Throughout the offseason, James Light Football's done a spectacular job of breaking down the Boston College offense. Authoring a series of posts, there's tremendous in-depth coverage of the Eagle option offense and how it broke down and defeated the mighty USC Trojan defense.
Based on quotes by head coach Steve Addazio, we've been told this offseason that Boston College will remain a run-first type of offense. At the same time, Addazio's talked about Wade's passing acumen and arm, with other Eagles chiming in that he's capable of delivering passes to athletes out in the pattern.
We've talked at length about the Boston College offense and this run-first vs. pass-first mentality, so arguing that again is not the point. Instead, let's try to understand Darius Wade's new role by breaking down how the offense worked under Tyler Murphy and where the scheme can be tailored due to Wade's different physical traits.
To better understand our goal, let's understand Darius Wade as an athlete. ESPN.com's scouting report of him describes him as being undersized in height at 6'1" but possessing bulk on a developing frame. He is extremely competitive and plays with toughness and a quiet confidence.
ON the field, he has extreme accuracy with competent deep ball ability. He is very good at throwing to a particular spot. He possesses a "consistent, over-the-top" delivery that isn't wide or long like many left handed throwers. He has arm strength but not power, and he loses power on the deeper, more vertical throws. He is quick but not fast.
With that said, let's review some of the option type plays in the Addazio offense and how they may be tailored around Wade's attributes.
We begin with a 71-yard touchdown option run by Tyler Murphy against Maine. Even though Maine is an FCS-level team, this is a tremendous example of how the read option works.
If you watch the run, you'll notice that Maine's defense is eaten alive by the proper blocking scheme. Off the snap, the defensive line all commits to the inside run as opposed to staying in a lane. The defensive end on the near side immediately commits to going inside, opening up the outside read for the quarterback. All of this happens before the running back even comes close to the QB for the handoff.
The RB has to run like he's taking the handoff because it's the quarterback's decision whether or not that happens. By the time the back hits the five yard marker, there's a hole opening up on the left and right side of the line. The hole on the left is much more pronounced, but there's a linebacker set to fill it in and make the stop at the line of scrimmage. On the right side, there's a linebacker and a defensive back with a safety playing deep.
When the blocking scheme breaks out, the defensive end on the left side (#9) is already way too far in the middle, leaving the lead blocker on the right side to go one-on-one with a defensive back (aka - major mismatch). The linebacker (#32) commits to playing that inside run with the defensive end diving after the running back.
Seeing all of this developing, Murphy keeps the ball and takes off to the right side. The linebacker stops and pivots to go back, with the defensive back completely sealed off. Another defensive lineman (#92) is able to turn around, but it's already too late, especially since the deep safety commits to the inside run as well.
From there, Murphy takes off and turns on the afterburners, allowing him to slip by the linebacker and defensive back with no hope for the big guy coming after him. From there on, it's over.
By switching to Darius Wade, BC gives up a little bit in the natural speed that Murphy possessed to take off into that hole. Murphy's running ability essentially played the role of a deep ball pass in that capacity. By switching to Wade, we're looking at a Boston College quarterback who may not have the ability to break the tackle and take off on his own, taking away one layer but adding another.
To look at how BC may run that same read option play, look back at the Florida offense when Steve Addazio was the offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. The following play was taken from a spring game during the Tim Tebow era.
In this play during the spring game, there is very much a similar formation, with the quarterback lining up in a pistol formation next to a running back. The H-back goes in motion, and after the snap, the read option is employed. Tim Tebow, a 6'3" left-handed quarterback with average speed and the ability to throw the ball to a spot on the run, rolls out to his left after playing the option.
Following the snap, the left side linebackers immediately play the run on their natural side, shifting further to Tebow's right side of vision. The offensive linemen create a hole, but those LBs are right there ready to fill it in. As a result, Tebow pulls the back and immediately rolls out to his left.
Because he rolls out away from that primary point of play, the linebackers on his backside are well behind the play. At the same time, the near side defensive end (possibly a linebacker lining up in formation) sneaks a couple of steps towards the inside of the line. When Tebow begins rolling out to his left, the defensive end has to stop and turn around, opening up the play for just enough time for the quarterback to eyeball a receiver.
At the same time, the one guy who was occupying a tight end decides to go after Tebow, opening up a checkdown receiver option. So by the time Tebow reaches the hashmarks, he has two clear options - the primary target in the end zone and a checkdown receiver roughly one or two yards in front of him.
If the primary target was covered, he easily could have salvaged the play by tossing it ahead to the checkdown option. While that secondary target wouldn't likely find the end zone, it at least keeps the play alive and pushes the team closer to a score. That said, the primary target, in this case tight end Aaron Hernandez, is wide open because he shook his coverage as he went across the middle of the field on a drive type route.
So how do the two plays stack up and what can we learn? Well for starters, it gives us a look at how the read option may change under Darius Wade. What made Tebow so dangerous was his ability to make plays on the run, to determine if the receivers were open or not, if he could dump it off, and if he could take it himself. The run became almost a third option in his decision-making ability, whereas the pass was the third and final option for Tyler Murphy.
Because Wade is going to give up a little bit in terms of rushing ability, we could see a lot more of the second type of read option. Wade is able to step and fire if he can plant his feet. That means the read option is going to allow him to move around in the pocket (maybe not wind up sprinting all over the place like Tebow) and at least set his feet to throw. Since he gives up power in throwing the deep ball, the short and intermediate pass automatically becomes an option - as long as the receivers get open.
Now this is where it gets really fun. Boston College does not have elite wide receivers, and in the read option, the running back is not a target. So don't go for one second thinking that BC can all of a sudden throw Marcus Outlow out of the backfield for some swing pass trickery, and also don't get it in your head that Sherm Alston is going to be sprinting downfield for a pass 7-10 times per game (remember, it's not about the numbers. It's about who's open and under what circumstances. The option plays more to game conditions than any other school of thought).
Instead, you're going to be looking for an H-back to either get free by using smarts or for a receiver to use a lineman or tight end to deceptively free him up - unless someone in the receiving corps all of a sudden turns into a speed burner (and even then, Wade is giving up power on downfield throws, meaning there's an increased chance of a floater).
I'm really excited to see what happens with Boston College's offense in the new era. I'm really excited to see how the Florida offense from almost 10 years ago (crazy, huh?) can be an influence used for the Eagles of 2015. I'm excited to see the run-first mentality with a couple of different passing options behind it, and I'm excited to see how Steve Addazio can utilize the competitive nature and vision/passing acumen on Darius Wade. While there will be mistakes and growing pains, it'll be very interesting and compelling to see what positives arise as the season begins.