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Boston College vs. Maine: Film Study

Unleashing formation after formation against USC, Ryan Day displayed a football acumen nobody could've predicted for the Eagles.

Winslow Townson

Football IQ is a funny thing to measure. When we talk about smarts, we usually discuss a player's ability to read and execute a particular play. We talk about the ability to make an adjustment on the fly, to see holes in plays, and to make snap decisions. We mention a guy's first step, first move, and first reaction to highlight strengths and diminish weaknesses.

A coach's football IQ is his ability to adapt to the skill (or lack thereof) around him. Coaches always have their on-field desires, their preferred formations and play selections. They know what they want to do, but they know more about tailoring that to the skill sets around them. A spread option coach, for example, might not be able to do that if he doesn't have an agile quarterback who can make quick reads and powerful throws, and a pro style coach can't run a power running game if he doesn't have a running back.

Last year, Steve Addazio and Ryan Day evaluated their in-house talent and were forced into an offensive mindset they probably didn't want. Chase Rettig lacked the physical attributes to be a read option quarterback, and no receiver had the speed necessary to run the spread. What they had in their stable was a workhorse running back. So Addazio and Day tailored their mindset around what they had, maximizing the strength of the offensive line and the brute-force running abilities of Andre Williams.

This year, there was no way they could run that offense. Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse lack the size of a power running back, and quarterback Tyler Murphy lacks the arm strength and accuracy to line up under center and remain a pocket passer. While this inhibited their ability to carry on last year's theme, it allowed them to get back to their bread and butter: the read option.

In the first two games of 2014, we saw flashes of what this offense could and couldn't do. The running game ran over UMass, and the passing game struggled against Pittsburgh. Both can be easily chalked up to playing into an opponent's strength, though. The Minutemen defense can't stop anyone, and Pittsburgh made an adjustment that forced Murphy to pass.

Against USC, we saw what happens when BC utilizes their strengths and outsmarts the opponent. USC is a strong, rough, physical football team, but the Eagles exposed one major weakness: their intelligence. The Trojans constantly went for kill shot hits and big plays, allowing Ryan Day to work around that with multiple formations and offensive sets. When USC thought they figured something out, BC simply switched up on them.

Watching the highlight film, there are two plays that stick out. Down 10-0 to start the second quarter, BC finished off a drive with a speed option right run. With a bunch at the offensive line (including extra blocker Josh Bordner), Ryan Day calls Murphy's and Willis' numbers. It leaves straight two-on-two, playing directly into the hands of the offense. Instead of hanging back on the block, the outside defender commits just enough to the primary runner to allow Murphy to pitch to Tyler Rouse. Rouse catches in stride with a head of steam, grabs the outside, and scores the touchdown.

USC is talented enough to adapt to the play, so when BC lined up in a similar formation, there was a third defender out against the offense (the 0:57 mark). USC this time pulls a linebacker out into coverage off the snap as a spy player, designed to stop the quarterback when he cuts in between the receiver and the end of the line and crosses the line of scrimmage. The other two defenders mark up the wide receivers, and the remaining man is set up to stick the tailback at the point of pitch. But Ryan Day instead pulls Sherm Alston off the block and runs a reverse with fly sweep with him. Alston hits the jets outside with literally everyone following the option. By the time everyone stops and turns around, Alston's downfield. That he gets in the end zone is an added bonus.

These two plays are the result of Day's in-game management and analysis. Through the first quarter and a half, BC had success rushing around the edge and owning the outside of the line of scrimmage. BC's offensive line did a great job containing defensive linemen, with tight ends holding off the play side linebackers. The runner did the rest, gaining six or seven yards at a whack. Every run got to the second level.

Knowing this, Day discovered Alston's ability to run the fly sweep play. He also observed USC's commitment to stopping the speed option. So he showed speed option and ran the fly sweep. If Alston doesn't succeed on the fly sweep and if the speed option doesn't work, the reverse option is out of the playbook. It's a brilliant call by Day.

Day's playcalling completely flummoxed the Trojans. USC only responded to the personnel on the field and never spread the defense. They stuck with their base defense for the entire game, and the Eagles met every minor adjustment with another wrinkle to their offense. They lined up in the power-I with three running backs, split the remaining backs to a single-wing with a tight-end, then ran to the weak side. Watch the tight ends crush to the middle (1:42) while pulling guards and tackles outside. The BC offense completely wipes out seven or eight men in the box, leaving one-on-one blocking coverage outside in a major size disadvantage. Fullback Bobby Wolford blocks the lead tackler, and Jonathan Hilliman is left with nothing by daylight for another score.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tyler Murphy's ability to sell the option and ice the game (2:06). Up six points, the Eagles showed a formation that indicated a "run the clock out" mentality. USC countered seven men on the line with seven of their own. Murphy sells the play fake, and the two defenders on the edge of the defensive line go right after the running back. This leaves the BC quarterback with nothing but daylight and blockers, who open up a hole just wide enough for him to squeak through. One cutback through the hole and Murphy's gone with some serious jets.

If USC's defenders weren't trying to go for a gang tackle kill shot on the running back, they would've hung back long enough to stop Murphy at the line. The key to stopping the option is to not over-pursue; there is plenty of film illustrating this from the Pitt game. But Day and Addazio knew USC would go for the big hit on the running back on 2nd and short, opening up the outside perfectly.

BC could not compete with USC physically; the Trojans are far superior to the Eagles on paper. But there's an element of the game that no analyst could predict: BC's brain. Vastly superior intellectually, Ryan Day rode his smarts and his analysis of his team's strengths to one of the most memorable victories in recent Eagle history.