Things to watch, as Hokies play ACC road opener at BC

By Jimmy Robertson

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Virginia Tech will be playing its second true road game this season when it faces Boston College on Saturday evening at Alumni Stadium.

The Hokies, who fell to 4-1 overall after Saturday’s loss to Clemson and to No. 16 in the polls, handled their first road test with ease, cruising past East Carolina, and they whipped BC last season at Lane for their seventh win in the past nine games between the longtime rivals. But Tech figures to face a much stiffer test against BC, which moved to 2-3 win a win last Saturday over Central Michigan.

What will it take for the Hokies to get back to their winning ways? Well, here are some things to watch:

Be mentally ready – Tech played a tough, emotional game last Saturday at Lane. It didn’t play particularly well and lost. Now, the Hokies deal with an entirely different scenario. There is no hype with this particular game, and the game probably won’t be a sellout.

Mature teams handle these situations, though. This game, perhaps more than any other, will speak to the Hokies’ maturity. BC commands – and deserves – Tech’s utmost attention. After all, the Eagles and Clemson were tied at 7 in the third quarter before the Tigers pulled away. Hopefully, the Hokies arrive ready to play right from the opening kickoff.

Pound the rock – Tech struggled to run the ball with any consistency against Clemson, which came as no surprise considering the Tigers’ vaunted defense led the ACC in total defense and scoring defense. But BC is giving up 259 yards per game on the ground, so this game represents a prime opportunity for Tech to crank up the running game. It would be nice to see the Hokies’ tailbacks to run with some consistency in this one and for one of them to break the 100-yard mark.

Continue Jackson’s development – Yes, Josh Jackson threw two interceptions against Clemson, but one wasn’t his fault, and through five games, the redshirt freshman has played very well. He leads all Power Five conference rookies with 1,378 yards – 18th overall nationally – and 12 touchdowns. The 12 touchdown passes rank second in the ACC behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (14).

But Josh Jackson faces a defense that ranked No. 12 nationally in passing defense. BC ranked No. 7 nationally with seven interceptions. Some of that comes back to BC’s struggles to stop the run, but Tech’s young quarterback needs to be careful. He needs to be judicious with the ball, first and foremost, if the Hokies hope to go 5-1 before the off week.

Getting after Brown – Speaking of redshirt freshmen, Anthony Brown, a redshirt freshman, handles the controls of BC’s offense. Unlike Jackson, Brown has suffered some growing pains, having thrown interceptions in four of BC’s five games this season and holding a completion percentage around 55 percent. He has thrown more interceptions this season than touchdowns.

Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his group faced a true freshman in ODU’s Steven Williams and held him to 85 yards passing. The Hokies pressured him constantly, and while they only recorded one sack, they only let him complete eight passes. Expect them to give Brown different looks and get after him in hopes of forcing a costly mistake.

Answering special teams challenge – Fuente made sure to point out the challenges posed by BC’s Michael Walker this week in his weekly news conference. Walker is BC’s punt returner, and he averages better than 18 yards per punt return, with a long of 61.

“Their punt returner has been fantastic,” Fuente said. “Statistically, I don’t know where he’s at, but he really had a good game against Clemson [three returns for 53 yards] and a good game last week [against Central Michigan].”

Well, Walker, who returned four punts for 128 yards against the Chippewas, leads the nation in punt return yards (253) and ranks eighth nationally. That said, Tech is 11th nationally in punt return defense.

Everyone knows the quickest way to lose a game is on special teams, so Tech, for sure, needs to keep Walker contained. The Hokies have been fantastic in this area all season – and need to be so again Saturday evening.

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