Finally—assuming all goes to plan—the Virginia Cavaliers are back in action against the Boston College Eagles after yet another COVID-19-induced postponement last week. The Hoos have played just two games over the past 36 days, which is great for all the bumps and bruises that come up during a football season, but less great for continuing to build rhythm and momentum.
Although Boston College did have a November bye week, they’ve played three games during that same time period, winning close games against Louisville and Syracuse, while putting up a decent fight against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
On the season, the Eagles are 6-4, with losses to North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Notre Dame. That’s not bad. Only the Tech loss looks bad, but that was nearly two months ago when the Hokies were flying high.
Since the Eagles joined the ACC in 2004, Virginia and BC have only faced off four times, with BC winning all four. All told, the Hoos are 0-6 against the Eagles. Virginia is favored by 6.5 to come away with their first-ever win over BC.
When: Saturday, December, 5, 3:30PM
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville
TV: RSN (MASN)
Virginia on Defense
The first thing we need to discuss here is the availability of BC QB Phil Jurkovec. The sophomore transfer from Notre Dame has started every game this season, but left the Louisville game last week with a knee injury and was replaced by backup Dennis Grosel. Grosel was very good, completing 4/7 for 44 yards and 2 TDs. He also added a 44 yard run which helped set up a score. But this is Jurkovec’s team and his absence would dramatically change the outlook for this game. He is expected to play, but whether the knee will give him problems or hamper his mobility is unknown.
This is a different offense than what we’re used to from BC. Over the past few years, we’ve been accustomed to a run-heavy offense led by All-American RB A.J. Dillon. Dillon rushed for over 4000 yards over the past three seasons and in each of those seasons, the Eagles had far more rushing attempts than passing attempts. But so far this season, the Eagles have 344 pass attempts and 341 rush attempts. That’s pretty close, but consider that sacks end up being rush attempts and that Jurkovec is an adept scrambler, it seems many more pass plays have been called than run plays.
You can see Jurkovec’s speed and athleticism on these two plays. The first is pure speed. He’s running away from the LB. And the second is quickness and effort to pick up a big first down.
Jurkovec has thrown for 2558 yards on 205/336 passing, with 17 TDs and just 5 INTs. That’s 61% completion and 7.6 ypa, both of which are solid. Though he’s a strong runner, he’s really best when he’s outside the pocket making plays with his arms.
This is a really good example of that. Jurkovec is under pressure, avoids the sack with a nifty move, then has the sense to look upfield and find the open man in the endzone.
Starting RB David Bailey has just over 500 yards, averaging right at 4 yards per carry. In total and including sacks, the Eagles average just 3.3 ypc as a team. That’s not a great number, and it’s part of why the Eagles are throwing the ball a lot. This is actually one of the worst rushing offenses in the country.
No push from the OL here, and the backside LB is untouched and makes the stop. This is a good read from Louisville, but also a poor job from the OL.
The combination of poor rushing numbers and 24 sacks allowed point to the OL being a problem for the Eagles. This is something the Virginia defense will have to exploit, although it becomes more complicated without Charles Snowden, Juwon Briggs and Richard Burney. Getting pressure on Jurkovec is the easiest way to slow down the BC offense. This is especially true for a team with a secondary that struggles in coverage. If Jurkovec has time, he will find somebody. He’ll move around both inside and outside the pocket and his receivers are good at coming back to the ball to make plays.
Five different BC players have at least 20 receptions on the season (Virginia has just three, though some of that is due to Lavel Davis missing time), and all average at least 12 yards per reception. That group includes a RB and a TE, along with the three starting WRs. Zay Flowers is the leading receiver with over 700 yards and 7 TDs.
From this clip, you can see that Zay obviously has outstanding speed. That’s also a perfect throw from Jurkovec, into pretty good coverage from Pitt. Again, if Jurkovec has time, he’ll find his guys. Need to get pressure on the QB in this game.
TE Hunter Long is an All American candidate and actually leads the team in receptions, with 49. He’s actually among the nation’s leaders in receptions from a TE. Virginia struggled early with TEs over the middle, but have improved from that regard as the season has progressed. Keeping Long in check won’t be easy, but will be helped by the return to health of some of Virginia’s DBs such as Brenton Nelson and Joey Blount.
