During the 2014 football season, no debate raged louder and more frequently than the one centering on the Boston College offense. The question of whether the Eagles ran the ball too frequently inspired strong feelings on all sides of the coin, and it only intensified as the year progressed. By the end of the season, readers and commentators still asked if the Eagles were too cavalier with the way they ran the ball, too committed to the ground game.
Indeed, BC ran the ball a ton. Their 69% running rate ranked seventh in the nation behind Army, Navy, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, New Mexico, and Air Force. Their 21 yards per drive on the ground ranked 11th best in the nation, and they consistently pounded the rock through an assortment of formations. They lined up with eight across the line, multiple tight ends, and drove the running game up the middle. They pulled back option plays, ran read zones, fly sweeps.
As the 2015 offseason begins, this is a debate not going away. Tyler Murphy is gone. So is Josh Bordner. The offensive line graduated pretty much everybody. It's not so much that BC loses pieces as it is a total rebuild. With spring practice quickly approaching the horizon, it's time to think about what the Eagles and their coaching staff can do differently on the offensive side.
Before we think about what to expect, let's start with some assumptions. Boston College will remain a run-first team. Steve Addazio is committed to the running game, and the Eagles return at least four experienced backs in Jon Hilliman, Myles Willis, Tyler Rouse, and Marcus Outlow. Sherm Alston's primary function was on jet/fly sweep plays, so we can assume BC will line up a plethora of running plays to ease the burden on what will unquestionably be an inexperienced receiving corps.
Another assumption is that Darius Wade is the quarterback. Until we hear otherwise, this is how 2015 is shaping up. As of January 8, 2015, there is no other quarterback BC has that's taken any snaps in a Division I college game. So shelve your discussion about Braxton Miller, Jeff Driskel, or any other signal caller not enrolled at Boston College. Until Steve Addazio says otherwise, Wade's the man.
Wade is a dual-threat style quarterback, which essentially means he possesses many of the same raw qualities as Murphy. A little small at 6'1", he has a good feel for the game and a very long competitive streak. Scouting reports list his ability to make throws on the run with the potential to throw downfield. He lacks really deep arm strength, but he makes up for it with a compact delivery and good dump off skills. He throws an extremely tight spiral, but he lacks elite power.
I hesitate to compare Wade to Murphy, especially since the offense is so interchangeable given the way Ryan Day completely revamped it from 2013 to 2014. But I'll do it for the sake of the argument: Murphy was slightly bigger and a better runner. He had lightning quick reads on defenses, and he was a decisive runner that knew exactly where to go with the ball. He had tremendous acceleration with elusive agility. Scouts believed he could throw on the run, but they also believed he would only be as good as the receivers he was throwing too. He needed to remain in a spread offense and zone-read type scheme in order to really produce. He had the physical build and footwork to project to positions other than QB; his athleticism and zone read capability kept him as a signal caller, even though his accuracy kept him as a tweener.
Wade is a little slower but has some of the same attributes. He gives up a good amount in the running game to Murphy, but he possesses a much higher ceiling in throwing the ball. Murphy was older, more physically mature, so there was less of a chance to mold him. That said, we can't expect Wade to be the perfect dual-threat QB, at least not without getting some meaningful snaps under his belt, something he lacked last season.
Everything I'm saying here points to the Eagles passing more in '15. I'm saying there's a chance that could happen, but I would rather see better execution in the play selection that's there. Wade is a better passing QB, but remember that we're assuming BC is going to run first. That means we should expect the same 10-15 passing attempts.
The reason BC's passing offense doesn't change too much is because the receiving corps doesn't receive too much by way of reinforcements. Bobby Swigert could return from his injuries, but he's missed substantial time and has glass knees (unfortunately). Harrison Jackson is coming back from an ACL injury. Drew Barksdale suffered a season ending injury and saw limited snaps. Even with Nolan Borgerson coming to The Heights, the Eagles lack a true, healthy possession receiver.
With so many questions around the passing game, it wouldn't be smart for us to expect the Eagles to really start throwing the ball all over the field. That's especially true considering the amount of talent they have returning in the running game. That said, Wade's passing acumen should allow us to start seeing the transition to a complete offense, one that allows for a wider array of play selection. BC should be able to start running to set up the pass, and on ability alone, they should have a few more plays at their disposal. If nothing else, those simple passing routes where Murphy missed or underthrew open receivers should now have better execution and higher efficiency.
With the transition of the offense to a young, inexperienced offensive line and still lacking depth at the receiver position, we would be smart to assume the offense will look much like it has the last two seasons. But we'll see the seeds planted for 2016, and we should be able to see a slightly diversified role the passing game will play during each game.