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Boston College vs. Pittsburgh Football: Film Study

It's apparently Doppelganger Week at The Heights as BC returns home to face a team remarkably similar to the Eagles. So how can BC show something different and take down the Panthers on Friday night?

Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

When Steve Addazio was with the Temple Owls, the Philadelphia-based school traveled across the Keystone State to play Pittsburgh in Heinz Field.  In that game, the Panthers dominated, scoring 17 second quarter points en route to a 31-7 halftime lead.  Temple would eventually put up 13 third quarter points but coughed up the same amount throughout the entire second half en route to a 47-17 defeat.

There are lessons to be learned from that game.  Primarily, it was the first year of the current Pitt coaching staff's regime.  It was the first time Addazio faced Paul Chryst's Wisconsin offense, the pro style attack that helped construct the Badgers into a Rose Bowl team.  But it was also the first time the offensive minded Dazzler squared off with the 4-3 Steel City defense.

When the teams meet on Friday, the defensive coordinator will be different (Dave Huxtable is gone, now at NC State, replaced by Matt House), but the scheme will be the same.  The 4-3 defense is designed for maximum pressure both outside and in, with defensive tackles capable of stopping the run and undersized defensive ends capable of getting to the quarterback.  For BC, that means looking across the line and seeing a speedy defensive end in David Durham and larger interior DTs like Darryl Render or 300-pound Khaynin Mosley-Smith.

Everything for the defense keys in on the middle, or "mike" linebacker.  The mike is tasked with assisting in run stopping situations, though he's often responsible for providing support to the secondary for pass coverage.  The largest and strongest of the linebackers, he's usually the captain of the defense providing a central focal point.  Depending on what he does, the strong side (or "sam") linebacker will be in one type of coverage, and the weak side (or "will") linebacker will be in a different type of coverage.

For BC, success on Friday will depend on fooling the middle layer of the defense.  Regardless of talent level, a gameplan can take out linebackers if the right scheme gets them confused.  That means running an array of plays designed to get him to bite on run coverage when it's a pass play or dropping him back into pass coverage when it's really a run.  If the offensive line can plow the road, which given BC is their strength, the rest should fall into place nicely.

Let's look at the box score from when Temple played Pitt as part of the 2012 football season. The Owls failed to do anything in the first half.  They had six drives in the first half, four of which ended in a punt, one of which ended in a passing touchdown, and one of which ended in the close of the half.  Pitt, meanwhile, had seven drives, with four touchdowns, a field goal, and two punts.  Each of the Owl drives ending in a punt stalled after six or seven plays and less than 40 yards.  By the time halftime hit, whatever gameplanning Temple had done needed to be thrown out the window.

One thing about each of the drives in the first quarter is that Temple didn't throw the ball.  Quarterback Chris Coyer threw four passes, completing two, one of which was a nine yard touchdown.  He didn't attempt any intermediate passes.  Addazio pounded the ball over and over again with running back Montel Harris (yes, I know).  In the entire first half, only one pass went for longer than 20 yards.  That indicates an unwillingness to open up the playbook and display an acumen for intermediate passes.  Coyer was a hybrid halfback taking snaps, a guy who was listed as a running back and not a quarterback.  That's vastly different from Tyler Murphy, a dual-threat quarterback.  Think of it this way - you'd rather have a quarterback who can run (Murphy) than a running back who can throw (Coyer).

As a contrast, Temple ran nine passing plays in the second quarter.  Six of those came on one drive with the Owls trailing 17-7.  When it failed, Pitt responded in spades and drove up the field to make it 24-7, then 31-7 after another stop.  The fact remains that Temple might've been physically overmatched (remember they were in the MAC back then), but they also stubbornly remained in the ground-and-pound game until it was too late and Lady Momentum was doing bad things to them.  That's like betting safe at the poker table, bleeding chips, then going all-in for no apparent reason.  It stinks of desperation, and when it backfires, you're left holding your pants around your ankles at the craps table.

If the gameplan can allow Murphy to act on his dual threat ability, the linebacking corps will become disoriented and confused.  Against Delaware, the starting linebackers accounted for a couple of interceptions and around 10 tackles.  They were the focal point of a defense that bewildered and dominated an FCS team.  Last week against UMass, BC ran the ball a ton.  Even dropbacks turned into designed runs for the quarterback, and it resulted in the first 100/100 game by a BC quarterback in the 21st century.  That's great, but to get to that level again, there will need to be some type of change or expansion in look.

By using a couple of more passes, BC can open up the running game.  That doesn't mean throw the ball 50 times or downfield, but it does mean they'll have to show a dynamic they held back on against the Minutemen.  They'll need to at least run routes or plays designed to get the linebackers out of their element, confused by the newer looks.  It means different play action formats designed to off balance the field (I'm looking at you, Sherm Alston), and some checkdowns to different receivers who aren't covered.  Get the middle tier off balance, and the secondary will have to cheat up to help.  That opens up the deep ball.  Get them all to drop back, and the running game can gash that defensive line with help from the team's strength - its blockers.

For whatever reason, Temple couldn't or didn't do that.  They were unable to get any type of offense rolling until it was too late.  For BC, I'd look for the team to give more of the same looks they showed on Saturday but with one other dynamic - more of a passing attack that can go between 8-13 yards per play and open things up in the middle of the defense.  The name of the game is second level.  Win that and it's 2-0 heading into the USC game.