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Coach’s Corner: Evaluating BC - Florida State

A possible program defining moment for Eagles vs Noles

Boston College v Virginia
Steve Addazio looking for a very important W
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

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

Florida State (2-4 overall, 2-3 ACC) at Boston College (4-4 overall, 2-3 ACC)

When: 8:00 PM EDT, TV: ESPN, WatchESPN app

Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA (44,500)

Line: Danny Sheridan opening - Florida State by 3.5, The Book - Florida State by 8.8

Series history: Florida State leads 11-4, in Chestnut Hill - Florida State leads 6-2

Last game vs BC: at Florida State 45 Boston College 7 - 2016

Last game at BC: Florida State 14 at Boston College 0 - 2015

Last BC win: at Boston College 28 Florida State 21 - 2009

Series Win Streak: Florida State - 7

My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 5-3

My 2017 record straight up: 7-1

Last week: Boston College 41 at Virginia 10, Louisville 31 at Florida State 28

When Florida State Runs:

Advantage: Boston College
Florida State run offense: 146.5 ypg, 86th in the nation, Boston College run defense: 224.0 ypg, 115th in the nation

Much like it’s been all season long, the teams who have hurt the Eagles have featured running quarterbacks. Ryan Graham at Northern Illinois, John Wolford at Wake Forest, Brandon Wimbush at Notre Dame, Kelly Bryant at Clemson and Lamar Jackson at Louisville have all had big days running the ball by design against the Eagles. All five had season high performances against BC.

Of QBs considered running threats, only Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson, who in all fairness had and has toned down that side of his game since the opener vs West Virginia has not hurt BC.

Conversely, BC has thrived against teams in Central Michigan and Virginia who don’t feature that skill. Although FSU’s James Blackman is athletic enough to be that type of runner, that isn’t the design of the Seminole offense.

Blackmon has run 31 times, third on the team, mostly taking sacks and scrambles, for a -29 yards.

To boot, FSU’s second leading rusher, Jacques Patrick is out and scheduled for knee surgery, leaving FR Cam Akers, who has done reasonably well, but by no means been dominant.

Look for his carries to go up this week without Patrick, but with FSU traditional in their approach in terms of a more pro style attack, I am expecting BC to once again do a better than average job in controlling the running game.

The one potentially troublesome area is tackling where the Eagles were very sloppy against Virginia last week, particularly in the secondary where they must do a better job wrapping up one on one, not just against running backs, but against the Nole receiving corp.

When Florida State Passes:

Advantage: Boston College
Florida State pass offense: 209.5 ypg, 77th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: 197.0 ypg, 38th in the nation

FR QB James Blackman continues to improve for Florida State. His numbers aren’t eyepopping, but represent a fairly steady path upward since taking over for Deondre Francois in the Alabama game.

Blackman has thrown for just over 1000 yards and nearly 62% completions, while averaging 7.7 yards per attempt to place 43rd in the country.

He does however have a very mediocre 7 TD to 6 INT ratio and as a team Florida State ranks T104 in sacks allowed, having given up 20 on the season, showing the real weakness of this team in pass protection.

Many, including myself, thought this BC team may be one of the best pass rushing fronts in the country, particularly from the end position, between Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray and of course Harold Landry, but while BC has been good, they haven’t been great.

Given time to throw, Blackman has targets, most noticeably JR WR Auden Tate and JR WR Nyqwan “Noonie” Murray. Tate has become the preferred target for Blackman in the red zone, with 5 of the 8 TDs FSU has gotten through the air this season. That said, the Noles are down to just three scholarship receivers and with a shaky line, one likes the Eagles chances here.

When Boston College Runs:

Advantage: Florida State
Boston College run offense: 193.75 ypg, 38th in the nation, Florida State run defense: 144.3 ypg, 49th in the nation

There is little doubt that the BC running game has come alive in recent weeks. It actually started against Virginia Tech where although the Eagles couldn’t throw the ball, they ran it pretty well, in fact better than they have in years against the Hokies. Then they backed it up with the AJ Dillon performance against Louisville and another good game last week, albeit somewhat skewed with the one big Thadd Smith run.

The jet sweep though has been a solid staple of this offense all year though and in the past few weeks, the big play has gone along with it. The maturation of an offensive line, now together for an 8th week is noticeable.

This though, is different than what BC has seen in recent weeks and while not vintage FSU, is certainly a strength. Their numbers were skewed by the performance of Lamar Jackson and while Anthony Brown has shown very good running skills, it is still not something the Eagles feature.

The Seminoles have held NC State, Wake Forest and Miami all to under three yards a carry. BC will push the issue in ways those three didn’t with their commitment to the run, but it seems without a doubt, this matchup is the key to the game.

If BC can run the ball vs a very talented Nole team, led by AA candidate in DB Derwin James who often plays near the line of scrimmage, along with LB Matthew Thomas and two solid interior linemen in Josh Sweat and Derrick Nnadi, the Eagles can then set up the pass and will win the game. Without it, the task is markedly harder.

