ACC

BC Football- Four Downs: Wake Forest

BC Football

Sometimes summarizing a BC defeat is as easy as stating the obvious.

Boston College did almost everything right in its game against Wake Forest on Saturday. The offense was electric, piling over 500 yards. The defense surrendered chunk plays but held its opponent to field goals instead of touchdowns in key spots. Each side committed expected mistakes, but it helped morph the game into a well-rounded, equal push between two very good teams.

The Sunday morning headlines won’t scream about a back-and-forth, tough, physical football game, however. They instead will talk about the two opportunities laying a defeat at BC’s doorstop. Two opportunities directly cost BC six points. Wake Forest won, 27-24.

A team can do almost everything well in a football game, but it can lose it in two plays or less.

“Two scoring opportunities in that game, one on a fourth down and our inability to kick the field goal,” head coach Steve Addazio said. “Then the fumbled snap, prior to that were two scoring opportunities in a tight game like this. All of our rushing, throwing statistics, everything else, were superior. We lost out on those scoring opportunities.”

Wake Forest led, 20-17 when quarterback Jamie Newman penetrated over midfield to the BC 38-yard line. On first down, he called a pass play and looked downfield over the middle, but the throw sailed over the intended receiver. Safety Mike Palmer closed on the ball and intercepted it, tumbling to the turf at his own 10. 

It set up AJ Dillon, who was beginning to crush Wake Forest’s defense by the game’s late stages. He rushed for 16 yards and caught a rollout pass from Anthony Brown to rumble for 33 more. It gave the Eagles advantageous field position, and another seven yards by Zay Flowers and David Bailey set up Aaron Boumerhi for a 44-yard, game-tying field goal attempt.

Only the kick never happened. Boumerhi split the uprights with his first attempt, but the play clock expired. The five-yard penalty pushed it back to a 49-yard attempt, but BC botched the second attempt when the snap bounced to holder Dennis Grosel. Grosel scrambled and heaved a desperation throw to Danny Dalton, but it was knocked to the turf as BC walked away empty-handed.

“I saw the clock ticking down,” Addazio said. “I was going to call a timeout. I thought we were still going to get it off in time. I didn’t want to lose my timeout (because) I knew we would need those timeouts at the end of the game. I was trying not to burn it, and it was hair close. Obviously lost that decision by a half a second. That’s what it came down to.”

The attempt cost BC three points. Wake Forest won, 27-24. 

Sports are sometimes that simple and cruel.

“One of those three points makes it a tie game in the end,” Addazio said. “Two of the three points puts you over the top. In between the white lines, there’s a lot of good football in there. Those are two situations that didn’t fall for us the right way.”

It put BC on the wrong side of a great college football game. Here’s what else could be learned from Saturday at the Heights:

*****
First Down: Get off my lawn.

Wake Forest entered the game with a reputation as a slow-moving, Run-Pass Option offense. Jamie Newman provided the heartbeat as a dual-threat, dynamic quarterback, and he didn’t disappoint on Saturday. 

Newman burned BC’s defense for over 300 yards, finishing with 345 yards of total offense on 56 plays. He carried 23 times for over 100 yards and threw for almost 250 more. He burned BC’s defense early with 63 yards on four completions in the first quarter, relying mostly on vertical sideline routes. He was especially as advertised on his option reads, which compared to Leveon Bell’s running style in how they analyzed the point of attack for opening holes.

It created two main keys for the BC defense. One, the slower read option would simply wait for holes to develop, so the defensive line had to hold its block while the linebackers correctly timed blitzes. And two, Newman would challenge BC’s secondary deep.

He did both. He adjusted from those vertical sideline heaves and began throwing more over the middle in the fourth quarter, and a 26-yard pass to Kendall Hinton set up the last Deacon touchdown. That score was itself a second attempt after BC came up with a stop. A pass for Scotty Washington fell incomplete, and a flag in the backfield signaled a chop block against the offense. But a defensive pass interference offset everything, and Newman simply went back to Washington for a 27-yard touchdown pass on the next play.

“(The delay) is different and it’s hard,” Addazio stated. “I thought we did a pretty darn good job with it. There were some big throws, (but) I don’t remember how many of them there were. There was a (pass interference) in the end zone, another couple of big throws that had big yards on them. To me, those PI calls can go either way on either team when I look at them up there. They (also) have two big, tall receivers that battled for a couple of balls.”

