Notebook: Levy, Defense Step Up When it Matters Most at Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va.— Boston College football’s (7-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) 31-21 win over the Hokies (4-4, 3-2) was notable for many reasons—it positioned the Eagles for an Atlantic Division title bout against No. 2 Clemson on Saturday with ESPN College GameDay as a backdrop, for one. Several other things stuck out in the win, though.

Three Up

1) Travis Levy

A.J. Dillon had a touchdown and 57 rushing yards at halftime, but had struggled to gain large yardage outside of an early 17-yard run. When he finally broke through in the second half, however, it came at a cost. He gained 13 yards on a rush to the left side, but a tough collision at the sideline saw Dillon come up limping, and the capacity crowd assembled likely gained further confidence—surely with the Eagles star running back out or heavily limited, the touchdown lead the Hokies were protecting could be extended.

The very next play from scrimmage, Travis Levy sprinted untouched through the left side, waltzing into the visitor’s end zone for a 29-yard touchdown run that sucked the life out of Lane Stadium. He leapt up and shoulder-bumped teammate Jeff Smith—it would be the first of many touches for the overshadowed third-down back. Dillon returned, but found limited success in the third, so Addazio turned back to Levy and it paid off.

He took consecutive handoffs from the Hokies 10-yard line in the fourth, running for 9 yards and then capping the drive with a 1-yard score with an impressive second effort. Levy paced the offense on the final drive that culminated in Lichtenberg’s field goal, running five times for 27 yards. He finished with 11 carries for 76 yards, even more remarkable when you consider that he entered with just 155 career yards to his name.

2) Second Half Pass Rush

In the first half, BC’s defense made Willis look like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He effortlessly completed pass after pass, picking the secondary apart with screens, slants, and fades to the end zone. The quarterback, who stepped up after Josh Jackson went down with an injury earlier in the year, entered halftime having completed 16-of-19 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. The last drive before halftime was an example of this—he completed a slant to Eric Kumah and a flare to Steven Peoples for a quick first down with 23 seconds on the clock.  Then, in a play that would set the stage for the second half, Willis completed a pass across the middle to Dalton Keene for 25 yards, but was absolutely rocked on the play by a blitzing Will Harris. He was shaken up and his backup would fumble away a field goal opportunity, and that play would mark a shift in the Eagles defense.

Willis no longer enjoyed a comfortable pocket from Harris’ hit onwards, and while he was never sacked, he was pressured and forced out of the pocket often. The rush started to lay hits on Willis and make his life quite difficult—Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray, and Marcus Valdez all took down the redshirt junior multiple times. The effect was noticeable in his passing stats and really affected the result of the game. Willis completed just 4-of-14 passes in the third quarter for 28 yards, allowing BC to take the lead, and while he threw a touchdown pass in the fourth, he finished with a completion percentage of under 60 percent (25-of-42).

3) Offensive Wrinkles

It’s well known that BC offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is particularly fond of trick plays. The remarkable thing about them, though, is they never seem to fail. That was true on Saturday, when four different players touched the ball on one single play. Brown took the snap, handed it to Levy, who then handed it to a motioning Smith. Rather than throw it, as trick plays in the past have ended, Smith pitched it back to Brown—who found Korab Idrizi downfield for a 27-yard first down. It was a huge chunk play that built momentum after a punt on BC’s first drive of the game, and the Eagles went on to score six plays later when Dillon punched it in from two yards out.

The other notable offensive play that BC turned to and found success was a zone read with Brown—the confidence the quarterback has in his legs was especially apparent, and it was a play that could catch opposing defenses off guard consistently. The best example came on the same drive, when Brown converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 12-yard run after faking the handoff to Dillon. It showed up later in the fourth, and Brown used a pair of jab steps to go 24 yards. It was an impressive play from him, and likely means the zone read will show up often in future games—Brown finished with seven carries for 44 yards.

Three Down

1) Missed Opportunities

While Brown was creating things with his legs, he was struggling at times to do the same through the air. The quarterback lacked touch on deep balls and missed chances that could’ve blown the game open early. One throw he’d absolutely like to have back came with 10 minutes to go in the second quarter of a tied game. Brown dropped back, and 5 yards from his own end zone, spotted a wide-open Michael Walker deep down the right sideline.

But, his throw—which would’ve been a touchdown or a 50-yard-plus gain—was far out of the reach of Walker’s outstretched right arms. The lack of touch showed up again when he attempted to find Kobay White on a deep ball in the same quarter— Brown looked to find the sophomore but again threw past his outstretched arms. The missed opportunities ultimately didn’t prove costly, but the Eagles were outgained 118-20 in the second quarter, and it was in large part due to the missed completions deep. BC only trailed by a touchdown entering the second half, a deficit that likely should’ve been much more.

2) Going For It

In the third quarter, protecting a touchdown lead, BC took possession at its own 32-yard line after the defense forced a punt. The drive didn’t go as planned—Brown scrambled for 2 yards, then Dillon carried twice for 7 total yards. Facing 4th-and-1 from their own 41-yard line, many expected Grant Carlson and the Eagles punt unit to emerge from the sideline. Instead, head coach Steve Addazio kept the offense out on the field, and the result wasn’t what they wanted—Brown attempted a quarterback sneak and was stood up by Dax Hollifield and Rico Kearney for a turnover on downs.

It was the last thing BC needed, and while the Hokies’ ensuing drive ended with a missed Brian Johnson field goal, the failed conversion could’ve easily resulted in a dramatic momentum shift. I’ve praised Addazio’s aggression before, but this was, quite simply, the wrong call—and not just because the Eagles didn’t get it. The numbers suggest that when a team faces a 4th-and-1 from anywhere behind its own 42-yard line, it’s always better to punt. The conversion rate is just 42.6 percent. Addazio frowned at that number, and could’ve seen a much different ending if the Hokies drove 41 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

3) Hokies and Their Fade Routes

All three of VTech’s touchdowns came the exact same way—Willis pump faked, then threw a high-arcing pass to a wide receiver on a fade route. Each time, BC was helpless to defend it. First, Hokies wide receiver Damon Hazelton was matched up with Hamp Cheevers on the left side. Hazelton stopped 10 yards down field, Willis pump faked, and Hazelton took off to the pylon with a step on Cheevers. He made an impressively acrobatic catch, and it proved to be a sign of things to come.

In the second, with Brandon Sebastian draped all over Eric Kumah, Willis simply threw the ball to the sideline. It was in a spot Sebastian couldn’t get to, and Kumah hauled in the Hokies second score of the game. Finally, in the fourth, with everyone knowing what Willis was going to do with the ball, BC still conceded a touchdown. Willis pump faked once again, allowing Tre Turner to get a slight jump on Sebastian, and he dropped the ball in the back of the end zone for the 14-yard score. Fans at home were likely frustrated with the way VTech was able to find success in the end zone against the Eagles secondary, and rightfully so—they’ll have their hands full with Clemson’s wide receivers next week, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence, with nine touchdowns to one interception the last four games, will try to take advantage of that.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

November 4, 2018