Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 7
by Will Stewart,, 10/11/97

Click here for the game recap with stats

This certainly wasn’t what I expected. I expected the Hokies to win in a romp. Boston College is a team that was statistically impressive coming into the game, but their record was the polar opposite. They lost to Temple (which is still a badge of dishonor, even though the Owls are improved), fell to Cincinnati 24-6, and got creamed by a decent Georgia Tech team, 42-14. More telling is that BC struggled somewhat in beating Rutgers 35-21, the same Rutgers team that every other decent team in the Big East has destroyed by scores like 59-19, 48-0, and 50-3.

Sure, BC has suffered a lot of injuries, and they did manage to squeeze in a 31-24 victory over WVU amidst that string of unimpressive showings, but I just didn’t think they had what it takes to hang with Tech.

I figured that Tech would come out breathing fire after last week’s loss to Miami of Ohio. I figured that Ricky Bustle would finally open up the offense and let Clark experiment with the passing game a little more. I figured that close to 50,000 fans would be in Lane Stadium, ready to rock, and that Tech would win by a score in the neighborhood of Georgia Tech’s 42-14 triumph last week.

Wrong about everything, except for the "close to 50,000 fans" part. 47,681 showed up for this one, and a good portion of them were in their seats and ready to go when the Hokies came out of the tunnel. I thought the fans did a good job in this game. Not great, but good. But in all fairness, they were treated to a snoozer of a game. Although Tech executed their game plan well (more on that later) and secured the win, this was not a game that made the stands quake.

The Flow of the Game

BC came out strong. Tech received the opening kickoff, a rarity, and two holding penalties killed the Hokies’ first drive. Boston College responded with a strong touchdown drive culminating in a one-yard TD plunge. At that point, from the time Tech led Miami of Ohio 10-0 until BC took their 7-0 lead, the Hokies had been outscored 31-7 on their home field in less than four quarters of play over two games.

The Hokies next drive faltered, and BC wasn’t able to do much with their second possession, either. BC threw an interception to Keion Carpenter, who promptly gave the ball back on a fumble (Keion holds the ball loosely when he runs with it, which works fine in the open field, but not in traffic). The Eagles pinned Tech on the 3 yard line with a great punt, and the momentum was definitely in Boston College’s corner.

Tech roared out of the shadow of their goal line and quickly marched to midfield, where Al Clark then hit Angelo Harrison with a 50-yard bomb to tie the score at 7. Angelo made a leaping, athletic grab over tight coverage at the five yard line and stumbled into the end zone for the score.

After that, things settled down. The Hokie defense started stuffing the Boston College offense, and on offense, Tech went almost exclusively with the running game. At one point, I counted 12 straight runs by the Hokies, and then I forgot to keep counting.

Although Tech was dominating the game statistically and controlling the ball, the Hokies were not doing the most important thing - putting points on the board. To their credit, BC played mistake-free ball, and all Tech was able to do was tack on a second-quarter field goal to make the score 10-7.

The slugfest continued through the third quarter and into the fourth. By that time, it was apparent that the first team to make a major mistake was probably going to lose the ballgame. Fortunately for Tech, BC made the mistake, not the Hokies.

Throughout the third quarter, BC’s defense had applied great pressure to Al Clark, dropping him three times, all three sacks coming from noseguard Chris Hovan. But Hovan’s most important sack was the one he didn’t make, when he missed Al Clark early in the fourth quarter near midfield. BC blitzed and the play flowed to Tech’s right. Al sensed the pressure and cut back left, barely escaping Hovan’s clutches. Al’s reward was 42 yards of open field, and he turned on the jets and put the game out of reach with a touchdown run.

On their next drive, with about ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter and clinging to a 17-7 lead, the Hokies went on an 11-play drive that chewed up over five minutes of clock and sealed the victory.

The Tech Game Plan

The Hokies’ offensive game plan was simple. Run the ball. Then go to the run. Run it a little more, and then mix things up by going back to the run. Run left, run right, run up the middle. Run, run, run.


Tech attempted five passes on the opening drive (one or two of which were nullified by holding and don’t show up in the stat sheet), but after that, almost zilch happened in the way of passing attempts. The Hokies had 75 offensive plays and only 12 of them (16%) were passes. The Hokies were bound and determined to win the game by running the ball, and they did.

Here are the kind of stats that produces:

Total plays: Tech 75, BC 52

Time of possession: Tech 36:08, BC 23:52

Rushing: Tech 63-257, BC 28-123

Wins: Tech 1, BC 0

I watched the game tape on Sunday, and it was a dominating performance by the Hokies in all but one phase of the game - the score. Tech fans were squirming in their seats for the entire game, partly because the Hokies were unable to separate themselves from Boston College, but mostly because Tech’s line play, particularly the offensive line, needs to improve drastically before this team can even think about going undefeated in the Big East and earning a coveted Alliance Bowl trip.

Let’s break down the different parts of the team and I’ll try to clarify some of what happened by telling you what I saw.