When Boston College Passes:

Advantage: Florida State
Boston College pass offense: 181.5 ypg, 103rd in the nation, Florida State pass defense: 208.3 ypg, 50th in the nation

First off continued credit to the BC offensive line. An overlooked piece of the 2017 story has been how well Anthony Brown has been protected. BC has only allowed 7 sacks all season and although Brown has faced pressure and that has caused some turnovers where perhaps sacks were preferred, those instances have become less and less frequent.

This will be a tough one for BC though. One on one, in space, the advantage leans to the Florida State secondary vs Eagle receivers...that assumes though the Noles are engaged the way they were against Miami and not the way they were against Wake Forest.

BC’s recent success throwing has been predicated on the offense moving the ball via the run and then throwing shorter passes mostly to TEs, with many of them within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. As good as Anthony Brown was last week 16 of his 24 attempts were 7 yards or less downfield as well as two of his three TDs and his 76 yard big play to Kobay White.

Without the run game working, those windows will further shrink and it is unlikely that BC has similar success this week.

Special Teams:

Advantage: EVEN
Boston College: punting: 40.3 - 90th, punt return: 15.5 - 13th, kickoff returns: 21.7 - 55th, punt coverage: 6.1 - 52nd, kickoff coverage: 20.0 - 58th, Kickoffs: 70.0% touchbacks - 14th, FG: 66.7% - T84th
Florida State: punting: 40.7 - 85th, punt return: 5.5 - 84th, kickoff returns: 27.2 - 7th, punt coverage: 13.1 - 113th, kickoff coverage: 17.0 - 11th, Kickoffs: 69% - 15th, FG: 78.6% - 44th

The punt and field goal edge goes to Florida State while the return game tips heavily to BC considering the troubles FSU is having covering punts.

Calling this even and actually leaning Florida State because I do believe it will be a game where FGs are likely to play a big part.

Boston College Keys To Victory:

1. The offensive line - Just a major difference between what the Eagles have faced the past two weeks and what they get Friday night. The Noles have the ability to man up and take on the BC front. In the UVA and Louisville game, the pass opened up because of the run. If BC struggles to run the ball, as most teams outside of Alabama and then Louisville behind Lamar Jackson did, it is unlikely that without that threat, the passing game will thrive.

2. The total game of Anthony Brown - Brown was called out by ESPN last week as the top QB in the country based on his performance at UVA. He’s going to need every bit of it Friday night, including his feet. Windows to throw will be much tighter, ball placement will be a key. The Eagles have had just one turnover in their last four games. A lot of that has been AB not throwing picks. It has to continue.

3. Continuing to hit the big play - After being so horrid through the first six games of the season at generating the big play, BC has lived on them the past two weeks. Florida State though gives up just a bit above one 30+ yard play per game.

4. Tackling - Sloppiness tackling was evident last week in Virginia and has reared it’s ugly head more than a few times this season, arguably costing BC a chance against Virginia Tech. With the number of athletes FSU will put on the field and in space, this has to be addressed.

Florida State Keys To Victory:

1. Did you quit? - There’s a lot of pressure on Jimbo Fisher and a lot of questions about his team. 2-4 at any point in the season is not acceptable for Florida State and while quit is without a doubt too strong a word for the moment (the Noles have played hard), a team with national title aspirations seeing it circle the bowl, could check out.

2. Protect the quarterback - Deondre Francois deserved the medal of honor last year for toughness in the pocket and just one game into this year he was done because of it. The Noles have been absolutely horrific protecting the QB for the past several years now, allowing over 3 sacks per game and countless hits on the passer too. BC needs to get home to James Blackmon to both force some errant throws and gain field position.

3. Plus turnovers - Florida State has been pretty bad in terms of turnover margin as well. The Noles are 123rd in the country at -1.17 per game. The teams below them (Kansas, Coastal Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Missouri, Rice and San Jose St) are a combined 11-40. In game where scoring may be at a premium and you have an athletic advantage, these will be key.

4. Red Zone Mistakes and Turnovers - Florida State has struggled with penalties and conversions, particularly in the red zone, sabotaging drives. FSU hasn’t been particularly or certainly not Nole worthy offensively period, but when the flow is disrupted, it makes it all the worse.

Prediction:

Friday becomes a science experiment of sorts, a classic case of talent vs chemistry. It took BC a while, but they have definitely established an offensive chemistry that is working based on a run first mentality that has opened up a complementary and at times explosive passing game.

The Eagles have been wishy washy on defense, but don’t figure to allow the 500-600 yards they have against the top end competition this year as the Seminoles (like the Eagles until several weeks ago) haven’t shown that capability.

If FSU shows up engaged to play, they should have sufficient talent to outlast BC in what I see as a low scoring, very competitive game.

Florida State 21 Boston College 16