Three Reasons Why Boston College Could Beat Virginia Tech
Last week was rough.
North Carolina sliced-and-diced the Virginia Tech defense to the tune of 656 total yards and 56 points, performing very well in the debut of Hokies' defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton. In the process, North Carolina accomplished all three keys that I laid out for a victory.
Back to the drawing board for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies prepare for a plucky Boston College unit. The Eagles have surged to a surprising 3-1 start under first-year head coach Jeff Hafley, and will certainly test Virginia Tech on Saturday in Blacksburg.
Here are the three reasons why Boston College could beat Virginia Tech and drop the Hokies to 2-2 on the season.
1. Virginia Tech struggles against the run
If Virginia Tech doesn't stop the run this week, we're going to have to sound the alarms on Virginia Tech's rushing defense.
Boston College has played three ACC games thus far this season. In those games, the Eagles are averaging 1.51 yards per play - which is dead last in the conference coming into this game against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies have the second-worst rushing defense on a yards per play basis in the ACC, so something's gotta give here. Tech turned in two less-than-stellar performances against the run to start the season. NC State's two primary running backs, Zonovan "Bam" Knight and Ricky Person Jr. averaged 6.7 and 4.9 yards per carry respectively, and combined for 158 yards and a touchdown in the blowout loss to the Hokies.
Against Duke, it wasn't much better. Mataeo Durant averaged 7.8 yards per carry and Deon Jackson averaged 4.5 yards per rush. Together, they combined for 154 yards and two scores on the ground.
So heading into the North Carolina game, the signs were there that this Virginia Tech rushing defense might not be all that good.
And then, the dam broke.
North Carolina, with sacks INCLUDED, ran the ball for 399 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 9.3 yards per carry in the process.
Boston College has the worst rushing offense that Virginia Tech has faced, but they have tried to establish the run in teach game they've played. The Eagles average 21 rushing attempts per game with their running backs, showing that running the ball is important to them, even if they're not very good at it.
Virginia Tech better show up here. If they don't, I'm going to have some questions.
2. Virginia Tech struggles to defend the tight end
It looks like Virginia Tech will be getting some key pieces of the secondary back this weekend, which is important because Boston College not only has a dynamic wide receiver in Zay Flowers, but also has an outstanding tight end in Hunter Long.
Long leads Boston College with 31 receptions on the season, and is second in yards (363) and touchdowns (2) to Flowers. Long's 6'5" 253 lbs. frame makes him a match-up nightmare for most opponents. Virginia Tech has been up-and-down against opposing tight ends this year, allowing six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown against Duke tight end Noah Gray, but held down North Carolina tight end Khafre Brown to one catch for 10 yards. NC State didn't (and hasn't) utilized their tight end in the passing game much at all.
This will be a test for Virginia Tech against Long. It feels like Chamarri Conner should be seeing a bulk of the work trying to defend Long in this game, but Divine Deablo could have a role as well if he returns to the fold as expected. I don't envision defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton sticking one of his linebackers on Long, especially considering the trials and tribulations of the linebacker unit thus far in 2020.
Long is a major cog in the offense for the Eagles, and he's not easy to defend. If he has a big game, it could put Tech in a tough spot on Saturday.
3. Boston College QB Phil Jurkovec shreds the Virginia Tech secondary
Due to COVID-19 and other various ailments, the Virginia Tech secondary has been a shell of itself thus far in 2020. The Hokies will likely be the healthiest they've been all season in the back end of the defense this Saturday, but it has been a struggle to date for the team to get healthy and match the production of a year ago.
Most of this is out of Virginia Tech's control, but even at full health, it was fair to see at least a little bit of a drop-off once All-American defensive back Caleb Farley opted out of the season to prepare for the NFL Draft.
Can the Hokies produce enough of a pass rush to assist the secondary in this football game? It's going to be paramount, because Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec has carried the Eagles' offense on his back thus far this season.
Jurkovec is not only taking care of the football, but he is completing a high percentage of his passes as well. Through four games, Jurkovec is completing 65% of his passes for 1,181 yards and eight touchdowns to only two interceptions. Due to the rushing woes, the offensive production has come largely from the passing game, and Jurkovec has done a great job in his first year with the program.
As mentioned, Hunter Long and Zay Flowers are the two primary targets for Virginia Tech to defend in the passing game, and Jurkovec has had little-to-no trouble finding them thus far. Tech will need to make Jurkovec uncomfortable in the pocket on Saturday, otherwise it could be a long day for the secondary.