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The Boston Globe

Sports

Virginia Tech’s defense a stiff test for Boston College

The opportunities are beginning to dwindle.

With only five games left in the regular season, including three of the last four on the road, where Boston College has gone winless in its last nine games, the Eagles know they cannot afford to squander any more opportunities, such as Saturday’s ACC home game against Virginia Tech.

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Facing the Hokies (6-2, 3-1) and their vaunted third-ranked defense, BC (3-4, 1-3) will have to seize upon the opportunity at hand to remain on track for bowl eligibility, which still remains within grasp despite last week’s 34-10 setback at North Carolina.

“That’s the big thing,’’ said BC senior quarterback Chase Rettig, who will attempt to rebound from a 57-yard passing effort against the Tar Heels, his lowest output of the season and second-worst of his career.

“We’ve got to get another win as fast as possible,’’ Rettig said. “We can’t let any more games get behind us. We’ve got to try and get a big win at home and get closer to our goals and play together as a team.’’

BC will have to duplicate the effort Duke submitted in its 13-10 victory at Virginia Tech last Saturday. It was the Blue Devils’ first triumph in the hostile environs of Lane Stadium and it snapped the then-16th-ranked Hokies’ 12-game winning streak over Duke.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who tutored Peyton Manning at Tennessee and was Eli Manning’s head coach at Ole Miss, offered a glimpse into how the Blue Devils managed to build a 13-0 lead and hang on against Tech’s stingy pass defense, ranked No. 2 in the nation (157.8 yards per game) and first in interceptions with 17.

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True freshman cornerback Kendall Fuller intercepted Duke quarterback Anthony Boone three times, giving him a team-leading five interceptions .

Asked if Tech’s tight man coverage forced quarterbacks to be even more precise, Cutcliffe said, “I think that man coverage, and they pressed us across the board, is predicated on how good a pass-rush you have. You better not live in it if you’re not going to get to the quarterback.’’

So far the Hokies have succeeded in doing so, ringing up 28 sacks for 171 yards, with senior defensive end J.R. Collins leading the team with five sacks.

“That’s the first formula you have to dissect,’’ Cutcliffe said. “It’s are we going to protect the passer well enough to let the routes come to fruition to where you can separate? We really protected the passer pretty well — not pretty well, but real well against them. So you have to be accurate as a quarterback.’’

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer will likely make the same demand of his quarterback, the 6-foot-6-inch, 254-pound Logan Thomas, who threw four interceptions against Duke, the last with 4:22 to go in the game.

“I’ve said all along, how [do] you respond to disappointment?’’ said Beamer, who owns a 15-6 record vs. BC in 27 seasons at Virginia Tech. “Duke played well. Give them credit. But it was a disappointing loss. We feel like we had opportunities to win the football game, but just didn’t get it done.

“Now do you come back stronger than ever, mentally tougher than ever, or do you give into it?’’ Beamer added. “I think in everyday life, people go through that struggle. We as a football team, that’s what we’ll find out this week.’’

In Boston, Eagles coach Steve Addazio has no greater example of determination than that of the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, a bearded brotherhood who completed an improbable worst-to-first journey. Addazio would love nothing more than to seize upon that buzz in Boston and have it inspire his players.

“Especially for a team that we’re rebuilding, starting fresh, it’s just been a great environment,’’ the BC coach said.

But, like Beamer, Addazio will be interested to see how his team mentally responds from last week’s disappointment. Who will be strongest in Boston?

“We got to learn how to strain mentally and how to prepare and to expand that,’’ Addazio said. “You fatigue a muscle, you overload a muscle and the muscle grows. It’s the same with your mind. You’ve got to really strain mentally, but the good news is they physically strain.

“They kinda got that a little bit now,’’ he added. “But we’ve got to squeeze all the air out and completely maximize our football team. We’ve got to be really right, really exact, on both sides of the ball.

“Our effort, our work ethic, our toughness has brought us a ways, but against these high-end teams like this, we can’t lose the mental edge.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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