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Coach’s Corner: Evaluating BC - Louisville

Here come Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals

Clemson v Louisville
Card fans get ready for the Eagles
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Our Boston Globe style look at tomorrow’s game between Louisville and Boston College.

Boston College (2-4 overall, 0-3 ACC) at Louisville (4-2 overall, 1-2 ACC)

When: 12:20 PM EDT, TV: ACC Network (MyTV 38 - Boston), WatchESPN

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY (55,000)

Line: Danny Sheridan opening - Louisville by 19.5, The Book - Louisville by 15.0

Series history: Louisville leads 6-3, in Louisville - Louisville leads 3-1

Last game vs BC: Louisville 52 at Boston College 7 - 2016

Last game at Louisville: at Louisville 17 Boston College 14 - 2015

Last BC win: at Boston College 35 Louisville 14 - 1994

Series Win Streak: Louisville - 4

My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 4-2

My 2017 record straight up: 6-0

Last week: Virginia Tech 23 at Boston College 10, at North Carolina State 39 Louisville 25

When Louisville Runs:

Advantage: Boston College
Louisville run offense: 194.50 ypg, 42nd in the nation, Boston College run defense: 234.0 ypg, 116th in the nation

Game after game we talk about how QB runs have hurt Boston College and now they face the most dangerous of them all in Lamar Jackson. Although Jackson has spent more time in the pocket this season, he still has three times the amount of carries as any other UofL back.

Louisville has allowed 15 sacks for 80 yards that have come off Jackson’s run totals, so in times he has legitimately run the ball or scrambled on pass plays, he is averaging 7.7 yards per carry with 7 TDs.

A year ago in Chestnut Hill, Jackson accounted for 416 yards total offense and 7 TDs (185 rushing and 3 TDs), but keep in mind, 416 yards is his 2017 per game average.

He was however, kept in relative check on the ground against both Clemson (64 yds) and NC State (73 yds).

Jackson gets support from SR Malik Williams and QB turned RB, the versatile Reggie Bonnafon.

Bonnafon in particular is someone Cardinal fans are looking to get more touches.

The Cardinal offensive line is not great, but they are big, averaging nearly 6’6 and over 320 a man.

This is a pass first team, who uses the run as a change up to the pass. They will move the chains by the run, but generally don’t devastate you. Louisville is 7th in the country in run plays of over 10 yards, but has just 9 plays of 20 or more.

Overall, BC should have success controlling the Cardinal running game, but much like the Notre Dame or Virginia Tech game, it is the 1-2 big runs by Jackson that may make the most impact.

When Louisville Passes:

Advantage: Louisville
Louisville pass offense: 363.3 ypg, 7th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: 182.0 ypg, 21st in the nation

We learned a lot last week about the Boston College pass defense. When Zach Allen, Harold Landry and Wyatt Ray were able to get pressure on Josh Jackson, they were successful. When the ball got out quickly or there was some level of play action, the Eagles had trouble in coverage, with linebackers not getting deep enough drops, slot receivers in particular getting free releases off the line of scrimmage and maybe most surprisingly, missed tackles across the board.

Lamar Jackson may take your heart with his runs, but this offense is predicated on the pass.

The Cardinals have thrown for over 300 yards in every game this season, including the Clemson game and they don’t dink and dunk to get those yards. Louisville is number 2 in the country in throws of 10 yards or more, #9 in throws of 20 or more and top 10 in throws of 50 and 60 yards too. Jackson’s yards per attempt place him 14th in the country. The competition hasn’t seemed to matter much, the results have been essentially the same.

The BC secondary will be under great pressure and will be forced to leave the linebackers home more than they might like to cover the scramble.

The Cardinals are down JR WR Jaylen Smith, who sustained a wrist injury sustained in the Clemson game. Smith was probably the ‘Ville’s most explosive receiver, but he’s sure not alone. Seven Louisville receivers average more than 15 yards per catch (conversely BC has just 1 - Anthony Brown! based on the pass from Jeff Smith last week). Dez Fitzpatrick (10 catches for 134 yards last week vs NC State) and Seth Dawkins, both have more than 20 catches on the season and TE Charles Standberry is a weapon that most schools don’t possess.

Unlike BC, the Louisville passing game is built for 3rd down conversions, at 48% on the season.

When Boston College Runs:

Advantage: Louisville
Boston College run offense: 158.2 ypg, 71st in the nation, Louisville run defense: 112.7 ypg, 23rd in the nation

Outside of Clemson, no one has had very good success running the ball against the Cardinals. The Tigers were the only team to average more than four yards per carry against Louisville, although NC State got close, running for 153 yards, just under four yards a pop and three TDs.

Outside of Travis Etienne’s 81 yd scamper which sealed the Clemson game, on the other 206 carries, the Cardinals have allowed 2.89 yards a rush and given up just 16 runs of 10 or more yards all season.

Louisville specializes in tackles for loss, where they rank 14th in the nation at just over 7 per game. This is an area BC has struggled in, giving up over 6 a game to rank T100. SO LB Jonathan Greenard is the key to that, tied for 8th in the nation with 10 TFL himself.

The defensive line is good but not dominant, they do however take up blocks and get great support from both the linebackers and defensive backs. Much like BC, the top ten tacklers are all non linemen, so UofL is committing more than seven to stop the run.

In the last two games vs Louisville, BC has run for 57 yards (2016) and -14 in a 17-14 loss in 2015 and suffered 15 negative yardage carries.

The Eagles rushed for a season high per carry average of 4.64 yards against Virginia Tech a week ago. This will mark the fifth consecutive game that the same five OLinemen have started together. That should bring confidence a much maligned group who had some success against a very sturdy run D in the Hokies.

