Saturday, September 30th, 3:30, CBS
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 9/28/00
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A Super-fast Hokie Team Meets the Big, Strong, Boston College Eagles.
The big problem for Boston College when it comes time to play Virginia Tech is speed. The Hokies have got it, and the Eagles don't.
It's not that Boston College doesn't have any speed. Dedrick Dewalt, after all, got behind the Tech defense in last year's season-ending 38-14 blowout and scored a TD on a 97-yard pass play that stands as the longest pass play in Lane Stadium history.
But top to bottom, Tech is faster. That has been BC's Achilles heel against the Hokies, and it has cost the Eagles dearly in recent years.
In 1997, in a tightly contested game in Lane Stadium that Tech won 17-7, the game turned on a 42-yard touchdown run by Tech QB Al Clark. Clark avoided noseguard Chris Hovan's rush, broke through the line, and outran the BC defense to paydirt.
In 1998, in another defensive struggle, speed hurt the Eagles twice. Tech's Pierson Prioleau picked off a pass in the flat and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown, and Boston College didn't have enough fast players on the field to stop Prioleau, who admittedly had a few blockers with him.
Later in the game, in a more telling sequence, with Tech holding a 14-0 lead, BC's star running back Mike Cloud broke through the line of scrimmage deep in BC territory and had nothing but green turf in front of him. 65 yards later, Tech's Loren Johnson ran him down from behind and tackled him, preventing the touchdown. The Hokies would later make a goal-line stand to turn BC back, but if Johnson doesn't make his tackle, the goal-line stand would never have happened.
And in 1999, Andre Davis ripped the Eagles for 172 yards receiving on 5 catches, getting behind the BC defense early and often.
Speed, speed, speed. The Hokies and the Eagles were evenly matched back in the mid-90's, engaging in some classic battles, but in the late 90's, Tech separated themselves from Boston College, and speed is the primary reason. There are other things that have affected Boston College adversely over that time -- a gambling scandal and coaching changes -- but when it comes down to it on the field, speed has been the big differentiator.
The Mysterious Eagles
It's still too early in the season to get a read on Boston College, who finished a decent 8-3 season last year with a 62-28 shellacking at the hands of Colorado in the Insight.com Bowl. I heard Boston College's radio announcer on SportsTalk With John Hale the other day, and he said that Colorado simply whipped the Eagles with speed (there's that word again), getting around the corners on them on offense, and shutting them down on the corners on defense.
This year, the Eagles opened the season with a 34-14 whipping by WVU in Morgantown, West Virginia. Combined with the 38-14 loss to Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale last year, that means that the Eagles at that point had lost three games in a row by a combined score of 134-56.
Eagle observers have said that the WVU game was simply a case of poor execution by BC, and indeed, they had 5 turnovers and generally got it handed to them by the Mountaineers. BC barely eked over the 200 yard mark on offense, generating just 206 total yards, 79 rushing and 127 passing.
Since then, Boston College has soothed their wounded pride with victories over Army and Navy (two other gold-helmeted teams) by scores of 55-17 and 48-7. The Eagles ran and passed over, around, and through both teams, and have compiled some nice offensive and defensive statistics in doing so.
But what can you read into that? Army and Navy are not particularly strong teams, after all. But consider this: last year, Boston College didn't score more than 34 points in a single game. And their opponents last year included some woeful teams: Navy (a narrow 14-10 win), Rutgers (27-7), Northeastern (33-22), Baylor (a 30-29 squeaker), and Temple (a 24-14 loss).
So perhaps the Eagles are better this year. At least now they're stomping teams they should stomp. And if you're a positive-thinking Eagle fan, you can chalk up the WVU game as an aberration and convince yourself that BC is still strong and still in a position to make a run at the upper levels of the Big East.
Going into last year's season-ender with Tech, I looked over BC's first ten games and concluded that they wouldn't put up much of a fight against Tech. There were too many close games against subpar teams, and there was even a loss to Temple mixed in. Sure, Boston College had won most of their games on the way to fashioning an 8-2 record, but I just didn't feel they had what it took to hang with Tech. I was right.
