Quarterback Hendon Hooker returns to the starting lineup as Hokies host Eagles
The Eagles have been a pleasant surprise so far in compiling a 3-1 record. After struggling to get by Texas State, BC lost a squeaker to North Carolina before overcoming Pittsburgh in overtime.
Virginia Tech's season has also been up and down. After finally getting on the field, the Hokies looked very impressive in beating NC State, less so in a win over Duke, then had trouble handling the North Carolina offense in last weekend's loss.
These two schools are annual crossover rivals, so despite being in different divisions, the former Big East members have played one another every year since BC entered the ACC in 2005. The Hokies hold an 18-10 series lead.
Boston College at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -12
When Boston College Has the Ball
For the fourth week in a row, Boston College could not run the ball. Against Pittsburgh, the Eagles had just 30 rushing yards on 41 attempts. It is true that the Panthers have a strong run defense, but Boston College's best rushing performance this year was going for just 87 yards on 27 carries against Texas State. There are actually 44 FBS players that have rushed for more yardage than the Boston College team this year.
What BC has done well offensively is throw the ball. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec has passed for 300 or more yards in three of the team's four games. He's completed over 65 percent of his throws and has eight touchdowns to two interceptions. Early in the season, he was too reliant on tight end Hunter Long, but wideout Zay Flowers has emerged as a top option and had three touchdown receptions versus Pitt.
Jurkovec has been sacked 17 times in the four games, and he has to be quicker in his decision-making process. But the offensive line, which was considered among the best in the ACC coming into the season, also has to step up its game in terms of both pass protection and run blocking.
The Eagles should try to go back to David Bailey and the run game this week because North Carolina scorched the Hokies in that area. After exhibiting solid rush defense in the first two contests, Virginia Tech gave up 399 yards on the ground to the Tar Heels. Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield are talented linebackers, but the front has to put up a fight so that the BC offensive linemen can't get to the next level. The thing is, defending the pass has also been an issue, as the Hokies are 12th in the ACC allowing 261.0 passing yards a game.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Boston College is going to see a lot of Khalil Herbert. The Virginia Tech running back leads the nation in rushing with a 149.7 yards per game — more than 10 yards great than any other player. Besides the option offenses at Army and Air Force, Virginia Tech has the best rushing attack in the country thanks to Herbert.
Quarterback Braxton Burmeister has also played a role in that rushing total, but he will not be the starting quarterback in this game. Hendon Hooker gave the offense a spark midway through the UNC game, and last year's starter will be back in command. The passing game has not been up to snuff and with receivers like Tayvion Robinson, Tre Turner, and James Mitchell, that's not acceptable. Hooker may not be Trevor Lawrence throwing the ball, but he's an upgrade over Burmeister.
Despite Hooker's insertion into the lineup, Virginia Tech will first try to run on BC. The Eagles have been decent against the rush, but besides North Carolina, the teams Boston College have played have not run the ball well. BC has also been pretty consistent defending the pass, allowing a 56 percent completion rate and just 6.5 yards per attempt. And with Sam Howell and Kenny Pickett on the early season schedule, BC has faced some quality throwers.
While Boston College has been fairly consistent outside of the sluggish performance against Texas State, we really don't know what Virginia Tech is quite yet. Are the Hokies the team that destroyed NC State or are they the group that couldn't stop North Carolina? Putting Hooker in at quarterback gives the team some offensive stability, but how does that help the defense? Because Boston College hasn't been able to run at all, the Hokies should be able to concentrate on defending the pass. Tech has been able to pressure the quarterback, and Jurkovec has been sacked too many times this year. Virginia Tech will have their best passing game of the season to date, but it will still be Herbert that makes the difference. Boston College finds itself in another tight game but comes up just short as Virginia Tech goes to 3-1.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Boston College 34
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Photo courtesy of hokiesports.com)