October 11, 2006

Hokies present big challenge

The nation will turn it's eyes to Alumni Stadium Thursday night, as Boston College (4-1, 1-1) will host No. 17 Virginia Tech (4-1, 2-1) in an ACC showdown. Both teams are coming off of a bye week, and both teams come in with one loss is ACC play. Another loss by either team could seriously jeopardize their hopes of playing in the ACC Championship game.

The Hokies last game, was one they'd like to forget, when they took a 38-27 thumping from Georgia Tech. To be honest, VT should've lost by more, but they scored a garbage touchdown with a little over 3:00 to play. The biggest problem for VT was that their pass defense and special teams gave up huge plays early in the game, and they dug just too big of a hole for themselves.

GT quarterback Reggie Ball connected on a 59-yard pass to James Johnson on the 1st drive that led to a TD, and a 53-yard TD pass to All-American Calvin Johnson on the 2nd drive of the game. Both times the receivers were wide open. After VT got the ball back, trailing 14-0, they had a punt blocked that GT recovered on the VT 25-yard line.

It should be noted that VT played without starting wide receiver Josh Morgan, and starting defensive end Chris Ellis, who were both suspended for the game.

If there's any good news right now for VT it's that they are playing on a Thursday night. VT coach Frank Beamer has led his team to an incredible 11 straight wins on Thursday night games. That includes 3 straight Thursday night wins over BC.

When Virginia Tech runs: Advantage Boston College

Branden Ore is one of most talented rushers VT has had since former 1st round NFL Draft Pick Kevin Jones. Ore is quick and explosive, and is one of the best in the country at moving side to side to avoid tackles. Even though he only touches the ball about 17 times per game, Ore is still 2nd in the ACC averaging 91 ypg rushing. The Hokies offensive line is pretty average at run blocking, so Ore gains a lot of his yards on his own effort.

This is the first season since the days of Jim Druckenmiller that the Hokies don't have a real mobile quarterback behind center. In between that span of 10 years BC had all sorts of trouble stopping VT quarterbacks from scrambling for 1st downs. Who will ever forget Mike Vick's performance at Alumni Stadium? If anyone wants to relive this nightmare you can do so here:


Current quarterback Sean Glennon is no threat to run at all, so that's one aspect that BC won't have to prepare for this season.

So far, the strength of the BC defense has been keeping their opponents rushing game in check. Obviously, the opposition has had an easier time rushing the ball than they did last year against BC, but it hasn't become a gaping concern yet. Frank Spaziani's defense kept both James Davis and Andre Brown under 100 yards rushing, which is no easy feat. Even if Brian Toal remains absent from the defense this week, BC should be able to keep Ore at around the same production that Davis and Brown had earlier in the season.

When Virginia Tech Passes: Advantage Virginia Tech

Even with the much needed return of Ryan Glasper to the secondary, the Eagles pass defense still is pretty suspect. The BC secondary doesn't match up well at all against the VT receivers, especially since wide receiver is the deepest position on the Hokies roster. Besides Eddie Royal who is 5' 10", all of the Hokies receivers are 6'1" or taller. In addition to their height they are also very fast, and quite elusive. This is going to create tons of problems for BC.

Now there is some hope for BC in this match up, and it doesn't come from their secondary, but from their linebacking core. Against GT, the Hokies pass blocking was non existent. In particular VT's tight ends and running back Branden Ore simply couldn't stop the Yellow Jacket pressure coming in from the left side of their line. GT linebacker KaMichael Hall often times came at Glennon unblocked from the blind side. There were many, many breakdowns in communication.

Is this poor pass protection something VT can fix right away? I'm not so sure. Ore is a great rusher, but he's equally as bad at pass protection. It's something he can get better at, but obviously not within a weeks time. In addition, all of VT's tight ends were over matched against the GT linebackers, who were simply using their speed to get around blocks. This could be a good opportunity for BC to let pass rushing specialist Kevin Akins loose on Glennon. It's important for BC to get good pressure on Glennon, or else they could be looking at a long night.

When Boston College runs: Advantage Virginia Tech

If there's been one constant for the Hokies this season, it's been their run defense. VT is only allowing a measly 2.8 ypc, and just over 100 ypg on the ground. A big reason for that is the linebacking duo of Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. Many times the defensive line will filter opposing running back right into either Adibi or Hall, and that's where the play stops, because these two guys just don't miss many tackles.

