At FSU, Addazio’s Inconsistent Game Management Costs BC Fourth-Quarter Lead

With three minutes and 18 seconds remaining in Tallahassee, Boston College football quarterback Anthony Brown handed the ball off to A.J. Dillon, clinging to a 21-16 lead. After crossing the line of scrimmage, the sophomore was greeted by a host of Florida State defenders at the Seminoles’ 40, stopping the 6-foot, 245-pound back a yard short of the first-down marker. Dillon—far from 100 percent, battling a nagging left ankle injury that kept him out of two games earlier this year—hobbled off the field for the third-straight game, having just recorded a season-high 37 carries, as head coach Steve Addazio looked left and right, contemplating whether or not he wanted to go for it on fourth down.

His team was 3-of-5 in such situations on Saturday, and a first down would all but secure the Eagles’ first eight-win season since 2009. A turnover on downs or a punt, on the other hand, would leave the game in the hands of BC’s defense—a unit that had allowed a combined 14 points in its previous three games.  

The sixth-year Eagles coach let the play clock wind down before signaling to the referees that he did indeed want to use the timeout to stop play with two minutes and 52 seconds left in regulation. On 4th-and-1, Brown and the offense trotted onto the field in a singleback set. Rather than trying to move the chains, Addazio tasked his quarterback with hollering the hard count, in attempt to draw FSU—the second-most penalized team in the country—offsides. The Seminoles didn’t take the bait, though, and the Eagles’ offense took the five-yard delay of game penalty.

“I just felt best about the fact that if we could pin ’em, we could play great defense and make them go a long field, and win the game that way,” Addazio told reporters, per BCEagles.com.

Grant Carlson punted the ball away to D.J. Matthews, and three plays later, Tamorrion Terry beat Brandon Sebastian over the top for a 74-yard touchdown, a scoring play that—even without a two-point conversion—left BC with one minute and 41 seconds to drive down the field and kick a game-winning field goal. Without a timeout and a placekicker that has attempted more than one 40-plus yarder all year, the Eagles were hard pressed to avoid blowing an eight-point fourth-quarter lead.

They didn’t get very far—despite stringing together the most resilient half of his career, Brown logged three consecutive incompletions before being wrapped up eight yards short of the sticks for the game-ending tackle. Thanks to its 22-21 victory, FSU (5-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) inched one step closer to preserving its nation-leading 36-year bowl streak, and No. 20 BC (7-4, 4-3)—two weeks removed from being an ACC title contender—dropped its second-straight game, gravitating back to mediocrity.

In a second half that took on the shape of a quarterback duel, Brown and Deondre Francois combined for a total of 379 passing yards and two touchdowns in the final two quarters of play. Considering that both quarterbacks have eclipsed the 300-yard mark and tossed at least four touchdowns in a game this season, the numbers weren’t inexplicable. That said, what made the aerial raid so spectacular was the fact that Brown and Francois were practically unserviceable in the opening 30 minutes of regulation. In fact, the signal callers were a combined 18-of-40 with four interceptions during that span.

Neither could establish a rhythm. Aside from a 25-yard slant on the Seminoles’ opening drive that helped set the stage for a 45-yard Ricky Aguayo field goal—one that was ultimately blocked by Zach Allen—the quarterbacks largely looked out of sync.  

Brown was the worse of the two. After exiting last weekend’s College GameDay-featured matchup against No. 2 Clemson on BC’s first series of the night and spending some time in the hospital with an abdominal injury, the redshirt sophomore worked his way back into the lineup on Saturday, starting the game under center. But for a while, it looked like Eagles fans might see E.J. Perry on the field anyway. Brown started the game 3-of-10 for 12 yards and two interceptions. Naturally, BC turned to the ground, riding Dillon for 18 carries in the first half. Prior to re-tweaking his ankle again, the Lawrence Academy product had his moments where he looked his old self, rumbling through the trenches for chunk yardage. However, it didn’t matter—not with Brown turning the ball over.

The Eagles’ second drive of the day ended with the redshirt sophomore rolling right and throwing a pass behind Michael Walker into the arms of Seminoles defensive back Hamsah Nasirildeen. Luckily for BC, Francois gave the ball back to Brown and the Eagles’ offense the very next play: Francois dropped back to pass and heaved a deep ball for Ontaria Wilson. Sebastian—the Week 10 ACC Defensive Back of the Week—leapt in front of Wilson for his second interception of the season and returned it 33 yards to the FSU 24. Yet, just like the Seminoles, BC failed to convert the takeaway into points, as Colton Lichtenberg curled a 29-year field goal attempt just past the left upright.

