An ACC team starts off its season in roaring fashion by crushing a weak in-state opponent. It proceeds to take down a top-10 powerhouse from a superior conference, giving the team some legitimacy in the eyes of a widely impressed group of AP voters. The Top-25 dreams don’t last long, however, as the team gets stunned by a mid-major opponent, before losing to a couple of conference rivals, and is now struggling just to make a bowl game. Does this narrative ring a bell?
It should, as the Virginia Tech Hokies have, in many ways, paralleled the season of the Boston College Eagles. In its first two weeks, Virginia Tech crushed FCS-opponent William & Mary, 34-9 and convincingly defeated then-No. 8 Ohio State 35-21, a win reminiscent of the Eagles’ upset of then-No. 9 USC in week three. From this victory came a No. 17 ranking for head coach Frank Beamer’s team. Many even believed this would lead to the Hokies’ return to the national spotlight after dominating the ACC with 11 10-win seasons between 1999 and 2011.
The honeymoon ended as quickly as it began—Virginia Tech dropped four of its next six, three of which were to ACC Coastal Division opponents Georgia Tech, Miami, and, Pittsburgh. Now last in the Coastal, the Hokies (4-4, 1-3) will look to keep their slim bowl game dreams alive this Saturday as they host the Eagles (5-3, 2-2) at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA.
Virginia Tech’s offense will need to step up this week against a solid BC defense. The Eagles have given up more than 30 points only twice this year, while holding five teams to under 20. Additionally, each opponent BC’s 13th ranked defense (in points given up per game) has played this season has a significantly higher scoring efficiency than the Hokies, which is ranked at 109th—the only ACC team worse than that is Wake Forest, according to ESPN.
To keep the Hokies in the game, junior quarterback Michael Brewer must cut down on turnovers and regain his early season form. Brewer has thrown 11 interceptions to match his touchdown count. He also turned in a poor performance against Miami last week, throwing for merely 80 yards on 20 attempts as Virginia Tech put up just six points against the Miami Hurricanes. Relying on freshman running back Marshawn Williams, who last week turned in a 100-yard game against Miami and leads the Hokies in rushing, should balance their attack and keep the pressure off Brewer.
“Michael Brewer is a good play maker,” said BC head coach Steve Addazio in a teleconference on Wednesday. “Marshawn Williams is back. I think he’s a really great big back. A handful of receivers that are extremely talented.”
On the defensive front, Virginia Tech’s strong defense—ranked 28th in scoring defense and ninth in defensive efficiency—should provide a tough test for the Eagles. Although the Hokies have a middle of the road rushing defense, BC has slumped comparatively on offense, averaging merely 161 yards on the ground in its last two games against Clemson and Wake Forest, after averaging 315.7 in its first six contests.
If the Hokies can stymie the Eagles’ rushing attack, then BC quarterback Tyler Murphy should watch out. Virginia Tech ranks tied for sixth in the NCAA with 28 sacks—unlike other teams, which have high sack totals thanks to one standout defender, like Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and his 15 sacks, the Hokies’ defensive line has balance throughout. Five linemen have over three sacks, led by sophomore Ken Ekanem’s five.
“They’re explosive as all get out on defense,” Addazio said. “Dadi Nicolas is such an unbelievable athlete. They have power and explosion with Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams inside, Chase Williams, a veteran player. I think their secondary is one of the finer secondaries in the country.”
The key to this game for Virginia Tech comes down to the turnover battle. Although the Hokies have turned the ball over eight more times than their opponents, they have consistently capitalized on their opportunities. In each of its three FBS victories, Virginia Tech has had a defensive turnover directly lead to a touchdown—two interception returns of 40-plus yards and a fumble recovery. While crucial its crucial to a victory, Virginia Tech will struggle to capitalize on this against BC—the Eagles protect the ball well, having only eight turnovers on the year.
Returning to a bowl game is not entirely out of the question, given Virginia Tech’s remaining schedule, which includes dismal opponents Wake Forest and Virginia, as well as a statement opportunity against defending the Coastal Champs, No. 24 Duke. This game, however, is a must win for the Hokies—a winning record will surely be needed to convince voters that they deserve a postseason berth. Otherwise, it looks like a rebuilding offseason full of questions for Beamer’s team, which promised so much at the start and has produced nothing since.
Featured Image by Kieth Srakocic / AP Photo