Looming over all the analysis and breakdown of this year’s match-up between Boston College and Virginia Tech are two numbers: 48, and 14. In last season’s game (if one even wants to call it a game), the Hokies defeated the Eagles 48-14 in one of the worst losses Boston College has suffered in years.
As the first half came to a close, the Eagles had amassed 3 yards (in contrast to Virginia Tech’s 293). At-the-time freshman Dave Shinskie had gone 0-for-9 with two interceptions, only to end 1-for-12 for 4 yards, and the 14 points the Eagles eventually were able to put on the board were against back-up defenders. On top of it all, BC’s one hope, running back Montel Harris, ran for only 43 yards. It was a beat down, an embarrassment, a debacle; whatever you want to call it, it was clear that Virginia Tech was the superior team.
So, now, roughly a year later, it is hard to look at this week’s matchup against Virginia Tech and think that the Eagles have a shot, let alone deserve to be on the same field. As an eternal optimist, I have looked for any advantage the Eagles may have, but there are just not many.
Of the challenges the Eagles will face this weekend, none worry me more than the Hokies record. Entering the game, Virginia Tech is 1-2 on the season, with a loss to James Madison University. Entering most other games, I would view this as a positive – clearly the Hokies aren’t as good as they were made out to be. But they are. If you can, recall the emotional speech Tim Tebow delivered promising to Gators fans that he would work as hard as possible to make up for the Gators early season loss to Ole Miss – early season losses, especially to unnamed opponents, only act to focus a team for the remaining games, particularly the first conference game. Virginia Tech will come out hungry, aggressive, and looking for vindication. For an Eagles team that has not yet been tested, yet has still struggled, playing Virginia Tech at such an inopportune time will be a trial by fire.
Over the last few years, even in the golden era of Matt Ryan, Boston College has struggled against athletic teams – think Clemson, and Virginia Tech. The Eagles, while a talented, tough-minded group, are simply not as fast and athletic as many of the ACC teams. Since Will Blackmon, Boston College hasn’t had an electrifying presence on the offensive side of the ball. What this enables athletic teams to do is challenge the Eagles to beat them over the top by putting 7 or 8 men in the box, playing their safeties shallow, and their cornerbacks in tight man coverage. For the Eagles to put points on the board, Shinskie will have to show poise, receivers Jonathan Coleman and Clyde Lee will have to be able to beat their man, and the offensive line will have to consistently handle 5 or 6 man rushes. The Hokies are well aware that Montel Harris is the Eagles best offensive threat, and they will start by ensuring that he does not carry the Eagles offense.
When put this way, the bleakness of the situation becomes overwhelming. To this point, Shinskie has not shown that he has what it takes to be the capable, poised quarterback, and while both Coleman and Lee have impressed in early games, it is yet to be seen how they will fare against ACC-caliber cornerbacks. Most worrisome is the play of the offensive line, a unit that has yet to perform up to expectations this season – will they step up this week against an opponent far superior to the likes of Kent State and Weber State?
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the problem translates to the defensive side of the ball, as well. The Eagles defense is usually a stout group, but put them against a mobile quarterback such as Tyrod Taylor (or Joshua Nesbitt of Georgia Tech), and it creates many potential mismatches.
In Frank Spaziani’s tenure with Boston College, he has demonstrated that regardless of situation, he rarely switches the defense out of the base 4-3. Against an athletic offense, such as Virginia Tech, this adds extra responsibility to the linebackers who are asked to cover large areas against speedy receivers in situations where most teams would add a third cornerback, or a nickelback. This is certainly a heavy responsibility to bear.
In addition, Eagles linebackers will be tasked with preventing large scrambles by the fleet-footed Tyrod Taylor. While some of this responsibility rests on the defensive line, as Boston College will most likely incorporate many quarterback contains, the same lack of athleticism prevents the Eagles from relying solely on the defensive line. If the Eagles linebackers are over agressive in preventing the scramble, though, Taylor will be able to consistently find open receivers.
The defensive backs also need to be aware of the ability for Taylor to scramble, meaning that Eagles defensive backs are in the same danger of over-compensating. If the Eagles defensive backs allow the Virginia Tech receivers to get behind them, with Taylor’s strong arm, this will, as demonstrated in last year’s meeting, allow Taylor to hit open receivers 50+ yards down the field. Containing Taylor will certainly prove to be the Eagles largest challenge. Even if the box score may not reflect Taylor’s ability to run, it will certainly have an impact on the game.
Adding on to the already long list of problems, even with sophomore star running back Ryan Williams out, the Eagles have to be ready to deal with the stable of running backs the Hokies still have. Leading the charge will be junior Darren Evans, who was out last season with a torn ACL. With the Eagles defense undoubtedly wary of the deep threat, the door is left open for Virginia Tech to run the ball effectively. The Eagles defensive line needs to perform effectively in order for the Hokies to not, literally, run away with the game.
It is not a stretch to say that if the Eagles are to succeed defensively, the will have to execute perfectly. The Hokies can threaten through the air, and through the ground (with both their running backs and Taylor). Lapses in concentration, or even the most minor of mistakes will allow Virginia Tech to convert large play after large play, and blow the Eagles out of the water.
The list of concerns is long, and the list of solutions short. Perhaps I am blinded by my desire to see the Eagles win, but nonetheless, the optimist in me returns. The Eagles have only lost 6 times in their last 30 home games, and have not lost to the Hokies at home since 2002. The Eagles are known for the upset, and are known to defy expert opinion, and while I do not expect the Eagles to win, I do expect for a much better game than the majority of fans are expecting. In the end, I see Virginia Tech pulling away with a late touchdown and defeating the Eagles 31-24.
About the Author
Written by Ian Boynton
Student at Boston College. Avid fan of St. Louis Rams, Boston Red Sox, as well as all Boston College Sports.