John Lamot and Max Richardson finished the game with a combined 30 tackles, and nose tackle TJ Rayam added a career-best 11 tackles. The linebackers had more than one sack, and the defense held the running game to 2.9 yards per carry in the second half. Mike Palmer registered the defense’s 13th consecutive game with an interception. Jason Maitre had a pass break up in the end zone in the third quarter. 

But Wake Forest still went 17-of-24 on third down conversions.

*****
Second Down: Full Steam Ahead

The second quarter was an electric period built by BC’s offensive breakthrough. The Eagles rallied from an early miscue and closed a 10-0 deficit to a tie score. Wake Forest posted another touchdown to retake the lead, but BC answered its own bell in the waning seconds to knot the game, 17-17, into halftime.

It evaporated an ostensible pregame observation. Anthony Brown threw an interception on his second pass attempt, but only missed one other throw in the first half. He went into the break with 152 yards and two touchdowns, including a 26-yard pass over the middle to Zay Flowers, executing the game plan behind BC’s 108 yards rushing at the time. 

That’s probably what made the missed call early in the third quarter so frustrating. BC forced a three-and-out to start the half and torqued its own first drive through the Demon Deacon defense. It averaged over eight yards per play but ultimately stalled out on the edge of the Wake Forest red zone.

Facing fourth-and-3, Addazio kept his offense on the field. Brown threw a sideline pass to Kobay White, but Essang Bassey intercepted it. It was the second “three-point play” Addazio eluded to, and it’s an easy target as a reason why BC lost the game.

“We’ve got to capitalize in a game like that,” Addazio said. “We had a couple of scoring opportunities, a couple of three-point opportunities that made the difference in the game.”

It’s a black mark on a day where Brown executed with lethal efficiency. He was 21-of-29 for 265 yards and had 20 yards on six carries. He used his tight ends and attacked the Wake Forest safeties and linebackers to the tune of seven catches and 90 yards, spreading the ball around to Hunter LongChris Garrison, and Jake Burt.

It paired wonderfully with running back AJ Dillon, who gained 159 yards on 23 carries. Dillon averaged just under seven yards per carry and consistently found holes behind his offensive line. Tyler Vrable neutralized Carlos Basham, Jr, and the gaps opened off sweeps and horsepower carries from there. It created the same cumulative effect as it did against Rutgers, and it wore down the Deacs into the game’s late stages. Dillon started the third quarter with both 18-yard and 16-yard carries, then added two more runs over 15 yards in the fourth.

It shell-shocked the Wake Forest defense, and it resulted in a trick gadget play when it sold out against David Bailey in the fourth. Bailey instead threw to Garrison, who snuck behind the defense for a 16-yard score.

“We had 252 yards rushing,” Dillon said. “Any time you’re doing that, (the offensive linemen) are doing their job. I love those guys upfront. As you can see, 252 yards rushing. They did their job.”


*****
Halftime Hits

-Dillon’s 150-yards means he passed Andre Williams on the all-time list of 100-yard rushing games. Williams was in attendance on Saturday, earning an introduction before the Alumni Stadium crowd. It’s easy to forget how dominant that 2013 season was for the running back and how he became the second Heisman Trophy finalist in program history. But there is no AJ Dillon without Andre Williams, and watching him eclipse 2,000 yards that season was electric.

-I always wished for better for Andre in the NFL, but he found himself entering a league in transition. The NFL shifted to a pass-happy league with shifty, smaller, platoon running backs, and it made his position as a bruiser back much more difficult, especially in New York. The Giants were a team in transition and only had one last rush left in 2016 after they released Williams.

-Parents Weekend is always a special time of year, and it created a show of force among the BC faithful. Nearly 40,000 fans packed Alumni Stadium, and it created an electric atmosphere.

-When I work in college hockey, a common refrain I hear is that a game is “a good college hockey game” regardless of the outcome. That game on Saturday was a good college football game.

-Maybe one day the home team will figure out how to win one of these games in this series.

*****
Third Down: Back to that RPO…Again

Run-Pass Option is becoming more and more prevalent in college sports, but Wake Forest’s spin, in person, was especially unique. As expected, Jamie Newman took longer to read a defense, and the backfield held the ball for an extra second or longer in order to allow plays to develop.

