Boston College has shaken the reputation they had earlier this decade for moribund offense. Two years after the spring game ended without a touchdown the Eagles have improved to above average, taking advantage of excellent field position, rarely turning the ball over and staying in third and manageable situations. A combination of improved talent at running back, emphasis on tight end play, experienced linemen and receivers as well as a healthy Anthony Brown have coalesced into a difficult team to play against.
The Eagles base out of 12 personnel but move their tight ends between split wide, in line and in the backfield. Boston College’s leading receiver is tight end Tommy Sweeney, and he will frequently line up in the slot to take advantage of coverage mismatches. Boston College likes to use their tight ends to overload one side of the formation, stressing the defense and opening running lanes.
Because of the versatility of these tight ends Boston College is able to shift from under center 21 personnel I formation runs to a “spread” look similar to Clemson’s. Playing like this allows you to “be in a spread set, you can be in a closed set and you can keep the defense on the field and go as fast as we can go and not allow them to substitute” Steve Addazio explained in the offseason. As Venables put it this week, “ These are NFL-type tight ends. We haven’t seen as good of blocking and receiving combo all season. This will be a great test for our edge players.”
Boston College has been able to lean on a running attack headlined by the 240 lbs. AJ Dillon. They run the ball at a top fifteen rate on standard downs, and complement that by running the ball at a top fifteen rate on passing downs. In addition to Dillon, who has been battling injuries, the Eagles can use massive freshman David Bailey, sophomore speedster Travis Levy or sometimes WR/athlete Ben Glines out of the backfield. In addition wide receiver Jeff Smith is a routine threat on jet sweeps/end arounds and quarterback Anthony Brown is good for six yards per carry before sacks.
If Boston College can establish the run they begin layering in, according to Justin Fuente, “every trick play in the book off the running game, play-action pass, getting the ball to the perimeter, every naked and boot-leg pass play that’s ever been drawn on a board.”
Bootlegs and play-action passes are a great way to use Brown’s legs to stress the defense.
The ability of Boston College’s tight ends to give safeties muddy reads (often the #2 player safeties read in quarters is the tight end) helps Boston College generate explosive passing plays. In defiance of the laws of God and man a Steve Addazio team has generated one of the more explosive passing games in the country, largely on the back of play action passes. Leading receivers Kobay White and Jeff Smith both average over 15 YPC, making their low catch rates easy to stomach (they resorted to handing the ball off to Smith for a reason).
Play action also helps limit the amount of reads Anthony Brown has to make. Brown has a strong arm but tends to lock in on his first target and take off scrambling or force a pass if that isn’t open. As a result of this the Boston College offense as a whole falls off a cliff on passing downs. Brown is not quite a “game manager” but he also hasn’t proven able to beat you if you make him at this point in his career.
When the offense makes the right call, such as on this perfectly executed follow concept, he looks like he’s putting it together.
Other times Brown looks like a liability, and his only throwing five interceptions on the year seems to be a miracle. Given how Boston College has performed in situations they have to pass this year I would expect Brown to struggle on Saturday. Clemson takes away the run better than anyone in the country. Tight ends vs linebackers and safeties in coverage is going to be a crucial matchup. With the receiving abilities of Glines and Levy out of the backfield the linebackers could be in for a long day in coverage. Boston College isn’t yet a good enough passing team to take advantage of those matchups consistently, not many college teams can. This is the biggest game of their year, and they’ll be up for Gameday and a shot at the ACC title game, but it’s hard to see Boston College able to run the ball well enough to score much on Saturday.