Driving the length of the field in small chunks is pretty difficult even for today’s futuristic college football offenses. Defenses bank on the inability to string together 8, 10, 12 play drives over 80 yards for touchdowns, which simply doesn’t happen that often, particularly when playing quality opposition.
That makes explosion plays all the more important. Taking yards (preferably for touchdowns) in big chunks (30 plus yards), takes that burden off the offense and yields immediate and generally devastating results.
So far, the 2017 Boston College football season has been devoid of these big plays offensively and chock full of them defensively. This continues a trend we started to see from the D in 2016 and is (believe it or not), pretty new for the offense.
First on the defensive side:
We all remember the 2015 team under Don Brown, who led the nation in total defense. Well guess what other stat they led in, Opponents Long Scrimmage Plays. In that season, the Eagles gave up just 119 plays of 10 yards or more. They were also tied for 14th in the nation in plays over 30 yards, what I would call big plays, allowing just 19 all year.
In 2016, that 30+ yard number grew from 19 to 32 and BC’s national rank dropped all the way down to 89. Now in 2017, the Eagles have already given up 9 such plays, which puts them at a tie for #109 in the country.
Like a baseball team, it all starts up the middle, where the interior of the defensive front and the linebacking corps have struggled. But BC has been beaten badly as well on the perimeter with designed QB runs. Including Brandon Wimbush’s record setting performance on Saturday with 207 yards himself.
To illustrate how damaging these are, seven of the nine plays of 30 plus yards given up this year, have either directly resulted in or been part of a TD drive. Including 6 of the 7 touchdowns scored in the Notre Dame game on Saturday. Those six plays, all runs, accounted for 308 of ND’s 515 yards on the ground, tied for the 2nd most given up all time by BC (Army - 516 in that tragic Frank Spaziani - 2012 game).
Conversely, the offense has struggled to generate any big plays at all. The Eagles are a more than respectable 46th in the nation in plays over 10 yards (45 in total), but in plays over 30 yards, BC is tied for last in the nation, generating just one all year and along with Florida State (who has played just one game, that against Alabama) and Indiana (through 2 games), are the only teams in the nation without a single play of 40 yards or more.
This just puts more burden on the offense to drive the field and execute without error, so those costly procedure penalties or negative yardage plays are simply harder to overcome.
Contrast this with 2016, where we know that the offense was far from great, but the big play was a big part of how BC scored, particularly early in the season.
BC scored 40 points in their first three games, with 18 of those points (TDs are 6 remember) coming on three one play drives. The Jon Hilliman 73 yd TD run against Georgia Tech, and two Patrick Towles to Jeff Smith passes of 46 and 36 yards vs UMass.
In total last season, the Eagles scored 25% of their points off plays of 30 or more yards that took 2 plays or less.
Reasons around the offense not producing the big play I think are pretty clear too. The offensive line hasn’t consistently generated any sort of big openings and the backs aren’t breakaway threats. Anthony Brown may be mobile, but he’s not a runner by design and as a thrower has really struggled with accuracy on anything deep.
The offense can’t get them, the defense can’t stop them and to boot, although the return game has been good it hasn’t yet popped a big play and the defense hasn’t created any turnovers for points.
It is just a tough way to make a living in college football.