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Improving the Boston College Eagles: Defensive Edition

Where were the holes on the Don Brown Defense in 2014?

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of how we've tried to slice the offseason pie, analysis of Boston College's football team is starting and ending with the points on the board. We've looked at the offense's inability to regularly and efficiently complete forward passes. We've analyzed special teams deficiencies. We've even looked at how we can improve the running game this year in the wake of the graduating offensive line.

At times, it seems like the defense gets away with a free pass. Indeed, Don Brown's unit was much better rounded than the offense, with a good ability to get to the quarterback while stoutly stopping the run. Against USC, the defense won the game in late with its ability to get sacks and pressure on Cody Kessler. Against Florida State, it hounded Jameis Winston and got stops when needed.

BC picked up stops on 52% of all drives against FBS opponents (Maine is excluded as an FCS team). They forced 70 punts, created 19 turnovers. Nearly half of that total were drives where the opposing defense held the ball for less than three minutes. They allowed only three first half drives sustained to over five minutes, meaning they were able to keep games close and give the offense plenty of chances.

But the defense wasn't without its faults. More often than not, Don Brown went for broke; BC might've stopped 40 drives in the first half less than three minutes, but they gave up 16 scoring drives in the same time frame. If teams held the ball longer than three minutes, BC's efficiency plummeted.

The Eagles picked up stops on 66% of all first half drives lasting less than three minutes. If a team held the ball longer than three minutes, though, that number dropped to 47%. On 17 drives greater than three minutes, they allowed nine scores, five of which were touchdowns. So the strategy became getting off the field fast or hold on for dear life.

BC more often than not came out of the locker room with renewed life. Out of 34 third quarter drives, BC allowed only 10 scores, an efficiency rate of 29%. They were able to get off the field on 84% of "short" drives, and they only actually allowed nine drives lasting longer than three minutes. Still, if the drive went longer than three minutes, the Eagles gave up points, allowing at least a field goal exactly two-thirds of the time.

The Don Brown defense's biggest issues came in the fourth quarter. Facing 37 drives in the fourth quarter last season, the Eagles only got off the field on 46% of all short drives. In that remaining 54%, only two were field goal attempts. Translation: they gave up a lot of points in the fourth quarter.

First Half

Time of Possession Turnovers Punts Field Goal Attempt Touchdown Other
Less than 3 minutes (61 drives) 8% 57% 8% 16% 6%
More than 3 minutes (17 drives) 17% 24% 24% 24% 0%

Third Quarter

Time of Possession Turnovers Punts Field Goal Attempt Touchdown Other
Less than 3 minutes (25 drives) 12% 76% 4% 12% 0%
More than 3 minutes (9 drives) 22% 11% 33% 33% 0%

Fourth Quarter

Time of Possession Turnovers Punts Field Goal Attempt Touchdown Other
Less than 3 minutes (28 drives) 18% 29% 4% 21% 14%
More than 3 minutes (9 drives) 11% 22% 11% 55% 0%

Here's what all of this tells us: BC gave up points because they couldn't get off the field in the fourth quarter. I know Colorado State is the biggest case study because Garrett Grayson ate the Eagles alive, but think about some of the other games. BC was rarely out of any game over the course of the year statistically.

Even against Louisville, BC went into the fourth quarter only down by five points. The Cardinal defense stepped up their game, though, and completely shut down the BC offense, and the defense gave up two very fast touchdown drives. The first came in less 1:09 and the second came in 56 seconds.

Part of the problem is, of course, the fast drive tendency of the offense. BC rarely, if ever, sustained long drives on offense late in games. With the exception of a roughly-five minute drive against USC, I can't seem to recall many fourth quarter game-icing drives. But we recognize the strength of this team as the defense,and there's no doubting that they struggled badly in the fourth quarter as the game broke down.

I believe they will get better as they add more depth. Don Brown's been operating for the past two years with a severe lack of depth. Defensive backs accounted for 187 solo tackles, including 119 by lead corners Justin Simmons and Manny Asprilla. Simmons led the team in tackles, the first time since 2009 that a DB was in the top two tacklers on the team (Marcellus Bowman had 48 that year).

Four of BC's defensive backs are gone, meaning the unit is completely gutted. Guys like Atem Ntantang and Isaac Yiadom are going to need to make the jump very fast.

Still, I think the majority of the pressure is on the linebackers. Steven Daniels and Josh Keyes were the only two LBs who picked up consistent tackles, and Keyes is gone. Daniels is going to lead the unit in the middle, and as good as he was last year, he's going to need to be better. He's going to need to elevate his game to a place where the other linebackers—guys like Connor Strachan, Mike Strizak, and Matt Milano—can do other jobs. If Daniels, who is already a very good MLB, can get better, it's going to open up more options in coverage.

What are your thoughts on the defense, and what can BC do to be better in 2015?