Steve Addazio's gone all x's and o's on us.
He's made several allusions to on-field strategery by several of the teams they've played this season. He's openly described his defensive sets, and he's talked about both Virginia Tech and Louisville with a coach's candor that's kind of hard to find these days. He really went all football, Spider-2 Y Banana on us in his weekly press conference call for the ACC the other day when he said:
Obviously, Virginia Tech played a lot of bare zero, zero coverage bare. Louisville is more of a three‑four, four‑three base team. They're a little different in terms of the structure from their outside backers are big guys, mount at 6'5", 240 and Mauldin at 6'4", 250 pounds. Their interior‑‑three interior guys are two ends and nose tackles, they're 300 pounders. So it's a little different setup, but it seems like a lot of teams, whatever their scheme is, the bottom line with us is to really load the box. I'm sure we're going to get that. But their structure's a little bit different.
Many of you probably read that and thought, "What the hell is he talking about?" Let me try to explain:
"Zero coverage" doesn't mean that guys are left wide open, but it does mean guys are left on islands on their own. A "bare zero" coverage refers to pure man coverage with no deep defender, a sort of "Cover 0." It's very similar to a Cover 1, where the defense plays one man deep to protect against the deep ball. The difference is that Cover 0, or bare coverage, allows for an extra man to knife into the backfield. It leaves the deep ball wide open if the receiver can beat his pass defender because every pass defender is left on an island protecting one-on-one, straight man-to-man coverage.
In plain English, it gives up the deep ball in order to sell out on the box. Against BC, a team that struggles to throw downfield (or throw in general), it's a good strategy to employ when it can get another guy in the backfield.
Louisville, meanwhile, is going to come at the Eagles using a base 4-3 defense. Because their outside linebackers are so big and fast, they have the ability to come out in a straight defense with four down linemen and three linebackers to cover virtually every play. It really loads the box up with seven guys instead of the eight or nine that Virginia Tech was throwing at BC.
The biggest thing about the Louisville defense is the overall talent up the middle. Because they can stop the run using seven guys, they have the freedom to cover every receiver using a safety or cornerback. A linebacker can shift out and cover a tight end (not that they'll have to worry about it against BC), and a smaller slot receiver is going to be paired up against a guy who is 6'5" with speed and power.
This is going to be a problem for BC. Last week, we saw Sherm Alston get hurt, and the Eagles are clearly beat up in the backfield. Their wide receivers leave something to be desired to begin with. I can't picture them bringing Alston out on any type of route because he's either going to be matched up against a linebacker who can do serious damage or a top-flight cornerback. He's not adept and speedy enough to contend with a #1 or #2 cornerback, and the Cardinals aren't going to mark him with a safety or slower linebacker when they have a guy like Lorenzo Mauldin.
Likewise, the scary part is that the linebackers for the Cardinals are quick enough and smart enough to recognize the running game. If Tyler Murphy decides to pull down the football, the linebacker at the five yard mark can shift right off and come after the QB on a spy assignment. In those instances, it'll leave the covered receiver open, but Murphy has to be able to deliver the ball in a small window before the assignment switches over.
In a base 4-3, if the linebacker switches off a slot receiver, there's an assignment coming off to him. A safety covering deep (possibly in a Cover 1 or Cover 2 defense) essentially says, "You go in after the runner, and I'll abandon my assignment in space to cover this guy." Louisville is very good at this. But during the switch, there's a window where the QB can hit the receiver for that pass before the safety (or other pass defender) get to the assignment. That's on Murphy to identify, throw, and hit the receiver without throwing behind, over, or under.
This is going to be arguably the best defense BC has faced all year. They scare the ever-living daylights out of me. They're the one team who can line up with a simple, basic, 4-3 system and say, "Go ahead and beat us." The worst part is that you might not, and more than likely that's the case. With a strong defensive line, a better-than-average secondary, and a beast linebacking corps, the Eagles are in for a challenge and a treat.
Beat them, and your offense all of a sudden becomes on par with the Clemsons and Florida States of the world. Lose, and Louisville becomes the class of the Atlantic Division's second tier. This is a win that can go a long way for Boston College. Problem is, it's not going to be easy against one of the best pound-for-pound defenses in the nation.