In his commentary on the game, Jack Bogaczyk of The Roanoke Times made an interesting statement. He wrote, "Clark and offensive coordinator Ricky Bustle admitted the obvious …. the Hokies have shown only slightly more than half their offense to date."

It’s one thing to hear that statement after a season-opening romp over Rutgers, but it’s quite another to hear it after the sixth game of the season, and after a game that was being played for first place in the conference. Frankly, I think it’s time to stop playing it conservative and start giving Al Clark a chance to sink or swim. If he’s good enough to use all 100 plays in the playbook, fine, if not, at least we’ll find that out.

There could be several reasons for the conservative offense. Number one, maybe Ricky Bustle thinks Al isn’t ready to run the whole offense yet. I don’t think that’s the reason, because the only time Al has faltered has been when he has received relentless pressure, like he did in the Miami (OH) game.

Al only has one turnover in six games, and he has shown that he isn’t likely to do anything really stupid with the ball. He needs to learn to unload the ball or run with it before the rush reaches him, but that will come with time. At this point, he seems determined to hang in the pocket and prove that he’s more of a passer than a runner. I admire that, and with time, Al will find a good balance.

Reason number two for the conservative, run-oriented offense is that the Tech coaches don’t trust the offensive line, in particular the pass protection. This explanation sounds much more plausible, given that the Hokies have surrendered a whopping nine sacks in the last two games, after only giving up fifteen all of last year. Also, the holes in the running game haven’t been very big for the most part, and they’ve been closing too quickly for Oxendine to be effective. Ken Oxendine is the type of runner that doesn’t hit the hole quickly, and he needs to be sprung into the defensive backfield to be his shifty, punishing best. This year, Ken has often been met at the line by not just one defender, but several.

Tech fans are starting to push the panic button over the rising sack total. It’s not so much the sacks as the nature of the sacks. Against Miami of Ohio and again against BC, the sacks have consisted of multiple players piling onto Clark at once. The pressure starts from the outside, often from both sides, and when Al steps up to look for a receiver or to run with the ball, he’s getting plowed under by two or more interior defensive linemen. The play ends with three or four defenders tackling Clark, and three or four Tech offensive linemen watching it happen. Clark is not getting any time to look for secondary receivers, and he’s not getting room to run.

I watched two of the sacks by BC noseguard Chris Hovan, and they were identical. BC stunted by running Hovan to the left of the BC line behind the left-side linemen, and when Tech center Todd Washington went with the pile, Hovan popped out into the now-open middle of the line and met Clark for the sack. As I mentioned, Clark is often getting pressured from the perimeter and being forced to step up, so he’s vulnerable to a rush from the middle like what Hovan was putting on.

I think Hokie fans have been spoiled by the great offensive lines of the last four or five years, which have featured such notables as Jim Pyne, Chris Malone, T.J. Washington, Jay Hagood, and Billy Conaty. We lost three linemen from last year who either made the NFL or came darn close to it – Conaty, Hagood, and Washington. And don’t forget tight end Bryan Jennings, who was a good blocker. So far, this year’s offensive line has been good, but they’re not great.

I thought this line was jelling after the Temple game, when Ricky Bustle said he was extremely pleased with the way they played, but you’ve got to admit that the last two weeks have been unimpressive.

Add to that the fact that we were doing nothing but running against BC, and the Eagles knew it and lined up to stop the run, and it made it difficult for the line to distinguish itself. I think all we can do at this point is sit back and let the line watch some film, and let the players and coaching staff work to improve. Maybe they’ll learn to be a dominating line, and maybe they won’t. One thing’s for sure, though. For this team to be an Alliance-caliber team, the offensive line is one of the areas that needs to improve. Mind you, it’s not bad. It just needs to be a heck of a lot better for us to maintain the level of play we’re becoming accustomed to.


Speaking of line play, many fans are also concerned about the low number of sacks on the part of the Hokie defense the last two weeks. The lack of consistent pressure from the Hokies appears to be due to our last two opponents keeping enough blockers back to defend the blitz, to the point where we don’t blitz as much as we usually do. Combine that with the fact that John Engelberger hasn’t been healthy, and suddenly, we’re not pressuring the quarterback like we usually do.

Bud Foster said on the Hokie Hotline show Monday night that we only blitzed about five times in the BC game, and that’s about 15 less than what Hokie fans are used to seeing. The reason is simple. BC was often keeping eight guys back to block, much like Miami of Ohio did, and Foster is reluctant to consistently go one-on-one with his defensive backs if the opposition is keeping a lot of blockers in the backfield. Blitzes only work if you outnumber the blockers or you can find a seam, and it’s a smart coach that will recognize when a blitz is being properly defended and will call off the dogs.

The end result was acceptable, though. The Hokies held the #1 offense in the Big East to just 7 points. With Tech’s offense struggling to put points on the board (less than 20 points in each of the last two games after scoring more than 20 for about 23 games straight), I’ll take a 7-point defensive effort every time.

