EagleAction - Opponent Preview: Virginia Tech
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Opponent Preview: Virginia Tech

Opponent Preview: Virginia Tech

Boston College’s last two games at Lane Stadium were monumental.

For completely different reasons.

In 2016, BC suffered a 49-point shutout, which, at the time, was the program’s worst defeat since 1950. Two years later, Steve Addazio’s 24th-ranked Eagles used a 24-point second half to upend the Hokies, clinching their first College GameDay appearance since 2009.

BC could very well make history again on Saturday night. After all, the Eagles are searching for their first AP Top 25 win since 2014. They’ll have to get past No. 23 Virginia Tech, a 13-point favorite looking to bounce back from a road loss to then-No. 8 North Carolina.

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Oct. 17., 8 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

How to watch?

The game will be broadcast on ACC Network.

Series History

BC has won two straight against the Hokies, but Virginia Tech leads the all-time series, 18-10. As permanent crossover opponents, the teams meet annually. Last year, BC opened the season at home versus head coach Justin Fuente and the Hokies. The Eagles’ bend-but-don’t-break defense forced four turnovers, and Anthony Brown threw for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for another amid a first-half offensive explosion. Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis tossed four scores and made things interesting in the second half, but his two interceptions proved costly. The Eagles held on to notch their first ACC season-opening win since 2007.

Virginia Tech’s record: 2-1 (2-1 ACC)

Breaking Down the Hokies:

Offense: Virginia Tech has built the third-best rushing attack in the country, and it’s headed by two transfer running backs, both of whom carved up BC in 2019. It all starts with Khalil Herbert. The Kansas grad transfer, who racked up 187 rushing yards on just 11 carries at Alumni Stadium last September, ranks fifth nationally with 449 yards on the ground this fall. He’s averaging a whopping 10.4 yards per carry, tops in the FBS. Raheem Blackshear, who spent three years at Rutgers, has gotten plenty of touches (31 rushing attempts through three games) yet hasn’t come anywhere close to producing (averaging just 3.9 yards per carry) like Herbert. Still, he’s totaled 120 rushing yards and reached the end zone against North Carolina State.

It helps that the Hokies brought back their entire offensive line from last season. It’s a relatively young but talented group. Three of the five starting O-Linemen stand 6-foot-5 or taller, including left tackle Christian Darrisaw, who might be the best of the bunch. He’ll be protecting Hendon Hooker this weekend. Fuente announced early this week that Hooker will make his first start of the season against BC. The redshirt junior dual-threat quarterback used three second-half touchdowns to make a game out of last week’s loss to UNC after replacing Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister. Hooker started the final eight games of last season. He won the first six, posting a 10:0 touchdown to interception ratio along the way, all while catapulting Virginia Tech into ACC title contention.

Hooker dealt with an illness early in the season, forcing him to miss the Hokies’ first two games, even after Virginia Tech’s season opener was delayed because of COVID-19. As far as his perimeter weapons go, tight end James Mitchell is the name to know. Mitchell, who BC head coach Jeff Hafley says looks like a future NFLer, leads the team with 194 receiving yards. Wideouts Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner follow with 170 and 114 receiving yards, respectively.

Defense: It’s no secret that the Hokies have struggled to contain COVID-19. Star cornerback Caleb Farley opted out of the 2020 season and instead shifted his focus to training for next year’s NFL Draft because of coronavirus concerns. It was an unfortunate precursor to Virginia Tech’s turbulent battle with COVID-19. Absences because of the virus, injuries, and off-the-field issues have hit Virginia Tech’s defense hard, especially in the secondary.

Last week at UNC, the Hokies were without safeties Divine Deablo and Keonta Jenkins. Walk-on Tyler Matheny filled in for Deablo, redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Alan Tisdale ended up playing a good bit of rover, and cornerback Jermaine Waller jumped to nickel after Chamarri Conner was ejected for targeting. It’s been a lot of mix and match for Fuente. Even first-year defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton missed the first two games of the year.

Virginia Tech has played without at least 15 players each of the past three weeks, according to The Washington Post. The Hokies’ makeshift defense was shredded by the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech gave up 656 total yards, the second-most in single-game program history, and 56 points (most allowed since 2002). Still, the Hokies somehow rank 12th in the ACC and 49th nationally (of 76 FBS teams) in pass defense with 261 passing yards allowed per game. Fuente indicated that they’ll be getting Deablo back for the BC game. Luckily for the Hokies, they’ve got one of the better pass rushes in the country. Led by the tandem of Amaré Barno and Emmanuel Belmar—who have three quarterback takedowns a piece—Virginia Tech has the fourth-most sacks per game (4.67) in the country.

Special Teams: The Hokies’ special teams unit is one of the best in the nation. Virginia Tech has registered a 34.6-yard kickoff return average through three weeks of competition, good for fourth in the Power Five. Kicker Brian Johnson has made 17 consecutive field goals—only Hunter Duplessis of UTSA has a longer active streak. Last week, Johnson drilled a 55-yarder and recovered his own dribbling onside kick. In terms of punting, Oscar Bradburn ranks sixth in the ACC, averaging 44.6 yards per boot. He’s pinned five punts inside the 20-yard line this fall.

Three Storylines

Can BC’s O-Line get it together?

The most surprising Eagles storyline this season has been the team’s below average offensive line play and, consequently, its non-existent run game. BC ran the ball 41 times against Pitt for a net gain of 30 yards. Granted the Panthers have the second-best run defense in the nation, but the Eagles, who rank third-to-last in the nation in rushing, have looked uncharacteristically bad running the rock all year. Not only that, but the Eagles’ O-Line has already given up 17 sacks this year after allowing 13 all of 2019. That number was sure to rise with BC’s new-look offense and Phil Jurkovec’s scrambling tendencies, but it’s a cause for concern for the Eagles.

Will Herbert continue his tear, or will BC’s defense get revenge?

Herbert never got a chance to shine in Lawrence. Now, the former Jayhawk is proving that he belongs as a starter not just in a Power Five backfield but maybe even in the NFL. When BC fans think of the Eagles’ embarrassing loss to Kansas last year, the most memorable (or forgettable) image is of Herbert running through a sea of green on a backbreaking 82-yard run at the end of the first half. BC’s defense will get another crack at stopping the shifty back on Saturday.

Jurkovec is on a roll—can he capitalize against a decimated Hokies secondary?

Jurkovec is averaging an ACC-best 295.3 passing yards per game. He’s thrown for more yards (1,181) than any other BC quarterback has in their first four games. The 6-foot-5 gunslinger has stitched together some highlight-reel plays this season, and he’s got a chance to add a few more this weekend. That said, Jurkovec has experienced lulls in production this fall, sometimes quarters at a time. Virginia Tech’s D-Line could give the redshirt sophomore fits if he holds onto the ball too long.

Line: Virginia Tech (-13)

ESPN FPI: The database gives the Hokies a 79.1% chance of beating BC.

Outlook: It’s the first primetime game of the Hafley era. The stakes are high. A win keeps BC’s momentum going, ends the program’s six-year wait for a ranked win, and likely propels the Eagles into the AP Poll. A loss, on the other hand, sends BC back to Chestnut Hill with its second defeat in three weeks. There’s a big difference between 4-1 and 3-2. Contrary to the spread, this matchup is favorable for BC. Still, winning three in a row against this Hokies program is no small feat. Saturday will be the true measure of just how far the Eagles’ run defense has come since last season. And the game’s probably going down to the wire.