Virginia Tech Preview: All Roads Lead Through Blacksburg
|10.07.09 at 4:29 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The road to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship has been a one-way street of late. Like Gettysburg in the Civil War or Bastogne in World War II, all roads lead to the same point.
That point is Blacksburg, Va., home of the Virginia Tech Hokies.
“In the team meeting every Tuesday, coach [Frank] Spaziani made a very big point: ‘Anything that has to do with going to the ACC championship game goes through Blacksburg — goes through Virginia Tech,’ ” senior middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin said.
No team knows that better than Boston College. The Hokies and Eagles have met in the last two ACC championship games, with Tech taking home the trophy (and the automatic Bowl Championship Series bid) each time, by an average score of 30-14. As interdivision road rivals they are scheduled to play every year, alternating home and away. In those regular-season contests BC has won the last two, including the thrilling Thursday night special in 2007 when Matt Ryan threw a touchdown with 11 seconds left for the 14-10 Eagles win. But the trend of winning in the regular season and losing in the championship is one that Boston College would like to change.
“We respect that team. We win in the regular season and they continue to win the championship game. We have to switch that up or something, or just win both. But, obviously, it is frustrating,” senior center Matt Tennant said.
If you listened to the pundits before the season, you might be surprised to find Boston College has a 4-1 record (2-1 ACC), and is only two wins away from qualifying for a bowl game. If the Eagles go down to Hokie territory Saturday and come out with a win, it will probably vault them into into the Top 25 and banish the term “rebuilding year” from the football lexicon at The Heights.
“I would say that our goal every year is to go out and win the ACC championship game,” Tennant said. “We are still going to go out and work like we are still trying to get to the ACC championship game.”
Though it may not be a rebuilding year exactly, Spaziani is the first to tell you the Eagles are definitely a work in progress. This is a team that could have been a couple of plays from being 2-3 (think the goal-line strip of Riley Skinner against Wake Forest or the dropped interception by Greg Reid of Florida State) as opposed to 4-1. But, as the saying goes, it is what it is. The Eagles, through skill, luck or determination, have found themselves, once again, in a position of success.
“Every position has a lot of improvement to make,” Spaziani said. ” You can’t forget where we started here. We made some progress and we are happy, but we are not satisfied. We are nowhere near where we need to be to play the type of teams that we have coming up. … Every area still needs a bit of work, trust me.”
The success does not surprise the veterans on the team. BC players stay on Chestnut Hill throughout the year, by their own choice, to help build team chemistry and “the BC mentality,” as Tennant described it.
“The BC mentality is, you know, everyone is going to count you out the entire season, but for some reason we are always in the championship game and the people who are counting you out just don’t believe it or are siding with you for some reason like, ‘BC was going to do that the entire time,’ ” Tennant said. “You just keep going and don’t give up the entire game. That is why you are successful.”
On the other side of the ball comes No. 6 Virginia Tech. Over the past couple of years, they are the class of the ACC, and this year they’re rolling along — as usual. After a season-opening loss to Alabama in the Georgia Dome, they’ve picked up wins against Marshall, Nebraska, Miami and Duke. Only the Nebraska game (16-15) was close, leading the Hokies to believe they can play with anybody in the country.
The Virginia Tech weapons are numerous, but none more impressive than redshirt freshman tailback Ryan Williams and junior quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Williams leads the ACC in rushing and is averaging 115 yards a game on the ground, while Taylor is the type of mobile quarterback that will pick an opponent apart with his feet or through the air. Taylor was a killer on third down against the Eagles in the championship game last year, breaking big runs to keep drives going and frustrating the BC defense. Containing him will be one of the keys.
“That is a challenge every year,” senior defensive end Jim Ramella said. “You look at the film, and that is how he beats teams. He is a great thrower, but he wants to beat you with his feet and we can’t let that happen. Looking back at the ACC championship game last year, he made some great plays with his feet. He made some good throws but just some killer third-and-longs where he broke long runs just on broken plays. We had good coverage on him but we just have to contain him in the pocket.”
Contain him in the pocket — probably easier said than done, but Ramella offers up the scheme that just may do the trick.
“It is like a controlled rush. … You can’t get out of control with your rush line,” Ramella said. “We do have certain blitzes to put on him to put pressure on him but you have to stay in your rush line and do what the defense requires of you.”
Strong safety senior Marcellus Bowman reiterated the point: “We play a lot of zone, obviously, so our eyes are on the quarterback. You have to respect the responsibilities but make sure that he doesn’t get out of control.”
The Hokies will be a tough test on the Eagles progression. Freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie will have to limit turnovers (Virginia Tech caused nine turnovers in the two games last year) and the offensive line will have to get the Horse and Hound duo of Montel Harris and Josh Haden some space to operate. On defense, it is containing Taylor and limiting Williams. If Boston College can be successful with these keys to the game, then it should be an enjoyable trip.