If Jurkevic plays, and is 100%, the Eagles are going to move the ball. The Virginia defense isn’t good enough, right now, to really slow them down. Even Abilene Christian put up 340 yards, and moved the ball even against the first team defense. BC is, quite obviously, a bit better than ACU. So keeping BC to under 400 yards won’t be easy.
Virginia on Offense
The Virginia offense has picked up its play of late, largely due to avoiding turnovers and negative plays, a big problem earlier in the season when the Hoos were turning the ball over three times per game. Can’t win doing that.
After throwing six INTs over the first three games, Brennan Armstrong has thrown just two over the last four games. Not surprisingly, those are his top four rated games of the season. Continuing that trend will be paramount, both in this game and the following week against Virginia Tech. The Eagles are 3rd in the nation in turnovers forced with 8 INTs and 12 recovered fumbles through 10 games. Considering this unit ranked 60th nationally, at just over 400 yards per game, that’s a pretty amazing number. If they not for all those turnovers, just how many yards would they be giving up? They’re 50th nationally in scoring defense, at just about 27 ppg. If not for all those turnovers, how many more points would they be giving up?
Here is one of those TOs. A completed pass and then the WR just drops the ball. That’s not skill, that’s just good luck. Turnovers include a tremendous amount of luck, and often are not predictive. Hold on to the football, and the BC defense is vulnerable.
The top two leaders in tackles are LBs Isaiah McDuffie (WLB) and Max Richardson (MLB). Those are also the top 2 in TFLs, though in reverse order. That duo also has 6.5 out of the team’s 22 sacks. These are the guys BC relies on to make plays all over the field.
BC opponents average over 4.5 yards per carry, which includes sacks. Getting push up front against the Eagles is not difficult, in part because the DL is not a strength. It’s a rather small unit, averaging just 272 lbs. And although there is experience there, most of it came at other schools. Four graduate transfers get regular playing time on the DL, including Maximillian Roberts, the team’s sack leader.
This is just a four-man rush, but Roberts pushes his man right back into the QBs face. This was a big play as BC opened up a two TD lead on the Tigers early in that game.
Last time out was a passing clinic for the Hoos, but this week look for more of the power rushing game we were seeing previously. ACU was overmatched on the outside and wasn’t really capable of generating much QB pressure. BC has three solid CBs and SS Deon Jones, a graduate transfer from Maryland, was a top rated CB prospect out of high school. BC’s struggles against the pass (75th in pass defense, 55th in pass efficiency defense) are not due to a lack of pass coverage.
There is little pass rush. Of the team’s 22 sacks, 13 have come in three games including four against UNC.
This is a coverage sack, as Sam Howell has ample time to throw but can’t find anybody. Howell had numerous instances where he initially had time and then took off running for big plays. We will see a good deal of that from Armstrong as well. Designed QB draws are likely to be a big part of the game plan.
When BC drops back in pass coverage, there should be some running room for Armstrong. On this play, Armstrong makes one read and sees nothing, so he takes off running for a 33 yard gain. This will help slow down the BC pass rush and will also keep the DBs attention focused a bit on Armstrong, which might open things up downfield for Lavel Davis and company.
Again, the key is to hold on to the football. BC’s defense thrives on turnovers. If Virginia plays a clean game, they should come out on top. Turnovers will keep the Eagles in it.
A lot of this game comes down to Jurkovec. If he’s less than 100%, it’s going to severely hamper the BC offense. Dennis Grosel was solid last week, but he’s not the weapon that Jurkovec is.
That goes for Virginia’s defense as well. Despite the extra bye week to get healthy, they are still down Snowden, Burney and Briggs. There’s depth at LB, but not much depth on the DL right now. And the secondary is also still banged up, though we do not know the status of Joey Blount or Brenton Nelson. If Virginia gets their starters back at safety, that will help against BC’s WRs.
Since it seems likely that Jurkovec isn’t 100% and with Virginia playing at home and getting better week by week, it seems like the Hoos should come out on top.
Prediction: Wahoos 31, Eagles 21 (season record: 5-3)