When Boston College played Syracuse last year, we had to watch a completely different Eagles team take the field. In the first 11 games of the season, the Eagle offense centered on one thing and one thing only: Andre Williams. Against the Orange, the constant work and pounding finally caught up to AW44's body, and he went down with a shoulder injury. While Chase Rettig performed admirably, the Eagles missed the bruising back's presence, and they fell short of defeating the Orange for their eighth win of the season.
While missing Williams hurt, the offense still had the team in position to win the game. Rettig went 11-for-19 for 168 yards and two touchdowns, and Myles Willis filled in just fine for Andre, amassing 70 yards on 18 carries. Rettig himself went for 85 yards on four carries, 54 of which came on one touchdown sprint. Instead of throwing everything to Amidon, Rettig acclimated himself to other receivers, utilizing Mike Naples, Jake Sinkovec, and CJ Parsons. It might've been the most complete performance by the offense.
Analyzing the Boston College offense against Syracuse from last year becomes next to impossible because of this. For starters, the offensive mindset changed so drastically in game that there's no way any of us could lift any takeaways. We can't look at the way BC lined up and look for trends or holes in the Orange defense since the running back-centric scheme got all but thrown out the window in the second half.
At the same time, we can't really look at the Boston College offense against the Orange because the mindset's completely different this year anyway. Last year's Syracuse game is a radical deviation from the norm, and we can't even really look at it in a sense of how BC's changed strategies from last year to this year.
The defense, on the other hand, presents something different.
Syracuse scored 50 points against both Wagner and Tulane early in the season, then failed to score more than 27 points in any game the rest of the way. They recorded three points combined in losses to Georgia Tech and Florida State (while giving up 50 in both games). Heading into the BC game, they'd lost 59-3 to the Seminoles and 17-16 to Pittsburgh.
But the Don Brown Defense coughed up 21 points in the second quarter alone, then allowed Terrel Hunt to drive 75 yards in the game's final two minutes with no timeouts to give the Orange a game-winning touchdown.
Syracuse did a great job last year of exposing the Eagles' tendency to overpursue. Don Brown's defense loves to "get big," which is to say they play ultra aggressive. They attack whoever has the ball. So if a quarterback is rolling out, at least two linebackers are getting after him as fast as humanly possible. On the game-winning pass to Josh Parris, Syracuse exposed that tendency by having Hunt roll out to his right and throw back across the field to the left.
The pass itself is not one of those plays any team really wants to make. A quarterback throwing across his body across the field is unnatural, and it requires too much arm strength to create a floater. It's one of those plays that's begging to be either picked off or get the receiver killed. Against BC, though, the scramble to the right created a scenario where Parris was left with nobody there, almost as if it were a screen pass. The wall of blockers easily sealed off the remaining white jerseys, and he scampered into the end zone with nary a fleck of rubber pellets on his uniform.
The play was the result of BC ending up on their heels for the entire drive (which can be seen starting around the 2:10:00 mark of this link). It took Syracuse two plays to reach midfield, both of which came against a soft zone trying to protect downfield. The first was an intermediate pass to the tight end Parris, who was virtually uncovered because the linebackers protected the middle of the field at the sticks and not the sidelines. It was good enough for a first down, stopping the clock and allowing the play call to come in from the sidelines before the restart.
Hunt then went for a short pass to reach midfield, knowing he would have a short field to work with despite the running clock. It's a comfort throw for him, one that's very high percentage given that the Eagle zone was working to prevent a deep killer ball over the middle. Forced to get the next snap off within 15 seconds, Syracuse didn't have the requisite time to get a good play in, and Hunt's indecision/confusion led him to scramble and tuck the ball. He abandoned his first read almost immediately and lunged forward to stop the clock for a chain movement.
At this point, BC started showing signs of visible confusion. Syracuse had their play for the restart, but the Eagles visibly were adjusting assignments. That's the result of a shift from zone almost immediately to man-to-man coverage, but instead of playing up on the line, the defensive backfield played soft again. The Orange expected the soft coverage to result in BC playing back, but instead the front seven brought the heat. Unfortunately, the secondary was so screwed up by its shifting assignments that CJ Jones committed pass interference. Hunt had the vision to see that happening and throw the ball in that general direction to get a flag.
With the clock stopped for a penalty, Boston College mentally came unglued. Steve Addazio lost his mind, and Don Brown had the look on his face saying, "Something bad is happening and I can't stop it." On first down at the 33 yard line, BC lined up in straight man coverage with nobody covering deep in the middle (the safeties covered slot receivers). The linebackers dropped back, and Hunt once again ran up the middle.
Normally, straight two deep coverage would allow a safety to step up and make a stop after a couple of yards. Instead, the linebackers who dropped back from the line covered the middle and made the stop after a few yards. Brian Mihalik ended up ripping the ball out of Hunt's hands, but the Orange recovered with more blue jerseys in the play than white ones. Had a safety been covering the middle, there's a chance he'd have been able to jump on the ball instead of the center; it would've given one more agile body in the pile for the Eagles.
This led to a clock play and an eventual first down. With his defense gassed, Steve Addazio called time out, something he probably should've done on the play where pass interference was called. Stopping the clock that late was the gift Syracuse needed to set up their touchdown pass three plays later, the play where Steele Devitto, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Brian Mihalik, and pretty much everybody else would up chasing the wrong guy.
Attempting to look back over the end of those last couple paragraphs, I noticed how chaotic and scrambled it might read, and the truth is—it was. The Boston College defense was complete chaos, uncontrolled in comparison to the way the Orange offense carried itself. The Eagles simply couldn't match wits with them, and Steve Addazio and Don Brown found themselves completely outcoached, a rarity given the way BC played for much of the season. When everything is thrown out the window on the last drive, the defense implodes over longer stretches of time. They need to end the game quickly, and that didn't happen. It led the inevitable implosion and touchdown.
So what's this mean for Saturday? It shows that on any given day, the better team can lose. Boston College's defense is facing a Syracuse offense that's struggled this year, but that won't mean much. Steve Addazio is preaching on this "black-and-blue" style game, but emotions need to be controlled. The defense for BC is susceptible in the back as it was last year, something that has to be concerning and monitored closely. If this game comes down to the wire, BC will need to learn from the lesson and not react. They need to dictate the pace and get off the field. Less chaos equals better results. Make sure the only thing imploding is Scott Shafer's podium.
Steve Addazio is talking up the rivalry for this week, which means there will be added intensity on the maroon and gold side of the ball. Scott Shafer has nothing left to play for this year with his troops except pride, but that's something that can make a team dangerous. End this one early defensively and walk away with the win; it's onto bowl season.