It was only a few months ago that Villanova expected to be preparing for a game against Pittsburgh this week. The Wildcats scheduled the Panthers years ago, while the Big East was still the league that once sent 11 teams to the NCAA basketball tournament while maintaining a BCS-level football league. When all that changed, Villanova was able to swap the Panthers out for an old-time rival: Boston College.
"Boston College - Villanova has a great sound to it," Andy Talley told VUhoops. "It's a team that we used to play routinely, and I think it's just a terrific game for our fan base, our alumni, and our players are looking forward to playing. I mean, we were looking forward to playing Pitt, we've been out there before, but BC is the same style of school as Villanova."
Villanova has previously played Boston College 45 times, making the Eagles their second-most often played opponent after Delaware (who only recently took that honor). The series dates back to 1922 with the rivalry being its strongest from 1955 through 1980, when the game was played annually. BC leads the series all-time, 29-15-1, although the Wildcats took a 20-9 victory over BC in their last meeting on September 27, 1980.
The 'Cats also take on a team that has hit a very rough patch in recent seasons. In 2012, the Eagles finished with just two wins and the worst record in the ACC. This fall, they will try to rebound under their new coach, Steve Addazio, who went 4-7 at Temple last year after going 9-4 in his first season as a head coach.
Addazio is known for the run-heavy offenses he coached at the University of Florida as well as at Temple. Boston College was one of the worst rushing teams in FBS last season, however, ranking just 119th in rushing yards and fifth-from-last in running touchdowns with just seven. Instead, BC's bright spots were quarterback Chase Rettig and his All-ACC receiver Alex Amidon.
"They could come in and change their scheme on us, but Steve Addazio's teams haven't been passing-type teams," Talley told Metro. "I suspect playing an FCS school their concept is, ‘We're gonna mash these guys and wear ‘em out.'"
Addazio may not veer hard toward the running game this fall, but expect him to try to utilize the running game that BC has more. As bad as the Eagles were last year, they are likely to see at least some improvement in that aspect of their game and Addazio is unlikely to make such a big change to the schemes that he has seen success with.
There is nothing Boston College would love more than to win against Villanova and Wake Forest before heading out west to face USC in week three. The Eagles made twelve consecutive bowl appearances and reached the ACC's championship game prior to the last two seasons, which featured losing records. They should be expected to bounce back, the question is how long that will take.
Boston College will be playing a more aggressive defensive scheme this fall, and linebackers Steele Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis will provide a veteran presence to try and stop the Wildcats' offense. They will plan to take chances — new defensive coordinator Don Brown was known for his blitz packages — leaving open the home-run play, but the payoff could be a big improvement over last season.
In 2012 they ranked 100th in total defense, coughing up 456 yards per game. They will start two players on the defensive line who are switching positions and have a secondary that gave up 2,908 yards and a 62.5% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks. Especially with BC likely to stack the box against 'Nova, the Wildcats should look to go aerial early in the game — especially if John Robertson has grown enough as a passer to make that connection downfield.
Villanova has to be prepared for a strong offensive output. The Eagles averaged 349.8 yards per game in total offense and 19.8 points. In the redzone, they were successful 76% of the time. Where they struggled was on third down, where they converted only 29.45% of their opportunities.
Their offensive issues, when they had them, came from sloppy plays; turning the ball over 24 times during the season, and allowing their quarterback to be sacked 36 times. Villanova may have issues matching up with a talented BC offense, but the 'Cats could certainly benefit from taking advantage of any mistakes to make big plays.
More importantly, Villanova's game plan should focus on getting and keeping possession of the football. The Villanova 3-man defensive line will have a challenge handling a BC line that averages 303 pounds and Rettig is a powerful passer when he gets the chance. When Villanova gets the ball, generating offense through the running game and keeping the clock running is their best bet.
Villanova's offensive line is big also, averaging 307 pounds, so the offense stands a better chance in this match-up. John Robertson is fast for any NCAA division and the skill position players should be able to move chains if they execute well. If the 'Cats are looking for an upset, they need to maximize each possession and play mistake-free football.
In the end, Boston College is still expected to win the game, but a well-executed game plan for Villanova could keep the score close. If it stays that way into the fourth quarter, hold your breath.
The outcome of the game may not have a big impact on Villanova's season. This is the type of I-A opponent that Villanova wants to be playing to open the season because of the fun, history and camaraderie it brings.
"I think if you take the team's that we've played since I've been here, starting with Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, the Naval Academy, Temple, Central Florida, we've played a lot of different cats," Talley noted. "I think of all the teams that we've played, the two that I would like to play on a normal basis would be Wake Forest and Boston College. They are more in-line with the kind of football program we are, and we have a lot of the same academic interests as well.
"When you pick up an old-time rival like that and it brings back a lot of people's good memories and thoughts and it's more natural than if we're playing West Virginia or Pittsburgh."