Friday, December 05, 2008

Game Preview - ACC Championship

On Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies square off against the Boston College Eagles in an ACC championship rematch of last year’s championship contests. In the 2007 season, the Eagles managed to defeat the Hokies in the regular season in the closing minutes of the game to maintain their number 2 ranking. But when the two teams met in the ACC championship game that very same year, the Hokies exacted revenge with an increased level of play.

I don’t know that this year’s Hokie squad has poised themselves to accomplish this as well as last year. Last year, the team used the regular season loss to build motivation for payback over a number of weeks with a feeling of assurance that they’d reach the ACC championship with another shot at playing Boston College. This year, both the Hokies and the Eagles have hobbled into first place of their respective ACC divisions with the help from other key ACC contests. Given how the Eagles defense emasculated the Hokie offense in this season’s regular season game, I’d say that the Eagles have the wind at their backs.

Let’s take a closer look at some stats. After the closing of the regular season, Boston College ranks 2nd in the ACC in total defense. Over the course of the season, Virginia Tech has climbed from a mediocre placing to third in this category, not too far behind the Eagles in terms of the numbers. Boston College has allowed 2272 passing yards and 1048 rushing yards compared to the Hokies’ 1948 and 1346, respectively. As a Hokie fan, this raises some concern on my part given that the Eagle’s have such a low number of rushing yards allowed. Based on that number alone, they place first in the ACC by roughly 100 yards. The Hokie offense has a much stronger punch in its running game than its passing game. Although I must say that during the last two games of the regular season, I saw an improvement in Virginia Tech’s passing, even with quarterback Tyrod Taylor making the passes. But even considering that, the running game holds the greatest hope for the Hokie offense, and it has to succeed against the best running defense in the ACC. In the regular season match-up, Hokie running back Darren Evans could only muster a total of 27 yards in 17 carries. Considering that Evans has served as the cornerstone of the Hokie offense this year, this statistics scares me.

Moving to the passing stats, Boston College quarterback Chris Crane, has thrown for 1721 yards on the season over all. That places him in the top 25% of passing in the conference and is impressive for a freshman quarterback. In the regular season duel against the Hokies, he threw for 218 yards. Now, with a whole regular season of experience under his belt, I can only speculate that he has the capability to throw for more. Crane and his Eagle offense will not make the five turnovers they did in the regular season game against Virginia Tech. But I can’t disregard the other side of the coin. As the regular season has progressed, so has the development of Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s squad. At the beginning of the season, I remember watching a lot of young Hokie defensive players show explosive bursts of speed and the ability to put pressure on an offense, but all the while making mental mistakes and missing key tackles too frequently. Now, at the conclusion of the regular season, that has changed. They’ve improved upon the number of yards allowed, missed tackles, and the display of cohesion of a single defensive unit. So even though Crane has matured and progressed, so has the young Hokie defense. Saturday will answer which has progressed further and matured more.

Boston College’s rushing game doesn’t quite stand toe to toe with their passing game, but it has still performed well for them overall. Starting running back Montel Harris has run for 798 yards while his backup, Josh Haden, has run for 439. The Eagles have a viable running game to which I expect they will turn less frequently than their passing game, but it nonetheless contributes a dangerous element for the Hokie defense to control. On the Virginia Tech side, of course Darren Evans has made plenty of headlines placing second in the ACC with 998 rushing yards. Strangely enough, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has rushed for roughly 2/3 of the yardage of Evans and places 11th in the ACC. On the surface, reading that stat may shed positive light on the Hokie offense, but if you look a little more closely, it actually casts a shadow. The vast majority of those rushing yards came at the hands of a Hokie pass play gone awry. Taylor’s ability to transform a botched play into positive yards makes for a great asset to have for an offense, but when that ability becomes the second highest most common producer of offense, that says something very significant about the offense as a whole.

The bottom line is that the passing game for Virginia Tech is atrocious, and it has only made marginal improvements throughout the year. I see potential in some of the Hokies’ rising stars like Danny Coale, Jarred Boykin, and Dyrell Roberts, but the Hokie passing game hasn’t evolved enough to strengthen the offense in a well rounded manner. And let’s face it; the Hokie passing game isn’t going to explode in ways we haven seen all season come Saturday. Taylor hasn’t had a consistent throwing game set aside the modest victories over Duke and UVA. Backup quarterback Sean Glennon has sat on the sidelines for too many games this year to have developed the tempo of a consistent throwing game to deliver his 2008 ACC championship MVP performance. The major factor in this game lies in whether the Hokie offense can do just well enough for the defense to keep the team’s head above water. If the offense can put together a handful of strong drives, get at least one touchdown, and set up a couple of field goals, the Hokies can take the championship two years in a row. If the offense doesn’t drastically outperform themselves from the regular season game of this year against Boston College, the Eagles will pull off the victory.

Let’s Go Hokies!

Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008
Kickoff: 1:00 pm
Raymond James Stadium
Tampa, Fla.
Series vs. BC: VT leads, 10-6
Series Streak: BC, one


richard said...

"I can only speculate that he(Crane) has the capability to throw for more"? from where? Crane is out for the remainder of the season with a broken collarbone?

Anand "EhhTee" Trivedi said...

Well Iceman's been very busy watching the ice soccer. Most of those guys play with broken collarbones!

Brian "Where's The Ice?" said...

Thank you for the support, EhhTee, but I have to eat some crow here. I got so buried in the stats, I didn't take notice of Crane's injury. apologies to Richard and all our TSF readers.