I referenced Leveon Bell earlier. When he was on the Steelers, Bell developed a reputation of stopping at the line on handoffs. He possessed an ability to patiently wait for a developing hole, then could shift after using elite intelligence and vision to find the right path and right hole. It’s frustrating for opponents because defenses can’t blitz the backfield while he’s waiting, but he’s waiting because, if they hang back, the blockers will open a hole.

That’s the perfect description of Wake Forest’s RPO. Newman would, at times, walk up to the line of scrimmage with the handoff still engaged in order to take an extra second or two for his running back. The running backs are hitting the handoff at top speed, but Newman’s dual-threat ability made incredibly difficult to stop. It’s frustrating because defenses are always “that close” to making consecutive series of big plays.

“We were trying to put more pressure (on Newman), have backup blitzes,” cornerback Brandon Sebastian said. “We were playing more man into the boundary. So we had one guy missing in coverage, and we were just trying to put pressure on him so you could get the ball quicker on the RPOS – or just get the ball out and try to get to the quarterback.”

It meant BC played with a number of unconventional looks on defense. RPO offenses line up running backs and tight ends on split wide formations in order to set up downfield blocking, and playing more man coverage meant there were times a player like Richardson covered a running back on the sideline. That would indicate a run, at which point a player like Lamot could signal blitz to the backfield. Defensive backs could also shift inside and make runs at the backfield – or simply hold blocks to form a wall at the line of scrimmage.

Wake Forest did have over 400 yards of offense, but that’s now an expected number. The team put up similar numbers against North Carolina and almost lost that game with a similar number of points. Moving forward, it’s something to keep an eye on since the RPO can chunk yards but run into problems when defenses tighten up closer to a goal line.

*****
Fourth Down: Near Chaos

The entire national college football picture almost exploded yesterday when North Carolina nearly upset No. 1 Clemson. The Tar Heels lost, 21-20 when they failed on a two-point conversion after scoring a potential game-tying touchdown with a minute left in the fourth quarter. 

It allowed the Tigers to escape with an intact undefeated record, but it was the second time a team penetrated Clemson’s aura of invincibility. It’s a further sign that the ACC is still as wide open as ever and that Saturday’s loss to Wake Forest isn’t a death sentence for Boston College’s 2019 season or its bowl hopes.

Everyone other than Clemson and Wake Forest has at least one overall loss on the season, and nine teams are either 2-2 or within a game of .500. UNC regained some of its mojo, as did Florida State, but there’s a sudden flawed appearance to several ACC teams.

Pittsburgh beat Central Florida last week, but only escaped Delaware this week with a 17-14 victory. Temple blasted Georgia Tech, 24-2. Miami squeaked by Central Michigan in its last game, 17-12. Syracuse beat Holy Cross, 41-3, for its second straight win, but next week will be a telling sign against NC State because the Orange are 0-2 against power-conference opponents with a 104-26 scoring deficit. The Wolfpack were on the receiving end of FSU’s win this week.

This entire league is becoming more and more wide open this year, and even Clemson doesn’t appear as perfect as preseason prognostications thought. There’s still plenty of winnable games on the schedule, and even though Saturday’s loss stings, there’s another game to be had next week.

*****
Point After: Louisville

That next game is a return to the scene of AJ Dillon’s breakout from two years ago: Louisville. BC heads to Cardinal Stadium for a 12:30 p.m. game next weekend in search of its third straight win over the rebuilding program.

Louisville will enter that game off of a bye, having last played to a 35-24 loss at Florida State. The Seminoles took a 21-0 first-quarter lead over the Cardinals in that game, then watched as the visitors scored 24 unanswered over the next two quarters. Alex Hornibrook connected with Tamorrion Terry for a 60-yard touchdown to retake the lead for the Seminoles, and a late touchdown salted the win away for the home side.

It dropped Louisville to 2-2 on the year. A much-hyped game against Notre Dame started the year but ended in a 35-17 loss before the Cardinals padded two wins against “Directional Kentucky” (42-0 over Eastern Kentucky and 38-21 over Western Kentucky).

Next week’s game can be seen at 12:30 p.m. on NESN as part of the ACC’s Regional Sports Network clearances.

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