Thursday night's game against the Hokies from Virginia Tech was won by the defense, plain and simple. While the offense was able to score 20 points against a very good VT defense, it was still struggling with some of the issues it has been facing all year, namely execution, offensive line cohesiveness and gameplanning.
At the end of the day, though, the offense did it's job: score enough points to win the game. However, one has to wonder, had Virginia Tech not imploded due to the selfish nature of it's play, could the Eagles have overcome another sluggish game on that side of the ball? BC's offense was helped dramatically by Tech turnovers and penalties and the exceptional field position the defense provided throughout the night.
Conversely, the fact that the offense is seemingly still sluggish and the Eagles still beat a ranked team by 19 points is a very good. If the offense and defense can put a game together, one has to believe this Boston College team could play with just about anyone in the nation.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the grades for the positions:
There is a football saying amongst coaches for when one sits down and evaluates a quarterback, especially at the college level, that says "statistics are but a statistic". What it means is that a quarterback's numbers are but a part of the overall effectiveness a quarterback has on his offense and team. You have often heard announcers refer to "intangibles", such as toughness, respect he garners from the team, ability to manage the offense, clock, decisions when things are not going well, etc.
Ryan was 16 for 29 for 174 yards and two touchdowns which are ok numbers, not his best of the year by far.
There is no question he is physically tough. There is no question the offense is entirely his and his management of the game is second to none so even though his statistics were not great this past weekend, even though he came out throwing too hard and too amped, even though he missed a wide open receiver because he did not stop and plant and threw off his back foot on a sprint pass, he still rates out very well for his gutsy performance. Additionally, throw in the fact that he injured the foot attached to his already injured ankle and he didn't miss a snap, and you have something special going on here.
Running Backs: C
The Boston College running backs carried the ball 34 times for 90 yards for an average of 2.7 yards per carry. Not great numbers by any stretch of the imagination but it's hard to truly evaluate the reasons for the sluggish performance by the running backs this year. Is it because of the unimaginative scheme? Is it because of the unsettled nature of the offensive line? Is it because of the philosophy to rotate the backs every series, thus preventing any one back from getting in to a rhythm with the offensive line? Is it a combination of all of these things?
More than likely, it's the latter but regardless of the "reasons", the running back position simply has yet to have its best game of the year. BC has something special at its finger tips and it is going to need the running back position to deliver down the line against conference foes.
Wide Receivers: B
This is a position where experience has really proven its worth over athletic youth. On a number of occasions, the older, more experienced receivers like Tony Gonzales and Kevin Challenger have made play after play in difficult situations and held on to the ball whereas the younger, seemingly more athletic group of receivers has dropped many a big play ball.
At the end of the first quarter, on BC's third possession, Brandon Robinson had beaten his man on a post and Ryan put a perfectly placed ball in his inside shoulder and it was dropped. In the second quarter, Challenger caught a 15 yard bullet from Ryan in traffic to give BC the lead for good at 7-0. One the catch he was running a middle square in and he got hit hard by both the safety and the cornerback covering him but he managed to hold on and score the touchdown. That is the difference between youth and experience.
The young guys (Robinson, Clarence Megwa, Rich Gunnell) have a lot of ability. Probably the most athletic in the team's history, but they have to start making the catches when it counts. Until then, though, Matt Ryan appears more than comfortable relying on the old vets.
Offensive Line: B
The offensive line has two jobs: Protect the quarterback in passing situations and open holes for the running backs when the Eagles run the ball. They are doing the former stupendously, the latter not so well.
However, grading this offensive line is a difficult task because of the nature of the scheme. Coach Dana Bible simply refuses to run any type of counter play to keep the back side and play side defenders honest. Many times, on running plays, you will notice a back side player making a tackle. That's because the nature of the BC offense allows them to over pursue with impunity.
The line did appear to play much better in the second half, gaining 62 yards in the second half, compared to 28 in the first and improved on the average yards per carry by almost a yard (2.1 vs. 2.95) and that's when the team needed it most.
Additionally, considering the fact that Ryan was not sacked once and barely touched all night, the offensive line more than earned their suppers that night.
Special Teams: A-
What more can be written about SuperFan Steve that has not already been written? It appears as if PAT's are once again an afterthought and that field goals are now a viable option for Tom O'Brien once again. Kickoffs are short but considering the tradeoff, that's ok.
If he continues to kick like he did in his first game, give the kid a scholarship.
Johnny Ayers was a little bit inconsistent and at one point had a 23 yard punt on BC's 5th possession of the second half that seemed to be a critical mistake at the time. However, he delivered later on BC's 7th possession of the second half with a 44 yard kick that played a major role in the field position battle in the second half.
Two things this writer would like to see from the special teams is to find a way to get Jeff Smith the ball more. DeJuan Tribble has a tendency to dance on punt returns where as Smith seems to have a nose for running north south. Also, VPI never once covered the personal protector out of the backfield on punts. I am well aware that the likelihood of a fake punt during the Tom O'Brien regime is slim and none, but not once did VT cover the personal protector and Dunbar was left to run down the middle of the field all night long.
C is a tough grade considering the nice things we said above. However, the reality is that BC won the game on the back of the defense. Field position and turnover battles were the key to the night and both were won by the defense. The offense did it's job but the reality is the scheme run is as simple as you will see at this level.
The counter game simply does not exist in this playbook. As we mentioned above, this allows defenses to over pursue without fear retribution. That allows more defenders to get in to the running lanes and takes away any advantage the offense might have had. Additionally, BC will run to the power over 80% of the time so not only are the defenses able to over pursue and fill the lanes, most of the time they know where the ball is going.
We have seen the Eagles struggle with this a number of times this year. CMU had this figured out early and BC struggled to move the ball on the ground against them. NC State knew it too and was very quick to fill the holes.
Coach Don Horton has done a tremendous job teaching these kids how to pass block but one has to wonder if his boss is tying his hands on the run blocking.
And lastly, what does Coach Bible have against a play action with Brian Toal lined up in the backfield?
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