The Virginia Tech Hokies open the 2019 season on Saturday afternoon against Boston College. The start of the season brings hope to every program, but especially to the Hokies, who look to overcome their first losing season since 1992.
For the second straight season, the Hokies open the season on the road against an ACC opponent – one that beat them last year in Blacksburg. What are the keys for the Hokies to gain some revenge on Saturday?
Let’s take a look.
1. Win the Battle in the Trenches
The Hokies need to win the battle up front, especially with their defensive line. It’s that simple.
A great running back, which Boston College has in A.J. Dillon, is only as good as his offensive line. The Eagles have a handful of new offensive linemen who are making their first career starts up front, and the Hokies will need to win the match-up with their front seven to force Boston College to become one-dimensional through the air.
The battle in the trenches is bound to decide this football game for the Hokies, who are entering the season with a whole new host of starters on the defensive line themselves. TyJuan Garbutt and Emmanuel Belmar will both start at opposite defensive end positions on a full-time basis this year, while Jarrod Hewitt and DaShawn Crawford will do the same on the interior. The Hokies get young quickly if their starting defensive line were to suffer an injury, which is key not only in this game, but in every game the rest of the season.
If the Hokies can stymie A.J. Dillon and live in the Boston College backfield, they will force Boston College to throw with quarterback Anthony Brown, who in my opinion, is not consistent enough as a passer to beat the Hokies by himself. Making life difficult on A.J. Dillon is the key, and the battle in the trenches is the place to start.
2. Get Boston College’s Offense Behind the Sticks
This certainly ties into my first key, but getting the Eagles into 2nd-and-long, and 3rd-and-long situations and forcing Anthony Brown to throw will make life difficult for BC.
Boston College ranked 81st nationally in passing offense a year ago, and have struggled to find consistency behind quarterback Anthony Brown. Brown is a capable passer, but not accurate enough to lead his team to victory if he is asked to throw the ball 30-40 times. Over his two years as the starter for the Eagles, he has completed a mere 53.8% of his passes – mediocre at best.
As mentioned, cutting off the head of the snake at running back with A.J. Dillon and forcing Boston College into long yardage situations on key downs will bode well for the Hokies, and it all starts with the pressure up front and forcing Boston College away from their strength of running the football.
If Boston College is faced with 7-10 long yardage situations (3rd and 6 or greater), the Hokies should be in great shape
3. Tackle A.J. Dillon
Tackle the running back. Tackle him. TACKLE HIM.
Tackling was a bugaboo for the Hokies defense throughout the entirety of last season, but was especially the case against Boston College, as the Eagles ran up-and-down the field on Tech’s defense last fall.
Eagles running back Travis Levy carried the ball eleven times for 75 yards and two touchdowns, while a banged up A.J. Dillon, who was battling a hamstring injury, carried the ball 24 times for 96 yards and a touchdown.
The Hokies struggled with tackling Levy, and while they did a decent job on A.J. Dillon, he had a couple of key third down runs in the second half to extend drives and turn the game around for the Eagles offensively. Tech took a 14-7 lead into halftime of last year’s game, but they were outscored 24-7 in the second half en route to a disappointing 31-21 loss. In total, Boston College rushed the ball 49 times for 219 yards and three scores, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in the process. If the Eagles amass a similar number on Saturday, the Hokies will be in trouble.
Tackling is key, and the Hokies struggled with it mightily last season. Getting A.J. Dillon and company on the ground and avoiding missed tackles will be especially crucial in determining Saturday’s outcome.