Key Matchups for Virginia Tech Against #22 Boston College

Last Thursday, Virginia Tech got blown out at home by Georgia Tech. Now, in order to bounce back on Saturday, they need to win these three matchups in order to give themselves a good chance at taking down a streaking Boston College team.

Ricky Walker vs. AJ Dillon

AJ Dillon is no doubt one of the best running backs not only in the ACC, but in the entire country. Despite only playing in six out of eight games so far this season due to injury, Dillon has put up some impressive numbers.

Dillon has 801 rushing yards in those six games, giving him a 133.5 yards per game average. He has also gone for an average of 5.8 yards per carry this season, which is pretty incredible. To cap it off, Dillon has rushed for seven touchdowns so far this year. For a guy who is less than 100 percent, those are some astounding numbers.

That should be frightening to Hokies fans for two reasons. One, Dillon is getting healthier by the day. In his first game back last week against Miami, he put up 149 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. The fact that the Eagles were not afraid to pound the ball with Dillon over 30 times suggests that he is in fairly good shape.

Second, Virginia Tech just got completely exposed on defense at home. Georgia Tech gashed the Hokies for 465 yards on the ground without completing a single pass. If a completely one dimensional offense can do that to Tech, who knows what a balanced one could do.

All that to say, the Hokies probably wish they were not going up against another elite running team this weekend. Unfortunately, they are, and someone on the defense is going to have to step up and do something about it. Who better than the so-called “bell cow,” Ricky Walker?

Compared to his high expectations going into the season, Walker probably has not performed as well as many would have hoped so far. Through six starts, Walker has only 24 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and half of a sack. With only four more games to go, those number are not on pace to reach last season’s.

But it’s not just the numbers that seem off. Walker has not really passed the eye test so far this season. He does not look as physical and disruptive as he did last season.

One particular series against Georgia Tech really stood out to me in that regard. On the Yellow Jackets first drive of the game, Tobias Oliver literally just kept the ball almost every play, but Tech’s D line couldn’t seem to figure it out.

At about the 12-minute mark, a GT lineman falls down and misses his block on Walker. Instead of capitalizing, Walker takes a really bad angle, Oliver blows by him, and Deablo is forced to make a good tackle in the second level in order to avoid a huge gain.

A couple of plays later, Walker gets into the backfield on a crucial third down play. However, what looked like a prime sack opportunity quickly turns into a long first down run when Walker lets a lineman completely push him out of the play. Those are mistakes you don’t expect to see from a senior.

Despite these poor plays, we know what Walker is capable of. He has shown flashes of greatness both last year and this year, and the Hokies could really benefit from a good game by Walker this weekend.

Steven Peoples vs. Boston College Defensive Line

For all the guys who had a disappointing game against Georgia Tech, Steven Peoples had exactly the opposite. Last season, Peoples had some good runs, but the knock on him was that he was not elusive enough.

Peoples clearly worked on this in the offseason, and it showed up last Thursday. On the Hokies second drive, Peoples took a handoff around the 35 yard line. It looked like he was going to go up the middle, but he made a great cut and bounced to the outside.

Peoples had about 15 yards of green grass in front of him, and he broke off a big 25-plus yard run that set up Ryan Willis’ touchdown toss to Damon Hazelton. If he can continue to combine that bruising, up the middle style with an ability to bounce outside every once in a while, Peoples will become really dangerous.

Boston College loves to run that bruising ground game themselves. The Eagles always pride themselves on both a strong offensive and defensive line. Also, the aforementioned AJ Dillon has great size at 6 foot, 245 lbs. That is why NFL scouts are so excited about him.

This year’s defensive line for BC is as big as ever. If you average the heights and weights of the four starters, you get 6 foot 3, 280 lbs. For comparison, the only players bigger than that in the Hokies two-deep are Ricky Walker (6’2, 304) and banged up Vinny Mihota (6’5, 284). The Eagles defensive line is big.

As is often the case, the best formula to beat this team is to give them a taste of their own medicine. If the Eagles want to play a hard-nosed brand of football, the Hokies need to give it right back to them. Peoples gives Virginia Tech the best chance to do that.

However, the Hokies cannot just run Peoples up the middle every time. In an ideal world, Peoples could get 4 or 5 yards inside a few times to lure them in. Then, if Boston College starts cheating in a little bit, Peoples has that ability to bounce outside and break off a big gain.

If Peoples can average over four yards a carry, I think the Hokies will be in a good position. If not, it could be a long afternoon.

Anthony Brown vs. Bryce Watts

Georgia Tech tested the Hokies young corners by running it to the outside and forcing them to have to make open field tackles. To be quite honest, they failed, and there is not really much more to say on that.

The reason I want to move on and not dissect the cornerback play is because we are not going to see a similar game plan on Saturday. Boston College certainly doesn’t run the triple option, and they do not even run outside that often.

Instead, they use their big offensive line and running back to punch it down the throats of their opponents. Then, assuming that is successful, it opens up the play action pass.

This second part is where Bryce Watts and Caleb Farley come in. After focusing on nothing but the run for two weeks, they now face a quarterback who actually throws the ball. That is worrisome, because if they start creeping up towards the line, they will get beat over the top.

The reason I specifically chose Watts instead of Farley is because Watts quite frankly, needs to be better. While Farley continues to struggle against the run, his pass defense is gradually improving. With Watts, it is not so clear.

The last time Watts truly had to face a throwing quarterback, he either got beat or called for pass interference the majority of the time. In fact, he did not have a single pass breakup against North Carolina.

Furthermore, Anthony Brown is a better quarterback than either of the ones that UNC showed against the Hokies. While Brown’s stats do not jump off the page, he is a very solid quarterback who makes smart throws.

Brown has a 57.9 completion percentage this season, which is neither great nor terrible. What is great, however, is his 15 to 5 TD/Int ratio. Consider that 4 of those interceptions came in a disastrous game against Purdue, and Brown only has one interception in his other seven games, including four ACC games.

As a general rule, if a Boston College receiver is not going to catch a throw from Brown, nobody is. He does not try to force the ball into tight spaces, and he does not make a lot of mistakes. He seems like the type of player that Justin Fuente would really like to have in his system.

For the Hokies to have a chance on Saturday, they are going to have to limit the damage on defense. Since this Eagles team does not turn the ball over very often, Virginia Tech is going to need to stay disciplined and just stop Boston College one play at a time.

If Watts can step up and help shut down the pass, Boston College could become one-dimensional. That is really the Hokies best hope of containing an All-ACC running back like Dillon.

Conclusion

If Saturday’s game does not constitute a must-win for Virginia Tech, I don’t know what does. The Hokies are pinned with their backs against the wall, and they need to prove that they can overcome adversity.

Both sides of the ball are going to have to get going for Tech. On offense, Steven Peoples is a key factor. It is almost a guarantee that Boston College will put up some significant yardage on the ground, so the Hokies will need to keep pace.

On defense, Virginia Tech needs to limit the damage. Based on the product the defense put on the field last week, I do not really see them “shutting down” anyone. However, what they can do is take away the easy stuff and force the Eagles to make plays.

AJ Dillon is a great running back, but he cannot do it all by himself. If the Hokies can take the passing game away or at least limit it to the point that Dillon is forced to take more carries than he would like, Virginia Tech should have a good chance to pull off the upset.

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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