This year, this early in the season, the barometers are not as clear. There's less data to go on. But I still think I know what's going to happen in this one.
Let's take a look at BC's offense and defense.
Boston College Offense
Here we go again -- another experienced quarterback goes up against the Hokies. This is nothing new for Tech this year, as Akron, ECU, and Rutgers have all put experienced signal callers behind the center so far. BC's senior QB Tim Hasselbeck, the latest in a never-ending line of Hasselbecks to parade through Chestnut Hill, has good stats: 48-78 (61.5%) for 730 yards, 6 TD's, and 4 INT's. 3 of Hasselbeck's 4 INT's came in that ill-fated WVU loss.
He is backed up by sophomore Brian St. Pierre, who had a good spring for BC and is 11-17 (65%) for 146 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INT this season.
At running back, Boston College has much to be excited about. They feature last year's All Big-East first-teamer Cedric Washington, a senior who piled up over 1100 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry as a junior. This year, he only has 238 yards rushing in three games, and his average has dipped to 4.6 yards per carry.
The reason that Washington only has 238 yards (less than 80 yards per game) is that he is now splitting the carries with super soph William Green, a highly touted recruit who only had 49 attempts last year in compiling 251 yards. This year, Green already has 39 carries (to Washington's 52), and already has 175 rushing yards.
So between the two of them, they have 91 carries for 413 yards. The Eagles definitely are not hurting at tailback.
Their offensive line is experienced, but not deep. BC returned three senior starters from last season and added a sophomore and a junior, both lettermen last year, to put together a big, tall, starting O-line. According to the BC media guide, the starters on the offensive line are 6-3, 6-3, 6-5, 6-6, and 6-8, and they weigh 285, 290, 296, 310, and 318.
At receiver, Dewalt returns, and he's joined by a host of others, including senior tight end Mike Guazzo. A look at BC's season stats reveals that six BC players have caught 5 or more passes, led by Dewalt with 11 catches for 261 yards (23.7 yards per catch) and DuJuan Daniels with 7 catches for 102 yards (14.6 yards per catch).
BC sure knows how to distribute the ball in the passing game. Their wide receivers have 32 catches, their tight ends 14, and running backs 13.
In short, Boston College has a big offensive line and experience and depth at all other positions. It will be interesting to see how effective that massive offensive line is against Virginia Tech's small, quick, but inexperienced defensive line. In other years, a big offensive line has been a poor solution against Tech's fast attack defense, but this year, this game will provide a good barometer of how far the Tech defensive line has come. They have yet to bring consistent heat to the opposing quarterback. The early going against ECU was their best effort yet.
Remember, Tech's defense is predicated around (1) stopping the run; (2) pressuring the other team's quarterback. It's hard to say how effective Tech will be at #1, but how they do with #2 will go a long way towards determining if they can keep Boston College out of the end zone. If the Hokies don't pressure Hasselbeck well, he's got a lot of guys he can distribute the ball to.
Boston College Defense
In 1997 and 1998, Tech faced BC with offenses that weren't particularly potent. In 1997, Tech was very thin at receiver and had taken to pounding Ken Oxendine into the line as their offensive game plan. Then, in 1998, Al Clark and Dave Meyer were both injured, and the Hokies moved safety Nick Sorensen back to QB and started him in a downpour in Chestnut Hill.
Both times, BC held Tech to 17 points, and the Hokie defense won the game.
But in 1996 and 1999, when Tech had potent, healthy offenses, they destroyed Boston College. First, Jim Druckenmiller and company did it in Boston College in 1996 by the score of 45-7, and last year, Vick and Davis torched BC on the way to a 38-14 win.
Now BC faces a very tall order: stop Vick and company. The Hokies offensive unit is completely healthy and very potent -- and very fast, even faster than last year, now that Shyrone Stith's tailback spot is occupied by Lee Suggs.
