Following Boston College's victory over Maine on Saturday, reporters quizzed quarterback Tyler Murphy about the running game becoming the focal point of the offense. Murphy responded:
I wouldn't say we are concerned, but it's definitely in the backs of our heads. We know teams are going to try to stop the run and load the box, and we have to make plays down the field. We started to get a little momentum with the quick game. We missed a few shots down field that we were about one step away from completing, but it's an on-going process and it's something we are going to keep working at.
If teams aren't going to stop the run, we're going to keep running it, but we are prepared for when we don't rush for 400 yards rushing. We might only have 200, and we'll have to throw for 200 or so to balance it out. We are definitely going to be ready for that, and we are still working. We are growing week to week and we need to grow this week because Colorado State is a good team and they are going to come in here and try to get the W.
Translation: We don't want to abandon the pass, but we know we stink at it.
Boston College is not a passing team. The receiving corps is underwhelming, and the quarterback can't throw short or intermediate passes. Throws are behind receivers, telegraphed, and air-mailed. Receivers are in "catch it or die" positioning. Their catching ability is well below where it should be.
Boston College is not a passing team. BC fans need to stop pushing for more passes. It's easy to want more throws; football rules protect quarterbacks and receivers more than ever, and teams are pushing to go faster. The spread, no-huddle, fun-and-gun offense permeates the 2010s like the wishbone did in the 1970s. But that's not the Eagle identity and, more importantly, it's the #1 way to defeat teams. It's easy to look at that style of offense and want it because of how great it looks and how entertaining it is for the fans.
It's easy to watch how dominant BC is at running the football and imagine the possibilities. The Eagles run an offense that's six or seven players deep in the backfield. All players except the quarterback are freshmen or sophomores. Through each of the three Eagle victories, we've seen something different. Against UMass, we met Tyler Murphy's option ability. Against USC, we met Sherm Alston and Jon Hilliman. Against Maine, Steve Addazio and Ryan Day introduced Marcus Outlow. Adding in Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis makes us all wonder aloud what the possibilities are.
In that comes the desire to see a change of pace. With Alston's speed, it's easy to imagine him breaking away from a slot corner, catching a pass and taking off. It's easy to imagine someone with Willis' hands lining up for short passing routes next Josh Bordner, and it's easier to imagine pairing that with Shakim Phillips' on-paper talent. Lining up Charlie Callinan does nothing for anybody, especially since there's a chance he drops everything thrown in his general direction.
But before you pull the trigger and line up six running backs, stop. There is no reason BC should pass more. There is no reason BC will pass more.
Victory for the Eagles comes through their ability to own time of possession. The passing game speeds up the game, and BC should be working slower. Auburn went to the national championship game last year averaging 30 minutes of ball time per game. They ran for nearly 4,600 yards as a unit featuring two 1,000 yard rushers. They threw for less than 2,500 yards combined. They focused on ball control and ball possession. They focused on playing timely defense.
Auburn burst into the national picture with their final three games of the season - Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri. Against Georgia, they ran 57 rushing plays to just 27 passes. They ran for 323 yards. They controlled the ball for more time. Their only passing touchdown came on a desperation heave late in the fourth quarter. Even though they blew a 34-17 lead at one point, their defense held the Dawgs to three punts and a pick in the first half.
Against Alabama, they passed for less than 100 yards but threw for two touchdowns. They ran for 300 yards. The #1 team in the nation finished their drives with three punts, three missed field goals, a turnover on downs, and five three-and-outs.
Against Mizzou in the SEC Championship, they gave up 42 points but zero in the fourth quarter. They ran for 545 yards and only attempted 11 passes.
BC does not need to throw the ball more.
This is the most dynamic offense in Boston College history. It's not the most talented and it's not the highest scoring, but BC has a team capable of dominating if they just stop throwing the ball. Teams will figure out how to stop the run, but that's where Ryan Day and Steve Addazio need to stay ahead of the curve. We've seen it each week. The secret's out on Sherm Alston, and the secret's out on Jon Hilliman. But now there's Outlow, who nobody has any read on. There's Murphy, who seems to know exactly when to run the read option to perfection. And there's so many other things BC can do by incorporating the run in ways we've never seen it.
Putting any of these guys in passing situations completely takes away what they're good at. Alston will get killed if he goes over the middle, and Outlow is a big, bruising running back with breakaway speed. He can catch out of the backfield, but that doesn't mean he should line up as a wideout. Otherwise he'd be a wideout and not a "running back." Putting these guys out in pass patterns is to ask them to do things they're not designed to do. Do NOT do that.
Nobody wants to abandon the passing game in the media or in the stands. But throwing the ball quite simply doesn't work. Last season, Baylor was 112th in time of possession per game. They were second in scoring offense. They scored 70 points in three straight games against Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe, and West Virginia. They even beat a very good Oklahoma team. But Oklahoma State owned them, holding the fast-paced offense to five punts and a fumble in the first half. Baylor didn't score a touchdown until late in the third, and the Bears lost.
Oregon, the innovator of speed, lost twice last year to run-first teams, scoring 20 or less both times. Stanford threw for 103 yards, held the ball for 42 minutes, and built a 26-point lead. Ducks fans would say, "Well down 26-0 in the fourth quarter we weren't out of it," but they were.
The point is that Boston College is embracing its run-first attitude (even though they can't say it), and so should we. BC ranks 14th in time of possession with 33 minutes worth of time spent on the field. Their only loss came to Pittsburgh, and the Panthers rank 10th in TOP. The option is working. The pass is not. And as ACC play looms, the key to success is to remember that and stay grounded.