Familiar Offensive Woes Plague the Eagles
By: Bradley Smart
The great team at Football Outsiders developed a stat a few years ago called Success Rate, and it has become a staple in evaluating how teams do on both sides of the ball. “It measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not” the glossary reads, qualifying with, “the terms of success in college football are 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.”
In the third quarter of Saturday’s two-touchdown loss to visiting Virginia Tech, the Boston College football team had a 0% success rate. Zero. Percent. They finished the game in just the ninth percentile of offensive performance (per SBNation’s Bill Connelly).
Drives number four through 12 ended in punts eight times, and just three of them gained double-digit yards. All three drives in that miserable third quarter added up to a grand total of zero yards, eating up just over four minutes of game time. Time and time again, the Eagles have failed to find anything offensively. They needed a trick play to score the only touchdown of the game, and that came within the final seven minutes, with the Hokies comfortably taking the foot off the gas.
This isn’t a new thing, however. Averaging just 16.3 points per game, the Eagles currently rank 96th in OSRS, the offensive component of the Simple Rating System. This takes into account point differential and strength of schedule to grade teams on both side of the ball. Under head coach Steve Addazio, the Eagles have finished 116th, 125th, 53rd, and 40th. It’s been a steady decline, as Addazio’s first year was also the last time the Eagles averaged over 21 points per game.
Defensively, the Eagles are a strong team. They rank 46th in DSRS, and have a secondary that ranks within the top-20 (despite a less than strong showing on Saturday). Under Addazio, the Eagles have finished as high as seventh in the country. The last time Boston College had a bad defense was in his first year, but they’ve consistently been much better on one side of the ball than the other.
What does this mean? Despite the best efforts of a defense, Boston College is consistently never in games as soon as they go down two-plus touchdowns. Take Saturday, for instance. The Eagles couldn’t make the most of an early interception and conceded a 53-yard touchdown pass to fall behind 7-0. They cut it to 7-3, but ended up entering halftime down 17-3. For many in the stands, it was time to leave. It’s become very clear that scoring 20-plus points is a huge stretch, and it was very unlikely against a Hokies defense that ranks 10th in the country.
Fittingly, Boston College went three-and-out all three times they got the ball in the third quarter, Virginia Tech hit a pair of field goals, and that was that. A late Eagles touchdown just seemed like a throw-in,not significant in the grand scheme of things.
Part of the problem, it seems, has been the way Addazio has handled his quarterback. Anthony Brown was recruited as a dual-threat quarterback, but had just seven yards through the first four weeks. He finally got the chance to scramble some on Saturday, and piled up 51 yards on just seven attempts. Brown clearly is a better runner than a passer, so why not let him loose more? In 2014, quarterback Tyler Murphy led the team with over 1,000 rushing yards to go along with a 1,000 yard passing season.
Brown isn’t Murphy’s caliber, but it’s become increasingly frustrating to watch a series of checkdowns or errant throws in the passing game. The Eagles rank 128th in passing success rate, and even more simple stats tell a similar tale. Brown has seven interceptions to six touchdowns, a barely over 50% completion rate, and is averaging just 4.5 yards per attempt.
When the passing game is nonexistent, Boston College turns to their rushing offense a lot, and a single stuff on first down makes it tough further down the chains. The Eagles are converting just 30% of third downs this season, a mark that ranks 116th in the country. There’s a reason why punter Mike Knoll made the ESPN midseason All-American team, he’s tied for the national lead with 46 punts through six games. Averaging almost eight punts a game isn’t a sign of a good offense, to say the least.
So why not shake it up? Brown has the ability to make defenses fall apart by scrambling, and it’s particularly brutal if Boston College can play up-tempo. They have two good running backs, but when an offense is running the ball on standard downs 68% of the time, it becomes pretty easy to stack the box and keep the gains minimal. Jon Hilliman and AJ Dillon are big, bruising backs, but they’re both averaging under four yards per carry this season. Part of that has to do with the Eagles offensive line woes, having been ravaged with injury, but it’s not been easy to find success.
Addazio said in his postgame conference that when everything comes together, it’ll “be beautiful.” Shaking up an offense that hasn’t worked at all this season sure seems like a good first step to getting there.
Cover photo courtesy of Tim Bradbury/Getty Images North America