Football, Top Story

Thanks to Second-Half Defense, BC Escapes Blacksburg With Signature Victory

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Boston College football allowed an average of 407.8 yards per game over the course of the first six weeks of the season, twice conceding more than 500 yards of total offense. But as soon as the bye week hit, and Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell said that he saw “a lot of slow people” on the Eagles’ defense, everything changed.

Defensive coordinator Jim Reid’s unit held the Cardinals to 71 yards amid the final two quarters of play, putting an exclamation mark on BC’s resounding 38-20 Week Eight victory. Then, last Friday, the Eagles overshadowed Miami’s defense—a group that entered the Red Bandana Game as the second-rated unit in the country and received endless praise for its “turnover chain”—shutting out the Hurricanes in the second half of play.

It was more of the same story at Virginia Tech on Saturday evening—it just took a while for BC to find its groove. After giving up 245 yards in the opening half, including 212 through the air, the Eagles buckled down, conceding just 147 yards and seven points in the latter portion of regulation. All of a sudden, Ryan Willis’ pocket collapsed, and the Hokies’ offense was rendered obsolete. VTech started the second half with three-straight three-and-outs and only converted two of its 11 third/fourth-down conversions in the span of the final two quarters. The Eagles’ defense gifted Anthony Brown and Co. with ample opportunities and ideal field position—eventually, the offense capitalized, stringing together 24 second-half points to defeat the Hokies, 31-21, for the first time since 2014.

Just like last week, No. 24 BC (7-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler reached into his back pocket to catch the defense off guard with a trick play in the first quarter. This time, Anthony Brown snapped the ball out of the shotgun and handed it off to a motioning Travis Levy, who then pitched it Jeff Smith—who was sprinting in the opposite direction. Rather than making a beeline for the left edge, the senior wideout stopped in his tracks and tossed the rock to Brown. Moments later, the redshirt sophomore fired a 27-yard pass to Korab Idrizi. The ball was slightly underthrown, but the tight end made a mid-route adjustment and hauled in the reception, infiltrating VTech (4-4, 3-2) territory in the process.

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From there, A.J. Dillon bullied his way toward the red zone. But it was Brown who made the drive’s biggest play on the ground. Facing a 3rd-and-10, the Cliffwood, N.J. native faked a handoff on the zone read and bolted 12 yards for a first down—one that set up a three-yard Dillon touchdown run.

Immediately, the Hokies responded. It certainly helped that Danny Longman booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, vaulting the VTech offense to its own 35-yard line to start the series. Ryan Willis—a redshirt junior that’s been filling in for Josh Jackson since the quarterback went down in Week Four—picked apart BC’s defense in the opening half with a multitude of screen and slant passes. Clean blocking and rhythmic throws paved the way for the Hokies’ first touchdown of the day: a 26-yard pass to Damon Hazelton. Willis pumped and lofted the ball past the pylon. Hamp Cheevers didn’t bite on the fake, but was clearly hampered by the four-inch height difference.  

The teams went toe-to-toe the entire first quarter—they weren’t only deadlocked at seven points apiece, but they were also quite even on paper, matching each other in virtually every statistical category. The second frame, on the other hand, was pretty lopsided. Quite frankly, BC’s lucky that the game was within reach at halftime.

Despite outgaining the Eagles, 151-20, in the second quarter, the Hokies only logged one touchdown in the period, failing to convert on a crucial fourth down and fumbling the ball during the two-minute drill. VTech’s second touchdown drive, however, was practically identical to its first. The series started with a 27-yard screen pass to Steven Peoples and ended with another jump ball in the end zone. Brandon Sebastian was exposed, as Eric Kumah fought for separation and extended over the redshirt freshman cornerback to make the catch and get his left foot in the paint for six.

The seven-point lead at intermission wasn’t insurmountable in any shape or form, but that’s not say it wasn’t significant. After all, entering the weekend, the Hokies were 20-0 when leading at the break under head coach Justin Fuente.

