Notebook: Brown, Ray the Stars in BC’s Win Over Wake Forest

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After two dominant wins over in-state foes to kick off the year, Boston College football faced its first real test of the season when it traveled to play Wake Forest on Thursday night. And though the Eagles didn’t pass with flying colors, they certainly passed the test. Riding yet another career day from Anthony Brown, as well as the always dependable A.J. Dillon, BC got its conference slate off to the right start, recording a 41-34 victory behind an offense that eclipsed 500 total yards for the third-straight game. Here are some takeaways and things to watch for the Eagles moving forward.

Brown Has Star Potential

In limited action against both Massachusetts and Holy Cross, Brown showed no signs of rust after an extended layover following his season-ending knee injury in 2017. The real question, however, was how he would perform against higher level competition. After all, the Minutemen and Crusaders pale in comparison to ACC competition.

Well, after Thursday’s game against Wake Forest, we have the beginnings of an answer: Brown has the potential to be one of the best in the country. One of the biggest knocks on the sophomore gunslinger last season was his accuracy. In 2017, Brown didn’t have back-to-back games where he completed more than half of his passes. This season? He’s completed more than 60 percent of his pass attempts in all three games—granted, he only threw the ball twice against Holy Cross—and he’s been making almost every throw with pinpoint precision.

Thursday was no different. Brown, who ended the game 16-of-25 for 304 yards and five touchdowns, was dropping dimes all over the field. On one particularly impressive drive, right after Wake Forest took a 24-21 lead, Brown first completed an inch-perfect back shoulder fade to Jeff Smith along the right sideline for a gain of 24 on 3rd-and-14. After another big third-down conversion to Michael Walker kept the drive going, Brown found Tommy Sweeney on a deep out route along the opposite sideline with another impeccable pass, dropping the ball right over the senior tight end’s left shoulder for a 29-yard touchdown.

If Brown continues to play with this kind of poise and and accuracy, he’ll bring consistency to the quarterback position that BC hasn’t had in the Steve Addazio era. Better yet, the one-two punch of him and Dillon gives the Eagles one of the most potent offenses in the country, a nuanced attack that can keep BC competitive with any Power Five team.

Play-Action Proficiency

One of the greatest weapons that BC’s offense utilized on Thursday was the play-action pass. Three of Brown’s touchdowns came off play-action, but the groundwork for its effectiveness was laid from the Eagles’ first drive of the game. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler opened the gates with three consecutive Dillon runs. The first two gained seven yards, but on the third,  Dillon busted free, bouncing the ball outside for a 45-yard touchdown. If it didn’t already, Wake Forest now knew it had to respect BC’s formidable offensive line and rushing attack.

For the rest of the game—utilizing the fear of Dillon’s speed-power combination—Brown and the rest of the offense feasted on play-action. First it was Jeff Smith wide open on a deep post route for a long touchdown in the second quarter. Next it was Kobay White’s turn to score off play-action on a sideline go route, then Tommy Sweeney on a long out route. Finally, Smith ended up wide open on a wheel route off a fake jet sweep to give the Eagles a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead. All in all, Brown finished 5-of-10 for 169 yards and four touchdowns off play-action with a couple other deep balls just missing the mark.

Wyatt Ray’s Coming Out Party

Zach Allen, who made a name for himself last season with six sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss,  is the star of the Eagles’ defensive line, but across from him Wyatt Ray has been quietly excellent ever since taking over from Harold Landry in the second half of 2017. On Thursday, however, Ray wasn’t quiet whatsoever.

The senior, who had just nine career sacks coming into Thursday’s contest, finished with four on the night, breaking the Eagles’ single-game record of 3.5, previously held by Mathias Kiwanuka and Mike Mamula—two guys who ended up hearing their name called in the first round of the NFL Draft. Throughout the night, Ray displayed an impressive speed rush, whether that was off the line or on delayed stunts.

The first and last of his sacks came on plays where he initially lined up outside the tackles, before looping around the defensive tackle inside and simply running by Wake Forest’s guards. That said, his third sack might have been the most impressive. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Ray was initially stalemated by Demon Deacons right tackle Nathan Gillian, but used a ferocious hand jab and swim move to disengage and blow by him, leaving Gillian stumbling and grasping at air. If Ray keeps this up, his play will provide BC’s defensive line with a much needed boost.  

In Too Much of a Rush

In the Eagles’ first two games this season, they didn’t see their run defense tested in a significant way. UMass managed just 66 yards on 34 carries, and while Holy Cross ground its way to 197 yards rushing, the majority of those came after BC’s starting unit had taken a seat for the afternoon.

Wake Forest was the first to really expose the Eagles’ rush defense and gap discipline, and it’s safe to say that BC has some things to work on in that department. A combination of Matt Colburn II, Cade Carney, and Sam Hartman paced the Demon Deacons to 298 yards rushing on 60 carries, utilizing a variety of delayed option handoffs and quarterback draws—a mix that gave the Eagles’ linebackers fits all game long.

Carney, whose patient running style is similar to that of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell, was especially effective. On one particular play, Carney looked like he was stacked up behind the line for a loss, but BC defensive end Tanner Karafa was caught hanging in the upper level of the Eagles’ defense, effectively allowing the Wake Forest back to squeeze through the trenches and break away for a 42-yard gain. For BC to have success against some of the ACC’s other dominant rushing attacks, the entire front seven will need to be more disciplined.

Special Teams Weren’t at All Special

Even against lower-level opponents, the Eagles’ special teams issues were quite apparent. Holy Cross was able to return two blocked punts for touchdowns in Week Two, and Wake Forest repeated the feat in the first half of Thursday’s contest.

In the second quarter, Grant Carlson mishandled a high snap and was forced to punt while scrambling to his right. A diving Wake Forest defender got his hands to the ball, and it was returned for a touchdown. To make matters worse, early in the first half, Michael Walker muffed a punt at his own 13-yard line, leading to the Demon Deacons’ first touchdown of the game. And late in the second half, John Tessitore badly missed an extra point, a mistake that could have very well proved costly. For the rest of the season, BC won’t have the ability to give away 15 points on special teams and still win. Whether it means taking a look at different punt formations or changing kickers again, these issues will have to be ironed out, and fast.

Fourth Down? Thumbs Down

Wake Forest was aggressive on short fourth downs all game long, daring the Eagles to make a stop and force the home team off the field. It was a challenge that BC failed to rise to for most of the game. When all was said and done, the Demon Deacons were 6-of-7 on fourth down. Of course, it’s only fair to mention that the one time the Eagles did get off the field on fourth down was when Taj-Amir Torres made a great play on a fade route in the end zone to end a Wake Forest scoring threat. But for the majority of the game, the Demon Deacons were able convert in a variety of ways.

First it was Hartman using the delayed option handoff, and, later in the game, it was a number of different short to intermediate routes that resulted in easy completions. A couple of times, thanks to the fast-tempo Wake Forest offense, Hartman and his receivers were able to catch the Eagles in off coverage because they didn’t have time to set their assignments properly. That’s something that BC can and should look to fix in the future.

Fact of the Week:

The Eagles were able to score six touchdowns and accumulate 524 yards of total offense, all without running a single play from inside the Wake Forest 25-yard line. That has to be the first time that’s ever happened.

Featured Image by Woody Marshall / AP Photo