All the news this week has been about the injuries that the Eagles have suffered among the front seven defensively. Starting linebackers Scott Brandley and Ryan Burch are both listed as "out" with sprained knee injuries from last Saturday's 48-7 win over Navy, and linebacker Jerome Ledbetter (knee) and lineman Antonio Garay (knee) are listed as "questionable." Burch is supposed to be out 2-3 weeks, and Bradley 5-6 weeks, according to BC Coach Tom O'Brien.
The Tech coaches and players have pooh-poohed the injury reports, talking as if they expect the full BC team to line up and play come Saturday. That may or may not happen, but if any of BC's starting defenders are so much as slowed down by injuries, then they're in trouble.
BC's defensive line was gutted by graduation, including the loss of long-time star noseguard Chris Hovan. A look at a preseason two-deep chart for the Eagles reveals a scary sight for Boston College fans: among the eight players listed on BC's defensive line two-deep by Athlon, only two have playing experience, juniors Sean Guthrie and Antonio Garay. The other six players consist of a junior, two sophomores, and three freshmen, not a one of whom has a varsity letter.
Never mind the linebacker injury situation. Putting that crew up in front of Tech's deep, senior-laden offensive line, particularly with Garay slowed by an injury, spells very bad news for the Eagles.
As usual, look for the Hokies to establish the run, right up the gut. And if Lee Suggs breaks free, the Eagles won't have the speed to catch him -- few teams do. Ditto Vick. Barring a surprise, which has been known to happen, it will be a long, tough day for BC's defense against Tech's mighty offense, ranked second in the nation in scoring at 48.6 points per game. (Kansas State is first at 53 points per game.)
Boston College Special Teams
The Eagles appear to be average here. Their punter, for the second year, is sophomore Kevin McMyler. He averaged 37.2 yards per punt last year, and so far this year has upped that to 38.9 yards per punt on 15 punts.
Their primary placekicker is senior Mike Sutphin, who is having a good year. He is 14-14 on PAT's and an impressive 4-4 on field goals, with field goals of 22, 24, 24, and 39 yards.
No word yet if their punt-snapper is prone to getting the yips. We'll find out on Saturday.
On offense, Boston College's only hope is to use their big offensive line to establish their running game with Washington and Green. Then they can dink away with the passing game and perhaps hit a big one to Dewalt. The Eagles have to hope that they can establish some measure of control along the offensive line, because Tech's best opponent so far, ECU, couldn't do it, despite having an experienced O-line.
On defense, bluntly put, there isn't much hope for BC to slow down Tech, unless the Eagles get fired up in front of the home crowd and pull a rabbit out of their hat. According to the weather forecast (linked above), there will be no rain to slow Tech down this time. And don't forget that this is Michael Vick's first game on Astroturf since his magic act in the Superdome last January. "I feel about ten times faster on turf," Vick said the other day, which should make the Eagle defenders shudder.
If BC wants to have a chance to win this game, it is imperative -- utterly essential -- that they not implode on special teams like ECU and Rutgers both did. It's going to be hard enough for Boston College to play Tech straight up on offense and defense. If they start giving up points and field position on special teams, they'll be in a world of hurt.
On offense, the Hokies will play the same-old, same-old. They'll try to batter BC's thin, inexperienced defensive line and establish Suggs and Kendrick up the gut. They'll uncork a few long throws to Davis to keep the BC defense honest. In this game, presented with super-fast Astroturf, Vick may temporarily abandon his goal of becoming a pocket passer and tuck and run … and run, and run, and run.
On defense, Tech needs to come out with the same intensity and fire that they had in the first half against ECU. Sure, the Hokies shut out Rutgers, but the defensive line wasn’t as active as they were against the Pirates. The fact that the game is on the road won't have much to do with Tech's defensive intensity -- as they showed against ECU, it doesn't matter to them where the game is.
Given that the weather (linked at the top) is expected to be nice, that won't serve as any sort of equalizer against the Eagles. Boston College is a good team, but if Tech plays up to snuff, they once again won't have a chance against the Hokies.
This prediction looks a lot like every other one I've made on HokieCentral so far this season: Virginia Tech 45, Boston College 17.