The BC rushing attack is coming off back to back solid performances against NC State and Maine where they gained 159 yards, and 172 yards on the ground respectively.

Unfortunately, for BC, I don't expect that trend to continue, because the Hokies have the most stout run defense BC has faced all season. I'd look for BC to come in at a little below their season average (124 ypg).

GT had their most success running against the Hokies on counter plays. BC should be able to find some room doing this, but the problem is that Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth simply aren't good enough at breaking tackles to get past Adibi and Hall.

When Boston College passes: Advantage Boston College

VT comes into the game with impressive statistics from their pass defense. They are ranked 6th nationally in passing ypg allowed (140) and 11th nationally in pass efficiency defense. This is my 1st warning of the season for "stats may lie". All four of the Hokies 1st four opponents are in the bottom half of the national rankings in passing offense, and that's including Division 1AA opponent Northeastern who ranks near the bottom of their division rankings. Two of VT's opponents (Duke and North Carolina) rank below 100th nationally in the passing ypg and pass efficiency. As I mentioned above, GT was able to really burn VT badly on a couple of big pass plays, and there was nothing fancy about the pass routes. GT was able to hit wide open receivers, after a complete breakdown in pass coverage by the VT defense.

Will Matt Ryan be able to carry BC on his shoulders for another win? In BC's wins this year, their quarterback has thrown for an average of 269 yards passing. Ryan had his worst game of the season in the loss to NC State, where he threw for only 149 yards. The entire passing game seemed to be in a funk all night. This can't happen if the Eagles are going to beat VT.

Special Teams: Advantage Virginia Tech

"Beamer Ball" has always prided itself on extraordinary special teams play, but so far this season the special teams have been pretty average. VT has had different problems week to week including one week with two missed extra points, and of course last week's blocked punt.

One constant throughout the year has been return man Eddie Royal. Royal has blazing speed and has already returned a punt for a TD this year. Royal is 13th nationally in punt return average and poses a major threat for the BC special teams unit.

Now it took awhile, but now we can finally talk about the biggest now of the week for BC. After a horrific start to his season, the news didn't get much better for kicker Ryan Ohliger this week, as he was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Now, during the time of Ohliger's struggles we've heard pleas from BC fans to Tom O'Brien ranging from "get a girl off the soccer team", to "have an open tryout", and "David Gordon must have a 12 year old son we could use." Well some of those pleas have been answered as sophomore Steve Aponavicius will handle the place kicking duties against VT in his 1st football game ever...yes the word ever is not a misprint. Quite the pressure packed situation to put a young man in, but if he can kick extra point he'll have a leg up on Ohliger(no cheesy pun intended).

This game figures to be close, and the outcome could very well come down to special teams execution. VT has an edge over BC in this match up, but not as big as in most years. A lot of that had to do with BC's kick returner Jeff Smith. The Smith vs. Royal match up on returns is one of the best you will see all year, and could decide this game.

Final Analysis: "The experts" like VT by a little less than a field goal. This might be a little low as I see VT winning by a score. VT's passing game poses a real mismatch for the BC secondary, and should be able to have a lot of success. I'd look for both Eddie Royal and David Clowney to have pretty successful nights. Also, even though VT's special teams haven't been as great this year as in the past, I think they are going to out perform the Eagles special teams unit in most phases, and make a big play that ends up being a difference maker.

BC is coming off a bye, so they should be fully prepared for the Hokies. Surprisingly, the Eagles are just 5-5 under Tom O'Brien when coming off of a bye week, so that doesn't necessarily mean BC is at an advantage. It's not unreasonable to think BC can beat VT. The key to victory for BC is being successful in the air on both offense and defense. Matt Ryan needs to have one of his best games of the year, and show the world that he is definitely the best quarterback in the ACC. I have no doubt he can and will do that.

Unfortunately for BC, I don't see their defense shutting down the VT passing game. Unless Frank Spaziani can come up with the type of game plan like he did against Miami in 2001 where he brought all sorts of different blitz packages, this game looks like a close VT victory.

One final factor that could be in VT's favor...They are outscoring their opponents 54-7 in the 4th quarter this season. After watching BC's 4th quarter meltdowns this season, that stat is something that will keep BC fans up at night.

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