Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Virginia Tech at Boston College: Offenses

In a season where the Virginia Tech Hokies appear to have issues to work out, some of them come from their offensive unit. Indeed, the same can be said of Boston College following two somewhat shaky offensive performances against inferior opponents. Regardless, both of these teams know each other quite well, and both will have a lot to break down when assessing their opposition. So will we, apparently. Now that both teams have played two or three games, I feel comfortable using only the 2010 stats in this evaluation.

Scoring and total offense

Your Boston College Eagles, in their 38-20 and 26-13 wins, have racked up 64 points (32 per game), good for 42nd in FBS football. In the yardage department, they gained 411 against Weber State and just 305 against Kent State, averaging out to 358 per game or a relatively mediocre 74th in the subdivision.

Virginia Tech has played better opposition than the Eagles, and their results were not much better than BC’s on balance. The Hokies have averaged 31.7 points per game in their three games, putting them at 47th in FBS. This statistic was greatly helped by putting almost 50 on ECU on Saturday (in their first two games, they were at 23 ppg, including the disaster against JMU – more on that in a moment). Also, in their three games, they’ve managed about 17 more yards than BC at 374.7 (67th in FBS).

Quarterbacks and receiving

This is a very unsettled area for the Eagles, and general discontent has set in once again. We have a starting quarterback in Dave Shinskie who will probably never be anything more than average and will continue to make both beneficial and harmful plays for as long as he plays. Then, we have a backup in Mike Marscovetra who doesn’t play much, looks generally shaky when he does, and probably won’t get his shot anyway. Finally, we have one Mr. Chase Rettig somewhere in the background, with legions of Eagles fans clamoring for him to save us. For now, however, it looks like it’s Uncle Dave, for better or for worse. He has gone 28-47 for 399 yards, with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. That’s a college passer rating of 150.5 (or the equivalent of a 97.7 in the NFL, for those who grasp that rating better).

Those numbers, however, were helped out some by Shinskie’s corps of receivers. When we lost Colin Larmond for the season, there was a lot of head-shaking going on, but so far, this group has stepped up very admirably and shown real athleticism. Freshman Johnathan Coleman in particular has been a find, leading the team with 150 receiving yards but shockingly, no touchdowns as of yet. Five BC receivers have touchdown catches: Chris Pantale (TE), Clyde Lee, Bobby Swigert, Ifeanyi Momah, and Sterlin Phifer (RB). Not all of those passes from Shinskie were very good, but there’s been a lot of sideline toe-tapping and reaching out for the ball to make impressive catches by this bunch. Though it’s a young group, I feel fine with them going forward.

Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech just isn’t much of a passing quarterback, in the tradition of other VT quarterbacks before him like both of the Vick brothers. He’s thrown it 54 times and rushed it 38 (leading the team in both passing yards and rushing yards) with relative success. For the year, Taylor is 33-54 for 509 yards with 5 touchdowns and one interception. That’s a college passer rating of 167.1 (NFL: 115.4). One thing jumps out at you when viewing his game log: he hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in a game (got to 199 against ECU on his fewest completions so far this season – eight). In the offensive debacle against James Madison, he completed ten passes but only threw for 124 yards in a bizarre game that saw Virginia Tech apparently play the better game if not for the turnovers but still lose. If 2010 plays itself out on its current average, “T-Mobile” (their nickname, not mine) would throw for about 300 fewer yards than last year. Despite the decent stat line, his accuracy is still an issue, and his offensive line isn’t helping him out much.

Virginia Tech’s top receiver by far – and a likely candidate for heightened defensive coverage – is Jarrett Boykin, who has 229 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Williams (RB) and Dyrell Roberts also have catches for 6. More on Williams in a moment.

Running backs (and offensive lines)

Boston College and Virginia Tech both boast stud running backs. Montel Harris has been seen by guys like Kirk Herbstreit as the guy you should pay more attention to in college football that you don’t, while Ryan Williams exploded onto the scene in 2009 with 21 touchdowns. So far, 2010 hasn’t gone to plan for either one.

Montel Harris of the Eagles has taken the ball 48 times and rushed for 195 yards with only one touchdown in the first two games. For reference, in the first two creampuff games of 2009, he was already at three rushing touchdowns. Much of the time in these first two contests, he appeared to get stuffed right at the line of scrimmage and only breaking off very short gains, if any. His longest rush of those 48 was a 22-yard burst. These numbers are very un-Montel-like, and one reason you can point to is the offensive line. Let’s face it, this group just hasn’t played up to its billing lately. During the Kent State game in particular, they made both Montel Harris AND Dave Shinskie’s jobs more difficult than they had to be. They weren’t opening up gaps, weren’t picking up blocks, and ultimately, weren’t giving the playmakers behind the line time to do what they had to do. For a school with a reputation as “O Line U,” BC sure hasn’t played like it so far. The time for marshmallow opposition is over, however, and now the Eagles have to face real defenses. If the offensive line plays like it did against the Golden Flashes, this could be a most unpleasant experience.

Then there’s Ryan Williams, who left the game against ECU on Saturday with a right hamstring injury. Before that, on 40 carries, he racked up 131 yards and two touchdowns. That’s averaging almost a full yard less than what Montel has done so far this year with meh blocking. According to this article from the Washington Post, Williams’ hammy had been bothering him before the game, which could explain some of his mixed results. The question now is whether or not he plays against BC on Saturday, and as of now, Hokie coach Frank Beamer doesn’t know the answer as Williams is day-to-day. If he doesn’t, junior Darren Evans (along with Tyrod Taylor) will take care of the rushing. Evans had an alright stat line for Saturday, but he’s no Ryan Williams.

Virginia Tech’s offensive line has been spotty, struggling with blocking. According to our friends at Gobbler Country, however, their O-line got better as the ECU game progressed on Saturday. I can’t imagine though that a solid performance by BC’s D-line wouldn’t mess things up quite a bit for Taylor. Hokies fans don’t seem to be sold on their front five, and nor should they be given their results so far, so BC will have to take advantage.


Miscellaneous

BC has been in the red zone eight times so far this season. They scored touchdowns only three of those eight times.

Virginia Tech is 13-30 (43.3%) on third downs, while Boston College is only 8-24 (33.3%).

Boston College averages the fewest first downs in the ACC (18/game).

Lowdown

If I had to make one sweeping generalization about both of these offenses right now, it’s that neither one should be deathly afraid of the other as things stand. The last time these two hooked up, BC was the one who regretted it in the morning as VT slapped 41 points on the defense, but this time, Virginia Tech’s offense seems to lack some of the pop it has had in recent years. What could compound issues for them is that Ryan Williams might not play (and if he doesn’t, Bill McGovern’s public enemy #1 will be Tyrod Taylor, who will pretty much be expected to “do it all” if they’re going to get something going).

The whole world knows by now what they’re going to get out of a Dave Shinskie-led offense. He will give the defense their opportunities to make a play, but he’ll also find the hands of those receivers who seem to be good at catching the ball. Montel Harris is also a very capable back, but it comes down to the offensive line. This group is going to have to play much better to hold up against Bud Foster’s defense on Saturday. If Shinskie and Montel are going to get anything done, the line simply can’t keep folding up the way they did in their last game. The offensive line can be an underrated unit, and sometimes, the only time you ever notice them (much like the placekicker) is when they play like crap. They’re responsible for a large part of the team’s success, and they’re really under the microscope this week. We need to see improvement or it could be a long Saturday.

Tomorrow: the defenses and special teams

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