Eventually, Francois developed a rapport with Keyshawn Helton, and FSU’s run game—the third-worst in the country—surprisingly provided its fair share of offense, accounting for 76 yards in the first half. As a whole, the Seminoles logged 233 first-half yards, but had just a pair of Aguayo field goals to show for it. Whenever FSU infiltrated BC territory, it stalled.

Francois and Brown traded interceptions in the second quarter, the first of which was nabbed by Hamp Cheevers, who is now in sole possession of the nation lead with seven picks. It wasn’t until Aguayo drilled a 35-yarder and the Eagles trailed, 3-0, that BC woke up on offense. The Eagles’ first scoring drive of the day can be credited to their tight ends: Tommy Sweeney kickstarted the series with a crucial third-down reception, Korab Idrizi hauled in a 34-yard catch-and-run, and then Ray Marten paved the way for a four-yard Dillon touchdown run.

Due in large part to three 14-plus yard completions—all of which were to different Seminole receivers—FSU tacked on another field goal before the half, draining three minutes and 46 minutes of  game time in the process. Instead of using his last timeout, Addazio let Willie Taggart wind down the clock and kneeled down to enter the break up, 7-6.

It was truly a tale of two halves. Both quarterbacks came out of the intermission firing. Brown started things off with a 42-yard pass to Kobay White—who finished the day with seven catches and his first-career 100-yard game. But it was Francois who struck first, connecting with Nyqwan Murray on a jump ball and Naseir Upshur on a post route to set up a four-yard Cam Akers touchdown run.

Following an errant flea-flicker—BC’s third botched gadget play of the game—Brown stitched together three consecutive completions, the last of which was a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Smith. After an FSU three-and-out, Brown walked back out onto the turf and threw one of the best passes of his career: a 20-yard dart to who else but White on 3rd-and-18. Alternating between Dillon rushing plays and play-action passes, BC pushed the ball into the red zone. It was there that Brown hooked up with Walker on the run to convert a 4th-and-1, and Dillon bulldozed his way into the paint for a six-yard score.

Once again, FSU generated a response—just not a touchdown. Out of the shotgun, Akers ripped off a 55-yard run, aided by a number of missed tackles. A dropped pass on 3rd-and-10 gave way to Aguayo’s third field goal of the game, and the Seminoles cut their deficit to five with about 12 minutes remaining.

Bolstered by a 26-yard Smith reception and a 18-yard screen pass to Travis Levy, BC worked its way to the FSU 38 on the following drive. Facing a 4th-and-5, Addazio called Carlson’s number—perhaps foreshadowing what was to come.

On the very next Eagles series, Brown crossed midfield by creating time outside the pocket on a 3rd-and-10 and dumping the ball off to White, who cut past an FSU defensive back for the first down. That’s when Addazio—who stood by his choice to not go for it on 4th-and-1 after the game—turned to shedding the clock, Dillon limped off the field, BC burned its last timeout, and Carlson booted the ball away to a salivating Seminoles team.

As soon as Francois delivered a perfectly placed pass to Terry, and the redshirt freshman wideout scampered for six, Doak Campbell Stadium erupted in excitement, and hearts of BC fans sank. Brown’s 204-yard second half came to an abrupt end and so did the Eagles’ hopes for a marquee bowl game.

“It’s a pretty disappointed coaching staff and a pretty disappointed locker room right now with the players,” Addazio said. “I think we all know that we had a golden opportunity that we let get away from us, without taking anything away from Florida State.”

With a field goal block, six tackles—including one for loss—a pass breakup, and a sack, Allen put together one of the best games of his career. Brown’s second-half performance might have been the best half of football he’s played in a BC uniform. The talent is undeniable—Addazio’s game management is what has raised questions for years: decisions like not taking a timeout to set up a potential two-minute drill at the end of the second quarter, running Dillon 37 times with three other backs available, or not going for it on fourth down in a potential game-clinching scenario after having attempted to convert from the same exact position—FSU’s 40-yard line—twice earlier in the game.  

Featured Image by Mark Wallheiser / AP Photo

Photos by Mark Wallheiser / AP Photo

Andy Backstrom
About Andy Backstrom 347 Articles
Andy is the managing editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.