I wanted to mention some players who had phenomenal games. Steve Tate made an incredible 14 tackles, seven of which were unassisted. A couple of them were good tackles in lateral pursuit where he read the play perfectly, closed on the ball carrier in the flat, and took him down. He earned Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.

I also thought the defensive backfield bounced back from a bad game against Miami of Ohio and put in a stellar performance against BC. Most of the passes BC threw were well-defended by Tech, and the BC receivers had to make some great catches just to complete a pass. I felt like the Boston College QB, Matt Hasselbeck, threw the ball to the open spot a number of times in the hope that his receiver would go get it, only to find out that the receiver wasn’t any closer to the ball than the Tech defender, and the pass would fall harmlessly to the ground.

Also earning honorable mention is Danny Wheel, who turned in a good game.

Look for the defensive performance to improve against WVU. One thing that has been missing the last two or three games is consistent pressure from John Engelberger. Big John is still not 100% healed from his early-season shoulder and knee injuries, but the Tech coaches feel that with a week off, he’ll be completely healed by the time the WVU game arrives.

Folks, it’s this simple: if John Engelberger is not "in" on nearly every play, then it’s because he’s not completely healthy. And the last few games, he hasn’t been in on every play. Look for him to break out against WVU and get back on track to make first team all-Big East.

Game Notes
  • Angelo Harrison’s acrobatic TD catch is indicative of what I expected from him this year. However, his drop of a wide open screen pass is not. Given the opposite (dropping the TD and catching the screen), I’ll take what we got.
  • I went ballistic when Coach Beamer decided not to kick a field goal late in the game. The ball was resting on BC’s 35-yard line (a 52-yard field goal attempt, well within Shayne Graham’s range), and Tech had a 17-7 lead. Coach Beamer decided to punt instead of attempting the field goal. The punt went into the end zone for a touchback. When asked about it on the Hokie Hotline, Coach gave the exact answer I didn’t want him to give. He started talking about what would have happened if Graham had missed it, and he had hoped to pin BC inside their ten yard line, blah, blah, blah. Come on, Coach – you’ve always been one to go for the jugular. Next time, use that High School All-American with the strong leg!
  • Late in the game, Jimmy Kibble absolutely crushed a punt. It went 65 yards in the air, hit on the BC 7-yard line, and rolled into the end zone, for a 72-yard effort. BC was flagged for offsides on the play, and I stood up immediately and started screaming "Take the play! Take the play!" One of my buddies politely informed me, "Uh, Will, that’s a first down." I promptly screamed, "Take the play, anyway!" If you weren’t there and weren’t able to see the punt on television folks, you missed a whopper of a punt, folks. ‘Scuse me while I go change my underwear.
  • Al Clark is fast. This guy can flat-out crank. When he broke free on his 42-yard run, he showed great acceleration to outrun the BC defense and beat them to the corner of the end zone.
  • Ox’s 33 carries were the most since Cyrus Lawrence in 1981. I was 16 years old in 1981 and had almost no clue what a personal computer was. The Internet as we know it today was about 12 years in the future. And oh-by-the-way, I was driving a 1976 Chevy Impala station wagon that had the same engine in it that the HokieCentral mobile (1981 Chevy Impala wagon) has in it now. And I mean the exact same engine. My dad transplanted the engine from the '76 wagon to the '81 wagon a couple of years ago. So at least one thing didn't change since 1981.
Next Game

The Hokies travel to WVU for an October 25th showdown in a game that is being billed as the battle for the Big East championship and an Alliance Bowl bid. That statement may be a bit premature if WVU wins, because the Mountaineers already have one Big East loss and still have to travel to Syracuse.

If, on the other hand, Tech wins, the Hokies will be 5-0 in the conference, and every other team will have at least two conference losses, except for Temple, Pitt, and Syracuse. Temple will not be a factor in the Big East championship race, while Pitt still has to play Tech, WVU, and Syracuse. The Tech advantage over the Orangemen is the head-to-head meeting, won by Tech.

If the Hokies can beat WVU and go 5-0 in the conference, then it will be extremely difficult for any other team to win the Big East and the automatic Alliance Bowl bid that comes with the conference championship. However, if WVU wins, the race is wide open again. Those of you with more time on your hands than I have can crunch all the possibilities if you want to, but I think you get my point. This one’s huge.

In my preseason predictions, I said that Tech would lose the ballgame to WVU, and I haven’t seen anything to change my mind. The Mountaineers will be playing at home, in front of a packed stadium, and they owe the Hokies big time.

None of this will impress Tech. The Hokies will be healthy, and if they can shut down WVU running back Amos Zeroueue and get better play from the offensive line, Tech has a great chance at winning this ball game.

The Hokies typically close the season strong, and this is game #7 of the year. It’s time to start the sprint towards the finish, and a victory at WVU would be a giant step towards a third consecutive Alliance Bowl.

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