It was lucky to leave with a win. That’s been the case quite a bit in recent years on trips that far north. It’s just a tough place to play. I don’t envision this year being any different. I picture this game being similar to Pitt, where the Hokies’ offense might not have a lot of success — and going off last week, getting to 20 points would be major success — but I just don’t see BC doing too much offensively. The Eagles’ strength goes right into the teeth of the Hokies’ defense. I think this is another game that points are going to be at a premium, but I think Virginia Tech makes at least some of the plays that it didn’t against Duke and pulls out a close one.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 16, Boston College 10