Virginia Tech’s defense ranks second nationally in yards-per-rush allowed. Boston College’s Andre Williams is fifth among Bowl Subdivision backs in rushing yards per game.
There’s your premier matchup in Saturday’s game between the Hokies and Eagles in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Can run-stoppers such as middle linebacker Jack Tyler and tackle Derrick Hopkins shed enough blocks to stuff Williams? Or, will offensive linemen such as three-year starters Bobby Vardaro and Ian White create gaps similar to what Williams saw even against the likes of Florida State?
Listed at 6-foot, 227 pounds, Williams, a senior, averages an ACC-best 144.3 yards per game. The only conference backs ever to average more: Virginia’s Thomas Jones, 163.5 in 1999, and North Carolina’s Don McCauley, 156.4 in 1970.
What makes Williams so productive?
"He's a powerful guy, but he can leave with it, too," Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster told Comrade Wood. "Every game, it seems like he's broke a long one. That's kind of part of the deal. You get in there and you load 10 or 11 guys in the box, they force your safeties or your corners to tackle, and all of a sudden, one of those guys misses a tackle and that thing's going the distance right there.
"What we've got to do is get him stopped before he gets started...eliminate some seams and some creases and keep those running lanes tight. When he gets a head of steam going, he's pretty impressive because he can run over you, he's got enough movement to avoid you and he's got enough speed to take it. He's rugged, like their front. They've got the right combination of big, physical front, and this back really is thriving in this offense this year. He played last year, but this back really is thriving in this kind of offense for them."
Steve Addazio, Boston College’s first-year coach, touted his o-line.
“Well, let's start with the fact that (Williams has) got a really good offensive line and a group of tight ends that are really blocking well,” he said. “That's number one, and that is the starting point. Andre is a big, strong physical guy. He's a 235¿pound back who has really good speed. He's powerful.
“You put a big, strong powerful back with breakaway speed and you put him behind a good offensive line, and that is a combination for the run game. I think those are the characteristics that he has, and that combination is growing and improving. … He's powerful, but when he gets in open field, he can pull away. He's got legit speed.”
Williams rushed for 263 yards versus Army, 204 against Wake Forest and 172 last week at North Carolina, but his most impressive performance was arguably his 149 yards on 28 grueling carries in a 48-34 loss to undefeated and third-ranked Florida State.
The Seminoles are fourth nationally in scoring defense at 13.0 points per game, and opponents average only 3.5 yards per rush. Williams averaged 5.3 against Florida State, just a tick below his season norm of 5.5.
Tech allows a meager 2.6 yards per carry, second only to Michigan State’s 2.1. The lone back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Hokies is Marshall’s Essray Taliaferro (105 on 26 attempts).
Williams played in 34 games, starting eight, in his first three seasons at Boston College. In his only appearance against the Hokies, he gained 8 yards on five carries as a sophomore in 2011.
Coincidentally, the last time Tech faced a back who finished among the nation’s top 10 was 2003, against the Eagles. Derrick Knight ran for 197 yards and two touchdowns on 38 attempts in a 34-27 Boston College victory. That Tech defense ranked a pedestrian 39th against the rush; Knight ended the season fourth nationally at 132.4 yards per game.
The Hokies faced two top-10 runners in 2002: No. 4 Willis McGahee of Miami and No. 7 Avon Cobourne of West Virginia. Cobourne gained a modest 80 yards in 19 carries in a 21-18 Mountaineers win; McGahee went off, rushing for 205 yards and six touchdowns on 39 carries in a 56-45 Hurricanes victory.
Virginia’s Jones ranked third nationally in rushing in 1999 but barely managed half his average against one of the stingiest defenses in Tech history (third nationally versus the run, first in points allowed) gaining 83 yards on 23 attempts. The Hokies cruised, 31-7, en route to the national title game.
In 1998, the Hokies faced four of the nation’s top 11 rushers: Boston College’s Mike Cloud (186 yards on 32 carries), West Virginia’s Amos Zereoue (148 on 26), Miami’s Edgerrin James (96 on 17) and Jones (55 on 18). Tech won three of those games, losing only to Virginia.
What’s your best guess for Williams on Saturday? I’ll take 88 yards on 24 carries.
That should be stout enough for Tech’s offense. But limiting Duke to 13 points last week should have been enough, too.
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