All season, Boston College football has looked lost offensively. Initially, the unit was running 87.3 plays per game, rounding out the top 10 fastest offenses in the country. But over the course of the past three weeks, the Eagles have averaged 68.7 plays per game, about just as many as head coach Steve Addazio called in 2016.
Up-tempo or not, BC’s offense hasn’t fared well. In fact, it’s one of the worst in the nation. The Eagles are averaging just 16.3 points per game—4.1 less than Patrick Towles and Co. put up last year. Through six weeks of play, BC has yet to score 30 or more points, something that hasn’t happened since 2004.
The Eagles’ 23-10 loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday night was the icing on the cake. BC was a combined 2-of-17 on third and fourth down. Every so often, quarterback Anthony Brown and the offense would move the ball downfield. But as soon as the Eagles hit VT territory, they stalled. Just like the previous three games BC played against top-25 opponents this season, overthrown balls, dropped passes, and miscommunication dominated the narrative.
But this time, Addazio didn’t use the Hokies’ ranking, injuries, or his team’s youth as an excuse for another embarrassing loss on national television. Instead, he took responsibility for the Eagles’ lack of execution.
“I’ve got to do a better job. Let’s just leave it like that,” Addazio told reporters after the game.
Except he didn’t leave it at that. The fifth-year man went on to promise that his team will turn it around.
“It’ll come together, and it’ll be beautiful,” Addazio said. “You can write that one down. I don’t have the time clock on it right here. But it’ll come together, and it’ll be beautiful.”
Addazio has six weeks to speak that into existence. The clock is ticking.
1) Pressure off the Edge
When the spotlight’s on, Harold Landry puts out. While the senior defensive end hasn’t quite lived up to the hype every game this season, he’s certainly helped his draft stock against marquee opponents. On Saturday, Landry recorded seven total tackles, including three sacks, tying a career high. The NFL prospect now has five sacks on the year—four of which have come in ACC play. Not to mention that he’s logged 20 of his 32 tackles this season against conference opponents. Throughout the night, Landry provided excellent pressure off the edge, forcing Jackson either to slide up in the pocket or hit the ground. Unfortunately for BC, the senior came up limping after sacking Jackson for the third and final time. At the moment, there is no update on his injury status.
On the other side of the defensive line, Zach Allen was having a night of his own. The junior racked up a career-best 14 total tackles—three of which pushed VT behind the line of scrimmage. Allen also recorded a sack and tipped Hokies’ quarterback Josh Jackson’s second pass of the game. The heads-up play resulted in an Isaac Yiadom interception, which gave the Eagles the ball inside of VT territory and an opportunity to take an early lead.
2) Brown’s Career Day on the Ground
As a recruit, Brown was labeled as a dual-threat quarterback. But up until Saturday, the redshirt freshman hadn’t really used his legs like many were expecting him to. Brown led the team in rushing with a career-high 51 yards. A few of his carries were by design. On multiple occasions, Brown snapped the ball out of the shotgun, faked a handoff to an adjacent running back, and then ran the rock for a handful of yards. The read-option allowed the redshirt freshman to survey the defense before deciding to hand the ball away or tuck it and run.
He improvised to get the rest of his yardage. Two games removed from sustaining a shoulder injury, Brown looked like he was running for his life every time he felt pressure. As soon as the play broke down, he stepped up in the pocket, turned on the jets, and made a few people miss, ultimately picking up a couple of nice gains.
3) Late-Game Trickery
BC’s offense reached a new low in the third quarter. The Eagles rattled off five-consecutive three-and-outs, all but forfeiting the field position battle. So when the final frame rolled around, Addazio found himself pulling everything out of the playbook just to generate some offense. After BC finally ripped off back-to-back chunk plays, Addazio called for halfback option pass to finish off the Eagles’ first touchdown drive of the game. Brown snapped the ball out of the shotgun with running back Travis Levy at his right hip and Jeff Smith motioning left. He handed the ball off to Smith, who then took a few steps to the right before dropping back to pass. The wide receiver hit Brown on a wheel route for a 25-yard score.
