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Coach’s Corner: Evaluating BC - Wake Forest

Eagles look to get critical win in ACC opener

Boston College v Northern Illinois
Eagles look for a happy helmet raise post Wake
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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

Wake Forest (1-0 overall, 0-0 ACC) at Boston College (1-0 overall, 0-0 ACC)

When: 1:00 PM EDT
Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA (44,500)
Line: Westgate Vegas - Even, The Book - Wake Forest by 1.2
Series history: Boston College leads 13-9-2, in Chestnut Hill, Boston College leads 9-6-1
Last game vs BC: Boston College 17 at Wake Forest 14 - 2016
Last game at BC: Wake Forest 3 at Boston College 0 - 2015
Last BC win: Boston College 17 at Wake Forest 14 - 2016
Win Streak: Boston College 1
My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 1-0
My 2017 record straight up: 1-0
Last week: Wake Forest 51 Presbyterian 6, Boston College 23 Northern Illinois 20

When Wake Forest Runs:

Advantage: Boston College
Wake Forest run offense: (2016) 145.8 ypg, 101st in the nation, (2017) 248.0 ypg, 30th in the nation, Boston College run defense: (2016) 108.5 ypg, 8th in the nation, (2017) 164.0 ypg, 86th in the nation

BC took a step backwards against Northern Illinois, allowing the Huskies 164 yards on the ground. Not horrible numbers by any stretch, but a far cry from what has become an expected norm. BC created just two tackles for loss and no sacks from what was supposed to be a vaunted pass rush.

All that said, outside of one run by QB Ryan Graham for 60 yards, BC kept the NIU rush in check. In the Wake game a year ago, the same thing happened with John Wolford being the Deacs leading rusher all based on one 35 yard carry.

The Wake offensive line is a weak spot and provided the Eagles can limit the big play, particularly in identifying the QB on designed runs, should keep a Deac run game in check who relies on carries by committee and lacks the one big star.

When Wake Forest Passes:

Advantage: Boston College
Wake Forest pass offense: (2016) 165.7 ypg, 113th in the nation, (2017) 239.0 ypg, 57th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: (2016) 205.6 ypg, 34th in the nation, (2017) 203.0 ypg, 59th in the nation

The Deacons have a luxury at QB with experience in both Sr John Wolford (brother of former BC fullback Bobby Wolford) and Jr Kendall Hinton at the quarterback position. Many thought Hinton would start the season, but it was Wolford (11-15 for 107 and 3 TDs vs PC) who got the nod in the opener vs Presbyterian, although both played significant snaps in what has started out as a two QB system. Expect both to see time vs the Eagles. Wolford is tough as nails and Hinton (7-8 for 124 and 2 TB vs PC) provides an elusive presence in the pocket and is considered the bigger overall play maker.

The receivers are expected to be the best lot that Coach Dave Clawson has had during his time in Winston-Salem, although there are questions as to whether this group can create big play opportunities against solid coverage. A year ago, the receptions were pretty evenly split among the top five receivers with no one getting more than Jr WR Tabari Hines 38 receptions. They add RS-Fr WR Greg Dortch who led the team with 4 catches for 55 yards and 2 TDs in the win last Thursday night.

The question for Wake though is on the offensive line where for successive campaigns they have struggled to move the ball either via the run or the pass and really struggled in pass protection. In the game a year ago, Harold Landry went off, sacking Wolford three times.

Wake should be somewhat improved in the passing game, the question appears to be whether the BC pass rush is what we believed it could be or what we saw at NIU last week, where it was essentially non-existent.

When Boston College Runs:

Advantage: Wake Forest
Boston College run offense: (2016) 149.1 ypg, 96th in the nation, (2017) 148.0 ypg, 73rd in the nation, Wake Forest run defense: (2016) 142.4 ypg, 33rd in the nation, (2017) 207.0 ypg, 96th in the nation

This would not have been an area heading into the season where I would have favored Wake Forest, but much has changed in just the past week.

A year ago, BC struggled to run in Winston-Salem, managing 93 yards for a 2.4 yard average at a point in time where the Eagles were still very much a run heavy team.

Fast forward to Northern Illinois and with the change to the uptempo approach, appears to have shifted that philosophy toward more balance even leaning toward the pass. BC either didn’t want to, or couldn’t control the line of scrimmage with the run against what was seen as a Huskie weakness. The offensive line was a complete mess and now loses its most valuable player in center Jon Baker and appears will go with freshman Alec Lindstrom in his place.

The success in the run game came on the edges with the jet sweep, which hadn’t been very productive in past seasons, but certainly was in DeKalb, with the receivers getting 10 carries for 84 of BC’s 148 yards.

The Wake defensive line is considered the best they have had in the past several years anchored by DE Duke Ejiofor and NT Zeek Rodney. Rodney missed last season for personal reasons but was extremely disruptive against Presbyterian and now will be matched against Baker’s replacement. The Deacs also have far better speed then what the Eagles saw on opening night which should limit the perimeter runs from the wide outs.

