This Saturday brings us the fifth matchup between the Virginia Tech Hokies and Boston College Eagles in the last three years—which leads the nation in that most unofficial of stats.
This will be the 12th contest of this decade and the 17th consecutive season that the two have met albeit in two different conferences.
You can’t say you hear or read about it all that much nationally, but it’s a rivalry that has determined the last two ACC Champions and thus the BCS landscape.
No one, certainly not I, would suggest that it is among the most historic or elite of college football’s rivalries. After all, the 17-year history cannot compare to the 102-year battle that wages on with Michigan and Ohio State. It does not possess the vitriolic tone of the Alabama/Auburn Iron Bowl, the high stakes of the Red River shootout between Oklahoma and Texas, nor the poignancy of Army versus Navy.
But, I assure you, this game should be on your radar each season.
Virginia Tech has long been known as a team that defends its home turf well, with Lane Stadium rocking out to “Enter Sandman” at the onset of each home game. Throw in a little lunch pail defense along with the most consistently dominant special teams in the country and it is no surprise that they have not lost a game there since October 2007— even that one taking a miraculous comeback orchestrated by a BC-led Matt Ryan squad. Home losses are simply rare in Hokie Land.
Boston College is the program that earns its respect on the field, rarely ranked in the preseason, often surprising critics along the way each year. Picked by many to finish last in the ACC Atlantic Division last year, the Eagles fought their way to a first place finish and a second consecutive bout with the Hokies in the ACC Championship Game.
Unfortunately for Eagles fans, that resulted in a second consecutive gut-wrenching defeat and a continued gaze from the outside looking in at the BCS party.
This year’s battle possesses all the intrigue of the past few seasons with the winner taking the driver’s seat in its respective division, on its way to a third consecutive ACC title game appearance.
Virginia Tech comes in on a four-game winning streak behind the powerful running game of freshman Ryan Williams and the dynamic dual-threat QB Tyrod Taylor.
Williams ranks eighth in the FBS in rushing and leads the ground game that is averaging over 203 yards per game, second in the ACC. Virginia Tech’s biggest issue on offense has been trying to find the balance it needs to compete if the ground game happens to falter.
Tyrod Taylor had completed only 47 percent of his passes through four games, until he lit up the skies last week in a win at hapless Duke. Taylor went 17-for-22 for a career-high 327 yards and two TDs, allowing the Hokies to overcome 12 penalties in the 34-26 victory.
Uncharacteristically, the Hokies have not been as stout defensively and barely crack the top 50 in total defense. They have also been flagged 38 times in five games, making them one of the more penalized teams in the nation. The Hokies will need to be a more disciplined team on Saturday afternoon as the Eagles will take advantage of free yardage much more efficiently than the Blue Devils did.
Boston College is off to a surprising 4-1 start, including a two-game conference winning streak highlighted by last week’s upset of Florida State.
An embarrassing loss at Clemson on September 19 in which they gained only 54 yards of offense was the impetus for a change at quarterback. Dave Shinskie, the 25-year-old former baseball playing freshman, took the reins against Wake Forest and FSU and picked up 431 yards, five TDs and only one pick in those two contests.
By completing 60 percent of his passes, it has allowed BC to open up the running game by creating the balance that it lacked through the first three games. The rushing attack is led by sophomore Montel Harris, who is averaging 90 yards per game and had a breakout performance in last week’s win by picking up 179 yards and two TDs.
Despite losing two top NFL picks on the defensive line, and almost their entire starting linebacking corps, BC has managed to remain fierce on the defensive side of the ball.
Under the tutelage of longtime defensive coordinator, and now head coach Frank Spaziani, the Eagles rank in the top 25 in the country in total and rushing defense. Senior captain middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin has returned from injury and the outstanding play from younger players like Luke Keuchly had greatly improved the defensive performance.
Special teams always play a role in these contests and Virginia Tech will have the advantage again, regardless of what the stats may read at this stage of the season. It is worth noting, however, that BC standout senior wideout Rich Gunnell has the skills to return punts and went to the house on the Hokies last season.
Expect BC to load up on the Hokies’ formidable rushing attack and force Taylor to throw the ball. Taylor was able to gash them last season, with a better defense than this year, on the ground. So staying home on assignments will be paramount for BC to contain the big play. Combine that with Ryan Williams’ ability to churn out the yards and BC will have its hands full in Lane Stadium.
Offensively, BC continues to gain confidence and will have to continue to improve in pass-blocking situations. Clemson killed them several weeks ago with run blitzes and consistent pressure on the QB, resulting in an abysmal performance. Expect Virginia Tech to throw the kitchen sink at Shinskie, who despite his age, is still a freshman and is still a long way from polished under center.
Prediction—I think it would be asking too much for BC, who is improving by the week, to be able to stop this Hokie team at Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech 30, BC 17.
So, we are primed for today’s tussle of the underdog Eagles and the formidable host Hokies, it may not be historic but it definitely needs to be on everyone’s radar.