The play was reminiscent of the one that the Eagles ran in their Quick Lane Bowl victory over Maryland this past December. Once again, Smith—who was originally recruited to play quarterback at BC—ended up with the ball and flung a pass to a wide-open quarterback down the sideline for an easy score. The only difference was, this one wasn’t a double reverse, rather it was a jet sweep.
The Eagles could have used this kind of play earlier in the game.
Coming into Saturday, BC was ranked 12th in the nation in pass defense. The Eagles were only allowing 154 yards through the air. That being said, they had yet to be tested. With the exception of Central Michigan’s Shane Morris, BC hadn’t faced a pass-first quarterback until it lined up against Jackson. At first, it looked as if the secondary was going to be just fine. Thanks to Allen’s awareness at the line of scrimmage, Yiadom was able to intercept Jackson on the Hokies’ first drive of the game. But from then on out, the redshirt freshman gunslinger took over.
Jackson picked apart the Eagles’ zone defense, even without his go-to target, Cam Phillips. He kept going back to the middle of the field—easily the softest part of BC’s coverage. Typically in the pistol, but sometimes in the empty set, Jackson snapped the ball and quickly fired it to a receiver running a slant or an inside post pattern. This allowed him to fit the ball in between BC’s defensive backs, and create space for his receivers to run after the catch.
Addazio also noted that his guys struggled to tackle on the backend. It was more of a matter of wrapping up than it was hitting. The secondary had no trouble getting to the ball. Bringing receivers down was another story.
By the game’s end, Jackson had completed 22-of-33 pass attempts for 322 yards and a score. The Hokies may have laid a blueprint for how to beat the Eagles with the pass.
Tommy Sweeney could have changed the complexion of the game. Following Jackson’s first-quarter turnover, BC had the ball right outside of the red zone. On 1st-and-10, Brown dialed up a play-action pass to his tight end, 25 yards to the end zone. The ball floated over VT cornerback Brandon Facyson and into the arms of Sweeney. But as he fell, he lost control of the football, and the pass was ruled incomplete.
Running back A.J. Dillon ran the ball two yards up the middle. Then, Brown misfired on a pass to Smith. And to cap it off, Colton Lichtenberg missed a 40-yard field goal. Just like that, the turnover was virtually erased. That’s a ball that Sweeney has to have.
BC’s entire receiving corps had a case of the drops on Saturday, not just Sweeney. Brown isn’t the most accurate quarterback, but he’s putting it where his targets can catch it, that’s for sure. Two passes bounced off the hands of Kobay White. And Smith started running with the ball on a screen pass before he even caught it.
The Eagles are 113th in the country on third down, and drops are a huge reason why.
3) Special Teams
There have been games this season when BC’s special teams has played better than any unit on the field. But on Saturday, it didn’t do the Eagles any favors. On paper, Mike Knoll had a fine night punting the football. The senior averaged 40.9 yards per boot. But when BC needed him most, he couldn’t flip the field position. Twice in the third quarter, Knoll failed to punt the ball more than 41 yards from his own territory.
On the other side of the punt game, Michael Walker was a non-factor. After running back three punts for at least 25 yards against Central Michigan, the junior was held to just one return and a measly three yards.
But nothing was worse than Lichtenberg’s 40-yard shank at the beginning of the first quarter—his fourth-straight miss, after starting the season 6-of-6.
The junior converted on a 32-yard attempt later in the game to get back on track. But the question remains: how big of a leg does Lichtenberg really have? In the postgame press conference, Addazio said that he decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 on the Hokies’ 23-yard line, because it was “a little bit out of our range”. That would have been another 40-yarder. A kicker who can only hit within 30 yards isn’t much of a kicker.
Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Staff