When Boston College Passes:

Advantage: Wake Forest
Boston College pass offense: (2016) 143.8 ypg, 120th in the nation (2017) 191.0 ypg, 86th in the nation , Wake Forest pass defense: (2016) 228.2 ypg, 66th in the nation, (2017) 41.0 ypg, 6th in the nation

The Eagles showed no fear in not only starting RS Fr QB Anthony Brown, but opening up the playbook for him right from the start. Brown threw 42 passes and although he did have the 1 INT, missed in identifying some wide open receivers (including one that would have resulted in a touchdown and another that would have extended a drive inside the red zone), looked far more comfortable than I could have hoped in an opening game on the road.

He spread the wealth to 8 different receivers (none of which were named Tommy Sweeney) and seems to have developed an early rapport with both Kobay White and Michael Walker

The drop by Walker early in the game, would have made his numbers look even better.

That said, growth at any position, especially QB is rarely linear. There are ups and downs and with the athletic upgrade to Wake Forest, the throwing windows will shrink and the clock to execute, will move more quickly.

Wake brings back a solid secondary, led by 2nd team all ACC performer Jesse Bates at strong safety.

Duke Ejiofor is the Deacs pass rushing specialist and the push that should be gained by Zeek Rodney in the middle shouldn’t be overlooked.

Linebacker is an issue for Wake Forest and that could and hopefully will bring Tommy Sweeney back into play.

Boston College Keys To Victory:

1. Stars Gotta Shine - The Eagles walked out of DeKalb with a win, but with none of the players identified in the pre-season as your stars, making game changing plays. It may have worked against the Huskies and it might work against Central Michigan and Connecticut, but more have to contribute in ACC games. The Eagles need Harold Landry, Zach Allen, Connor Strachan, the offensive line in general, Tommy Sweeney and either Jon Hilliman, AJ Dillon or both, to put a far bigger stamp on the game then they did last Friday.

2. Competitors Meet Competition - Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Northern Illinois game was the apparent lack of competitive nature of the Eagles when compared to the Huskies. I realize that this was a massive game for NIU, but that shouldn’t matter. BC should either be able to be physically dominant based on raw talent vs most MAC level teams, or they don’t have the talent we’ve been led to believe they have. The Eagles were outworked in the trenches last week and there is no room for that against a Wake team that plays extremely hard every week.

3. Improvement at the line of scrimmage - I was a bit surprised in the approach taken by Scot Loeffler in allowing Anthony Brown to throw the ball so much last week. Perhaps not establishing the run took the juice out of the offensive line when you might have figured the number of plays run by the Eagles might have taken the steam out of Northern Illinois. The Eagles were incredibly disjointed upfront and now missing a leader in the middle in Jon Baker, make the task of regrouping that much harder.

Similar things can be said defensively where both by scheme and execution, BC was unable to exert its will consistently. I did expect a pass rush that was able to get home at least a few times and although perhaps not a stout against the run as 2016, would limit opportunities, neither of those things materialized.

4. Game management/coaching em up - Lots of penalties and missed assignment in game one, but it was game one. One could argue that the Eagles should have pounded the rock more than they did (isn’t that an odd thing to say!!), but noticeably absent were real game management faux pas that have haunted Steve Addazio through the years. Wake 2015 was the site of the worst of the worst with the goal line fiasco at the end of the game. Has the tide shifted here? How much of the mess was cleaned up in the last eight days and can another game go without a major coaching controversy?

Wake Forest Keys To Victory:

1. Special teams - While I believe the Eagles will have a minimal advantage in the kick return game, despite pretty positive performances from the BC kickers vs NIU, Wake has an advantage overall. PK Mike Weaver was 1st team all ACC in 2016 and P Dom Maggio was 3rd team all ACC averaging 42.0 yds per punt.

2. Linebacker play - The Deacons are pretty solid across the defense, but questions remain at linebacker. Wake lost 2nd team all ACC Marquel Lee to graduation. Lee had a team high 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss vs the Eagles a year ago. A week ago, starting NIU linebackers accounted for a whopping 43 tackles vs BC. The play of the linebacking corp vs both run and pass is critical.

3. Protect the QB - Experience and depth at the position won’t matter if they are on their back. Wake did a fair job moving the ball at times vs the Eagles a year ago, but in critical situations were unable to protect Wolford from Harold Landry.

Prediction:

Both teams take a step up in competition this week. Wake dominated a very weak Presbyterian College squad in their opener, while BC dealt with a MAC attack in sliding past Northern Illinois.

At this point in the year, it is far too early to point out firm trends, one almost has to go on history and instinct as to what to expect.

History would indicate a close low scoring, defensive battle. No team has scored 30 points in the series in the last nine games going back to a 38-28 Matt Ryan inspired Eagle win in 2007 and both teams are expected to be among the lower scoring outfits in the country again this year.

Yes, every match-up in this game, should overall at least, go toward to the defense on both sides of the ball.

Even a week ago, this was a game I had in the win column for BC. Of the five wins I predicted preseason though, this one was in the most doubt. The injury to Baker combined with the ineffectiveness of the O-Line against inferior competition, flipped for me what I viewed as a slight Eagle advantage overall.

Experience at the QB position for Wake, combined with the issues and lack of cohesion on the offensive line for the Eagles, is just enough for the Deacons to eek out a win in a series where home field has offered very little advantage.

Wake Forest 24 Boston College 21