Sports, Football

Previewing 2021 Football: vs. Virginia Tech

Boston College football will honor Welles Crowther, BC ’99, who is credited with saving the lives of about a dozen people in the Sept. 11 attacks, in the annual Red Bandanna Game against Virginia Tech on Friday night. 

After what appeared to be a solid first half against Syracuse last week, BC failed to muster any sort of offensive threat and fell for the fourth straight week in a 21–6 loss. Neither Dennis Grosel nor Emmett Morehead—the true freshman quarterback who saw his first game action since his junior year of high school and replaced Grosel—could provide the answer against a sturdy Syracuse defense. The two signal callers combined for 180 yards on 15-of-32 passing.

Last week, the Eagles were without two pivotal defensive starters: defensive back Brandon Sebastian and linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley, both out due to injury. BC’s defense is ranked 35th nationally and third in the ACC with eight interceptions, and Sebastian’s three picks are tied for 10th in the FBS. Graham-Mobley pilots the defensive front and leads the group in both total (46) and solo (30) tackles. The absence of the two, and the lingering injury to veteran offensive lineman Tyler Vrabel, left a gaping hole in BC’s defense. BC’s offense, meanwhile, has scored just 40 combined points in its four losses and will continue experimenting to restore harmony in the hunt for the Eagles’ first ACC win. 

Who is BC playing?

Virginia Tech

When is BC playing?

Friday, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

How to Watch:

The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Series History:

BC (4–4, 0–4 Atlantic Coast) hosts Virginia Tech (4–4, 2–2) for the teams’ 30th meeting in series history. The Hokies lead the all-time series 19–10 following BC’s 40–14 loss at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. last season. The Eagles first encountered Virginia Tech in 1993 when BC captured a 48–34 victory over the then-No. 25 Hokies, which was then a football-only member of the Big East. The schools joined the ACC as fully participating members in back-to-back years: 2004 and 2005. Last week, the Hokies snapped a three-game losing streak with a 26–17 win over Georgia Tech on the back of wide receiver Tré Turner to break even in the ACC. 

One of the most memorable wins in BC history came on Oct. 25, 2007, when BC quarterback Matt Ryan led a fourth-quarter comeback with 14 unanswered points to topple the then-No. 11 Hokies in Blacksburg. With the win, the Eagles became the AP No. 3 team.

What to expect from Virginia Tech:

Offense

In a changeover year for the program, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente is on the hot seat. Junior quarterback Braxton Burmeister posts one of the lowest completion percentages in the FBS at 54.3 percent and displays middle of the road arm talent. Still, Fuente appears to have settled on the quarterback despite his low efficiency. Burmeister looked poised in the Hokies’ joust with Georgia Tech last week, throwing 254 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-25 passing. He is a patient thrower in an already conservative offense—one that ranks 56th in the FBS in average time of possession—but can dismantle secondaries on longer time intervals, drilling his receivers on deep routes. 

It was easy to pick out a top performer against Georgia Tech, with Turner hauling in seven passes for 187 yards and a score. Burmeister looks comfortable feeding Turner the ball, who leads the offense in receiving yards with 602 on 34 receptions, but finding consistency in the passing game has been a challenge all season. The Hokies rank 103rd in passing offense and should expect to depend mightily on the rush against a notably robust BC secondary. Fuente can gamble on RPOs as a means to downfield production and should hope to find empty receivers on broken coverages with play action. 

Running back Malachi Thomas registered 103 yards on 25 carries against Georgia Tech. The O-line did just about everything well against the Yellow Jackets’ pass rush despite a shaky start to the season. Thomas, a true freshman, had never started a game prior to Oct. 23 and was infrequently handed the ball  until his emergence against Syracuse in Week 7. The running back dazzled in that outing, rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns on only 21 carries. 

Defense

The Hokies’ defense had yet to show any exceptional play prior to Georgia Tech, and even then, Virginia Tech’s defensive line looked hapless. Virginia Tech’s rushing defense ranks 97th nationally, allowing 179.8 rushing yards per game, and has been unable to limit opposing teams to fewer than 200 yards on the ground in its past three contests. Despite the defensive line’s shortcomings, the linebacker squad played a sharp game against Georgia Tech, and linebacker Alan Tisdale stuffed the stat sheet with 12 total tackles including 2.5 tackles for loss. Tisdale ranks in the top 10 in the ACC with 65 total tackles, and his utility is seamless in any facet of the game. His ability to readily react to coverage-based and man-to-man schemes is an uncommon feat. 

Virginia Tech’s defensive backs have found rhythm this season and counter a struggling defensive line. The secondary ranks 35th in passing yards allowed at just 200.5 yards per game, and its eight interceptions are tied with BC for 35th in the FBS. Last Saturday, the Hokies limited Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims to 183 passing yards and forced an interception. Along with 33 solo tackles, Jermaine Waller leads the Hokies in interceptions with four.

The Hokies have held every ACC opponent they’ve faced this season to under 236 passing yards. With BC yet to identify a stable passing game since Phil Jurkovec’s Week 1 dismantling of Colgate, Virginia Tech’s secondary stacks up well. 

Outlook

Virginia Tech should find looks downfield when BC lines up geared to stop the run. The Hokies rushed 53 times on Saturday for 237 yards against Georgia Tech and will likely have a similar focus against the Eagles. 

The Eagles have not played a home game in three weeks since NC State visited. There will be a rousing atmosphere in what is a highly anticipated Friday night game for BC fans this week, and the Eagles should look to build off that energy as they did against Missouri. BC will look to continue to strike quickly in the backfield with Pat Garwo III and Alec Sinkfield, but finishing the game will greatly determine the outcome. Heading into Friday, Virginia Tech has the leg up, but the Hokies should be wary of the difference ambiance can make. If one thing is definite, it is that Alumni Stadium will be roaring.

Featured Image Courtesy of Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via AP Photo

November 4, 2021
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