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2016 Boston College Football Post Mortem: The Offense

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Where did we see improvement, decline this year?

NCAA Football: Boston College at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 season is over, and there certainly were a lot of peaks and valleys in this season. The offense was a lightning rod of controversy this year, as Scot Loeffler took over the coordinator reigns from Todd Fitch who left to join friend Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech. Loeffler brought with him a reputation of being a quarterback guy, and with him came Patrick Towles, a grad transfer quarterback from Kentucky who many hoped would be fixed by Lefty. Along with Towles came the return of the injured running back Jon Hilliman, transfer Jimmy Lowrery on the offensive line, and Jeff Smith who switched to wide receiver over the summer. How did they do this season. Let’s take a look.

To do this I’m going to split up statistics into three buckets: those against the cupcakes (UConn, UMass, Buffalo, Wagner), the peer programs (Syracuse, Wake Forest, NC State, Maryland and Georgia Tech) and the powerhouses (VT, Clemson, FSU, Louisville)

Quarterback

Patrick Towles was a tale of two quarterbacks throughout the season. Against peer schools he struggled averaging a paltry 103.5 yards per game while throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions. Against the Power Four it was even worse, as he averaged 86.75 yards per game along with two touchdowns and two interceptions. It was against the cupcakes that he did his damage, averaging 191 yards per game while throwing 7 touchdowns and an interception.

Overall the passing game (or “throw game” as Addazio called it), was inconsistent at best, but clearly an upgrade over 2015, 143 yards per game versus 110 yards. Which isn’t saying a lot. There were times when Towles made some nice reads, threw some underneath stuff to Tommy Sweeney, and hit longer throws to guys like Jeff Smith, Chris Garrison, and Michael Walker.

Running Back

Addazio’s bread and butter is still the running game, no matter what call for balance he spoke about this year. Jon Hilliman did not look like himself this year, not sure if it was a recovery from his injury or what, but he struggled, and the statistics bear that out. Addazio’s workhorse averaged 2.95 yards per game, with some flashes of his old self with huge runs against Georgia Tech and Maryland. What struck me this year about Hilliman was that he struggled to break tackles, it seemed like whenever he was hit that was where he went down. Hilliman had 8 games where he averaged less than three yards a game, and only two where he averaged more than 4 (Georgia Tech and Wagner).

Davon Jones a converted defensive back, on the other hand seemed to be the most consistent back on the roster when used. His carries were strong and reliable for the most part, but Addazio went long stretches of games where he wasn’t used much at all. He had 7 games this year where he had 5 carries or less, including the Maryland game where he didn’t have a carry (though he was on the field). Jones saw most of his action in five games which ran the gamut of talent (Wagner, Buffalo, Clemson, Syracuse, UConn and Wake Forest). In those games he carried the ball on average a little more than 12 times a game, averaging about 4.3 yards a carry in those games.

Myles Willis was more of a mystery, as Addazio used him infrequently, as he averaged just a shade under 4 carries a game, averaging over 6 yards per game. Definitely he was a weapon that the offense should have utilized more. Tyler Rouse was basically a one touch a game back in 2016, and did fine in that role.

Overall, against the peer schools they rushed the ball an average of 42 times a game, for 167 yards per game, an average of just under 4 yards a carry. Against the cupcakes they rushed it an average of 51.5 times a game for 187 yards for 3.6 yards per carry. Finally against the power teams they rushed the ball roughly 37 times a game for roughly 88 yards a game.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Objectively this was a position that saw the most improvement from 2015 to 2016. While there certainly were a ton of drops, and against elite cornerbacks these wide receivers disappeared and struggled to get separation, they did make plays.

In 2015 the team leader in receptions was Thadd Smith with 17 catches for 233 yards. In 2016 there were four receivers with more catches than Smith had last year. Michael Walker led the team in receptions and yardage with 33 for 420 along with 4 touchdowns. Was he perfect? Absolutely not, he suffered from the drops as well, but he clearly will be a big time target moving forward.

Jeff Smith became the X factor for the Eagles this season. Just a year removed from being one of the starting quarterbacks, Smith made some huge plays and his speed demanded touches. He led the team in yards per catch with 14.73, and rushed the ball 35 times as well for about 6 yards per carry. To keep defenses honest Addazio added Smith as a wildcat quarterback as well, which worked at times. He also made two throws, including a touchdown pass to Patrick Towles in the Quick Lane Bowl.

If there is a position to be excited about for 2017, it has to be the tight end position. Addazio should have a treasure trove of talent there in the passing game. Tommy Sweeney emerged in the second half of the season as a very reliable target with good hands and speed. His biggest game came against NC State where he brought in 5 catches for 78 yards and a TD. TE/WR hybrid Chris Garrison started the season off strong for BC, but was lost for the season after breaking his leg against Buffalo. Korab Idrizi (2 catches) made a nice catch in the Quick Lane Bowl and if he continues to develop should form a great tandem with Sweeney.

Offensive Line

There certainly were stronger links in the offensive line in 2016 than we saw last year. The biggest issue for the line were a few players who struggled mightily, and defenses still not respecting the passing game, and loading the box and confusing the lineman and breaking down plays, causing penalties.

Chris Lindstrom, who bulked up from the previous year, clearly looks like he is heading in the right direction. He never struck me as a kid who got overwhelmed, even against good teams. Jon Baker, the center was also good. We saw how important he was to the line when he went down in the Clemson game, and his backup couldn’t get the ball to Patrick Towles on two straight plays.

Elijah Johnson also appears to be ready to take the next step. About halfway through the year, this Maryland native jumped in at tackle and cemented his role for the 2017 season. I hate to pick on certain players, but clearly the two linemen that caused the most issues for the Eagles were transfer Jimmy Lowrery and Aaron Monteiro. Lowrery was the biggest disappointment, as he came with an all conference pedigree (albeit from a lesser division), but it seemed right out of the gate that he struggled. The season started with a Lowrery mistake that caused a Towles interception, and ended with a penalty that almost gave the game to Maryland. Monteiro, continued to look baffled out there, but did show signs of improvement near the end of the season.

Moving forward, if Addazio means what he says, BC should have a very good line next year. They have been together for a few years now, and at least 4 of the starters have experience. Should be interesting to see if they can continue to build on it in 2017.