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Boston College Football: Inside the Numbers

Trying to make sense of a tumultuous season

North Carolina State v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If you hadn’t heard, AJ Dillon is very good

Entering this year, if you told me that Dillon would match the output of his ACC Rookie of the Year campaign, I would have been delighted. After a sophomore season which was productive, but hampered by injury, AJ is on pace for his best season to date. His yards per carry has gone from 5.3 to 4.9 to 5.5 this season, and his TD totals from 14 to 11 to 14.

Dillon is currently second in the nation in rushing yards, behind Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State (though Hubbard has a 318 yard lead). It’s worth noting that at 236 and 232 carries respectively, Hubbard and Dillon are the only two players over the 200 mark. With a more than formidable backup in David Bailey, I’d love to see BC manage Dillon’s usage rate a bit more. 35 carries in a blowout win at Syracuse seemed excessive.

From a wider lens: Dillon has established himself as the best running back in Boston College history. His career totals of 39 touchdowns and 3,983 yards are both new program records, and he’s only played in 32 games. That’s 124.47 yards and 1.22 touchdowns per game. Who knows if he’ll stick around for his senior year, but if he maintained that rate over 15 more games, Dillon would have the 7th most rushing yards in NCAA history.

With the help of the aforementioned David Bailey, who is actually edging Dillon at 6.5 YPC, and an excellent offensive line, the Eagles rushing attack is ranked 5th in the nation, and keeping this team in the hunt for a bowl game.

Now how about some love for that offensive line?

Sure, the rushing numbers might tip you off that this line is pretty good, but did you realize they are arguably the best pass protection unit in the country? Granted BC is 118th in attempts, but they’ve allowed a sack on just 1.5% of pass attempts, good for the best rate in the country.

Here’s a look at the advanced metrics courtesy of football outsiders:

  • Opportunity Rate: 18th (54%) Percentage of carries that gain at least four yards
  • Power Success Rate: 10th (86.5%) Percentage of successful runs on 3rd & 4th down with less than 2 to go
  • Stuff Rate: 14th (14.1%) Percentage of carries by RBs stopped for a loss or no gain
  • Sack Rate: 1st (1.5%)
  • Std. Downs Sack Rate: 5th (1.0%)
  • Passing Downs Sack Rate: 1st (1.9%)

“It’ll come together, and it’ll be beautiful”

If I understood those fateful words correctly, it would be the offense, defense, and special teams that would progress in unison, fusing into one dude squad to be reckoned with. But as you can see from this chart, that hasn’t happened. This is the best BC offense in recent memory--they’re putting up more yards and points per game than Matt Ryan’s 11 win team of 2007. In fact, their 34.1 ppg is the highest rate since Flutie’s 1984 team that led the country with 37.4. The symmetry of one of the best offensive units being pulled into perfect balance by one of the worst defenses in school history is astonishing. Though Addazio’s seven win ceiling has been well documented and will likely stay intact, this season feels different. This season, the Eagles are explosively mediocre. Maybe it’s recency bias, but I can’t ever remember a team both hitting on and conceding so many big plays.

The road ahead

While there are certainly winnable games left, BC’s remaining strength of schedule is the 14th toughest in the nation. Even with Florida State firing Willie Taggart, there’s no easy sixth win out there. The Eagles come in at 61st in this week’s ESPN Power Index, behind FSU (46), Notre Dame (14), and Pitt (54). So far this season, BC is 0-3 against the teams currently ranked ahead of them: Clemson (3), Wake (41), Louisville (57). They’ve shown the ability to beat up on bad teams, going 4-1 against those ranked behind them, but they may have run out of bad teams.

This weekend’s home finale against FSU is probably their best chance at a sixth win, but that’s no lock. The Seminoles are 37th in passing offense, while BC is the 125th best passing defense (aka 6th worst). With both defenses outside of the top 100 in total defense on the season, this could be a wild one, befitting a wild season.