BC Expecting Turkey Feast of Challenges on Saturday
The conversation about the Virginia Tech football program invariably begins and ends with Lane Stadium. The Hokies’ home field advantage invokes so much fear and discussion that it’s become almost mythical, transforming a game in Blacksburg, Va. into something of a legendary experience.
Virginia Tech’s success, though, is far from guaranteed because of a stadium. The team itself has been a machine for the better part of the 21st century’s first generation, a powerhouse that began in the Big East and carried through to the ACC. It’s been a model of consistency with 26 consecutive bowl berths and five outright conference championships across the two leagues. The Hokies won the first ACC Coastal Division championship in 2005 and have since won four additional crowns among its pod, most recently in 2016.
So for Boston College, a trip to play Virginia Tech might require an adjustment to a unique atmosphere, but that shouldn’t overshadow a team capable of beating anybody despite a 4-3 overall record.
“Coach Fuente has done a fabulous job there, and he’s put a stamp on that program,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said. “You can see it everywhere. They’re well-coached. Schematically put together very, very well. They’re tough. They’re physical. On defense, Coach Foster has been there a long time, and the defense is always really, really tough. Special teams have been outstanding, and they have the 12th-man crowd factor down there, which is big.”
Virginia Tech’s three phases all have a unique reputation. Justin Fuente became the Hokies’ head coach in 2016 after transforming Memphis into an offensive juggernaut, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been in Blacksburg for over 30 years. Special teams have been the team’s bell cow since former head coach Frank Beamer introduced “Beamer Ball” to the college football world.
“(Coach Foster) is a guy that has a plan on how to attack offenses,” Addazio said. “Been doing it for a long time. I think he’s a guy that really takes a look at what you do formationally and tendency-wise and really tries to go after that. But I think it starts with a toughness and demeanor that he instills. When you’ve got really good players and you’ve got a really good scheme and you can put them together good, you can have a unit that’s pretty tough.”
The “Lunch Pail Defense” will present a challenge to the Eagles after getting waxed last week by Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets attempted only one pass, which was incomplete but rushed for 465 yards with the triple option. It had something of a Thanos effect as the Hokies evaporated, but it came against a gimmick offense that presents nothing to either team moving forward.
“You can watch the technique, the effort, execution and those sort of things, but to put it in perspective, I don’t know of any offense in the league (that) breaks down Georgia Tech film because it’s so different,” Fuente said. “The defenses line up so different, so there’s no correlation because the defenses are so different schematically. It’s a one-time game that you’ve got to get lined up and go play in a different manner. We’ll get back to playing a normal style this week.”
Virginia Tech has been inconsistent at times this year, holding Florida State to three points and defeating both Duke and North Carolina on the road while losing at Old Dominion and at home to Notre Dame. The Georgia Tech game was especially stinging because it was the first conference loss of the year, but coming off that defeat means the team will be motivated to get a typically-strong unit back on track.
Should that succeed, the offense can hum along at a pace that’s been steadily improving. Quarterback Josh Jackson had been dominant in the first three games of the year, throwing for 575 yards and five touchdowns to just one pick, but his injury against Old Dominion sidelined him indefinitely. That handed the reigns to Ryan Willis, a transfer from Kansas who started the last eight games of his freshman season in the Big 12.
“He’s a talented guy who can throw the ball and can run the ball,” Addazio said. “Appears to be operating their offense at a high level. He’ll pose a lot of challenges, another quarterback that can run and create an extra gap with Q runs. We’ve got to be ready for that and put in a good hard week with that stuff in our defense.”
Willis has been every bit as efficient as Jackson, completing just under 60% of his passes, but only throwing three interceptions to 10 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 168 yards, an average of 28 per game, with three scores. He threw for 332 yards in his first start against Duke and added another 300-yard performance against Notre Dame. He’s also experienced because his time in Kansas battle-hardened him with 1,700 yards and nine touchdowns, including at least one in six straight games.
Willis finds himself at the command of a high-powered offense with a number of talented receivers. Damon Hazelton has almost 600 yards and six touchdowns this season, and he grabbed 12 balls for 131 yards in the Notre Dame game. It was his third 100-yard receiving game of the year after he went for 154 yards on five catches against Old Dominion and 107 yards on four catches against William & Mary. It’s paved the road for an offense to rank fifth in the conference in passing with over 261 yards per game.
“It’s a quarterback-driven offense,” Addazio said. “They have the Q runs that come off of that offense that you’ve got to your fits, and the play action that comes off of it is hard to fit. They do a great job with it. It’s kind of like the wishbone teams in a way that there’s an answer for every reaction that they get defensively from you.”
To generate success this week, the Eagles will then simply have to employ the same tactics as a week ago. BC played a near-flawless game against Miami, mixing balance with tempo as it drove the field for a number of different drives. It put together a number of long, protracted offensive series that helped set the pace of the game. In short, BC was able to go fast while owning the clock against a defense, which in turn forced an opposing offense to come out of its game plan because the game summarily shortened.
“I thought we played pretty well in tempo (against Miami),” Addazio said. “Our goal was to go in and play really fast, and we did. In the first half, we ran about 50 plays and had 300 yards of offense. We had drives of 12 and 16 and nine, and we were able to stay on the field. I thought we did with a mixture of run and pass, and we had some trick plays in there. We just kind of kept it really moving, and we did all those things at a really warp speed. So it really impacted (Miami’s) defense.”