“At halftime—we have a really veteran group—we all kind of hunkered down,” Zach Allen said. “We’ve been in games like this before. … We knew what was at stake and what we wanted to accomplish. The mistakes that we were making were really fixable.”

BC came out in the second half playing a base defense and completely shut down VTech. Willis, who took a massive hit from Will Harris at the end of the second quarter—one that forced him to sit the rest of the frame—looked like a different quarterback in the third period. After completing 16 of his 19 pass attempts in the opening half, the Kansas transfer consistently underthrew and overthrew receivers in the back half of regulation.

Aided by their staunch defense, the Eagles flipped the script in the third quarter, outgaining VTech, 151-32. It took quite some time for the offense to get going, though. Brown—who only completed 44.4 percent of his passes and missed out on three big plays, two of which were downfield in the first half—was just as ineffective at the start of the second, even coughing up the ball on a shotgun snap. But as the Hokies’ three-and-outs piled up, BC’s offense started to click.

A couple of Dillon carries, and the Eagles were on the move. Then, Brown dropped back in play-action and connected with Tommy Sweeney on a crossing route for a 17-yard pickup. The very next play, Dillon sprinted toward the edge and charged down the left sideline for a 13-yard gain—unfortunately for Addazio and Co., the chunk run came at a cost. At the end of the play, the sophomore back tumbled into a cameraman and took a hard fall, eventually sidelining him for the rest of the game with a tweaked ankle, the same one that he kept him out two weeks earlier this season.

In came Travis Levy, who had only carried the ball 11 times all year prior to Saturday’s game. You would have never known, if you hadn’t looked at his stats.

“It’s definitely a scenery change, but I’m ready every game,” Levy said. “It’s that next-man-up mentality.”

Levy—primarily a third-down back—replaced Dillon in the backfield and, in a matter of seconds, swung all the momentum to the Eagles’ sideline, bursting through the trenches untouched for a career-long 29-yard touchdown to tie the game, 14-14.

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Desperate for offense late in the third quarter, Willis rolled to his right and hurled a pass toward Hazelton, but the ball bounced off the wide receiver’s chest and the hands of Isaiah McDuffie into the arms of Sebastian. The redshirt freshman brought in the interception—the first of his career—and tiptoed down the sideline before being pushed out of bounds. In due time, Brown cashed in on the turnover, faking a handoff to Levy and dialing up a 22-yard touchdown pass to Idrizi, retaking the lead for the first time since the opening quarter.

The Hokies’ horrific third quarter was capped by a 46-yard Brian Johnson field goal that was wide left from the moment it came off the redshirt sophomore’s foot. VTech’s offense fared a bit better in the final frame, but only after BC scored its fourth and final touchdown of the game. Once again on the zone read, Brown used a pair of jab steps to shake two Hokies and scamper all the way down to the VTech 10-yard line. Shortly after, Levy—on a second effort—reached the ball over the goal line for his second rushing score of the day.

Trailing by 14, the Hokies strung together a much-needed touchdown drive, alternating quarterbacks after Willis took another hard fall near the sideline. Right near the red zone, Willis came back in for Quincy Patterson II and delivered a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tre Turner. The comeback attempt was short-lived.

In a matter of minutes, BC drove downfield and settled for a 28-yard Colton Lichtenberg field goal to put the crossover game out of reach, setting the stage for a pivotal Atlantic Division showdown with Clemson this coming Saturday, a game that will be featured on ESPN’s College GameDay.

“To go back home to Chestnut Hill, to play a big-time game, I hope our fanbase is as energized as our team right now,” Addazio told reporters.

The last time the Eagles were in Blacksburg, they suffered a 49-point shutout, the program’s worst defeat since 1950. On Saturday, BC—one of 13 teams still in the College Football Playoff hunt—avenged that loss, setting the stage for the school’s biggest game of the decade: a primetime matchup with the No. 2 team in the country on the sport’s largest stage. A lot can change in two years.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

Photos by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

November 3, 2018