Louisville has a sparkling 65-7 record under Bobby Petrino when out rushing their opponent. This is most likely another issue where to have success running, BC will have to do something through the air as the Cards are going to commit as many as it takes to shut down the run.

When Boston College Passes:

Advantage: Louisville
Boston College pass offense: 164.3 ypg, 112th in the nation, Louisville pass defense: 238.7 ypg, 88th in the nation

There is where you would hope BC could make hay. Against Power 5 opponents, the Cardinals have really struggled, allowing 340.0 yards and over 65% completions and 8.5 yards per attempt.

However, Anthony Brown has completed only 44.3% vs Power 5 competition with just 2 TDs and 5 INTs and ranks dead last in the FBS for QBs who have attempted more than 15 passes per game at 4.73 yards per attempt.

A point of emphasis last week, as it should be this week, was play action on first down. With BC being such a run heavy first down team, and Louisville giving up over 65% on 1st and 2nd downs, it is set up for the Eagles to break tendencies and give it a shot.

That said, BC ran the ball on 15-27 first down opps last week including 7 of their first 9. It wasn’t until BC got down and had no success running the ball that they went to throwing it on the opening down passing it on the 8 of the last 9 tries. So BC ran it 14 of the first 19 chances (74%). In the last 7 of those runs, BC got 1, 1, 0, 1, -1, -1 before Jeff Smith got 27.

Clearly BC has to take advantage of the opportunities they get though and that means eliminating dropped passes as well as having Brown throw more on rhythm and less on second and third option reads.

I believe Brown will be better than he’s been, but he’s going to have to be super human to keep up with Jackson.

Special Teams:

Advantage: Boston College
Boston College: punting: 40.6 - 81st, punt return: 17.1 - 7th, kickoff returns: 21.2 - 56th, punt coverage: 6.1 - 56th, kickoff coverage: 18.7 - 40th, FG: 63.6% - 85th
Louisville: punting: 41.9 - 64th, punt return: 6.3 - 71st, kickoff returns: 21.3 - 55th, punt coverage: 2.6 - 20th, kickoff coverage: 20.5 - 76th, FG: 100% - T1st

It is unlikely that the game comes down to special teams play, but if it does overall, BC should have a small advantage.

Whether it be flipping field position with Mike Knoll punts or Michael Walker returns, the Eagles do need to get chunk plays somewhere as offensively, they continue to slide in terms of big plays created.

One concern would be Colton Lichtenberg who is just 1 for his last 5 kicking field goals, while Louisville’s Blanton Creque is a perfect 9-9 on the season.

Boston College Keys To Victory:

1. Keep Lamar Jackson in the pocket - This goes without saying, but it comes with a warning that Jackson has been better in the pocket this season. Still, keeping him in the pocket is still tough to accomplish. Zach Allen is a more of a power rusher and Harold Landry is pure speed. With Jackson, it needs to be a more controlled rush, forcing him to step up and not out.

2. Missed tackles - were a critical issue in the loss last week against Virginia Tech and with the person they most likely need to tackle in the open field being Jackson, all the more critical this week.

3. Do what the other Power five teams have done - All other Power Five teams, except Purdue have been able to generate offense above their season averages. (NC State +49, Clemson +142, North Carolina +26). BC needs to do the same and to finally put up more than 21 points..why 21? The Eagles haven’t scored more than that in an ACC game since Syracuse, November 2014. One has to figure the Eagles need minimally 30 to be in the game.

Louisville Keys To Victory:

1. Season over? - It happened a year ago, although later in the season, but the Cardinals ended on a major slide, losing their final three after starting 9-1. The breakdowns were both defensively and on an offensive line that struggled to protect Lamar Jackson. With the division seemingly out of reach already this year, is this a game UofL has real focus on?

2. Stifle the BC run - This has been a strength of the Cardinals all year long and against Boston College in the previous few games between the teams. Although other teams have had success through the air vs Louisville, BC isn’t built for that, so it doing what they do best and committing to stopping the run is important.

3. Establish offensive balance - This is an area that has bothered Card fans, as it appears Petrino has abandoned the run. Running the ball successfully at least a bit, keeps the Eagle pass rush, which may be BC’s best chance to potentially force a turnover and gain field position while controlling the clock, at bay.

Prediction:

There are things that Louisville doesn’t do well. They are one of the most penalized teams in the country and have given up yards to Power Five competition, but the things they do well are kryptonite to Boston College namely: a ultra mobile running QB and stopping the run defensively.

The massive threat of Jackson in the run game will at least make the Eagles aware of staying in rush lanes while most likely spying him with a linebacker, which will take support away from the secondary.

It is also likely this forces the secondary to play zone, as not to lose sight of Jackson as playing man results in DBs turning their back. This and leaving that LB home will open up more areas particularly those 15-20 yard middle of the field throws that we saw last week vs Virginia Tech.

As odd as it sounds, I do believe that Anthony Brown may have some success throwing. Most teams have done pretty well vs the Cardinals. But while it will get the Eagles some points, BC is not built to get into a high scoring game particularly against an explosive team such as Louisville.

That said, I am laying the points, but bucking several trends. Louisville is just 3-12-1 in their last 16 games against the number, while BC, believe it or not, is 13-9 on the road ATS since Steve Addazio’s arrival.

Louisville 38 Boston College 16

FYI: Coach’s Corner may or may not be posted next week in conjunction with the Virginia game. I will be in Charlottesville for the game, but may not have the time to do more than post a score prediction. Stay tuned and thanks for your support.