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Boston College vs. USC Football: Film Study

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The offensive line was atrocious at times against Pitt. If the Eagles want to be competitive, it starts in the trenches.

Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE

If there's one thing I've learned throughout the years, it's that offensive linemen never get their just due.  When they keep the quarterback upright, they're simply doing their job.  When the quarterback gets hit, everyone can look at a highlight and very obviously see who caused it, where, and how.

The reason for this is because the offensive line is truly the sum of all of its parts.  You can have the best left tackle in the world protecting the quarterback's blind side, but if he can't block according to the scheme or in the offensive system, the line won't be able to keep the signal caller from getting planted.  You can take the best center in the world, put the quarterback's hands behind him (or under him), and it doesn't mean anything if a defense can rush the edges.  More than ever, the offensive line unit plays more of a teamwork role in football than any other area.

Blocking schemes can be broken down into different parts.  In pro style offenses, offensive lines typically use straight forward blocking.  That means run blocking allows them to explode out of stances while pass blocking allows them to step back and absorb the oncoming rush.  At Boston College, it means something different.

BC employs the read option offense, meaning guys block areas of space moreso than individuals.  The quarterback and center need to call out a cadence at the line based on the defensive setup in order to effectively run the play.  Zone blocking requires the ability of each member to pick up the right guy who they think is coming through their space, even sometimes switching off to another defender and leaving the guy they just engaged for someone else.

Against UMass, BC just flat out used their size to destroy the Minutemen defensive line.  They could go straight ahead or open up holes based on the fact that the UMass defensive line was shorter, lighter, and weaker.  Against Pitt, that changed.  Watching highlights of last Friday's game could be downright painful.  Facing a four-man defensive front, BC's offensive line appeared slow and, more importantly, unaware of who to block.

In the very first highlight, center Andy Gallik draws an assignment to pull off to the right while the rest of the line goes left.  This is supposed to open a hole over where the tackle spot would be, using the left side of the line to draw all the other rushers over to the weak side and allowing the running back to go up the gut with the tight end as a blocker.  Gallik misses, and the play is blown up in the backfield, except for one problem - Tyler Rouse never had the ball.  Tyler Murphy kept it on the read option and exploded left with a wall of blockers.  52 yards later, he's nearly in the end zone.  That's a clear cut case of run by design that allows Murphy and Gallik to call out the blocking scheme and set up two options - if the entire line goes left, Murphy can hand it off.  Since Gallik sacrificed himself for the man coming up the middle to blow up the play, Murphy took it and ran.  He does escape one tackle, but even that defender was overpursuing thanks to the mass of maroon jerseys holding the edge.

Later on in the game, Pitt made the adjustment to not commit to either side of the ball, hanging back on the blocks and waiting to react to where the offensive line went.  That meant the offensive line tried to block areas of space with nobody actually in them.  It also meant the design option play couldn't go anywhere because both options were covered by guys staying back on their lines.

Compare that to later in the game when Pitt runs a Jet sprint play for Tyler Boyd (about 1:08 into the video).  The Boston College defensive line over commits to the backfield, allowing the offensive line to get out in front of the play as the defensive line checks back.  The right tackle, right guard, and center get out in front of Boyd, who is running around the edge, exposing the gaps up the middle.  Had this been anything but a jet run outside, the play's blown up in the backfield.  But instead, BC is left exposed with both a defensive end and defensive tackle behind the play by the time the handoff exchange is completed.  Boyd ends up with two lead blockers (the fullback and the tight end), but behind the play the defensive line is turning to go after the play, met by a wall of offensive linemen.  By the time he meets the sticks, Boyd has only Sean Duggan to beat, but even the linebacker is behind him, resulting in a first down run and 15-yard penalty for a horse collar tackle.

These are just two examples of the blocking scheme playing a huge role in the success of plays for both teams.  Ultimately, Boston College can compete if the offensive line works at peak performance.  That falls back on the coaches utilizing the members in the right scheme.  It's not necessarily an issue of being overpowered or blowing guys off the line if they use the right scheme.  If USC wants to attack, a zone blocking scheme can open up options by allowing the overpursuit in the wrong direction.  They can use that read option to allow the Trojans to blitz one of the two routes.  Murphy can identify where the blitz is coming and make the option to either take it or hand off to Rouse, Myles Willis, or even Sherm Alston (replicating that Jet sprint play we saw out of Boyd).  When USC makes the adjustment, BC can switch to a more straightforward approach, giving Murphy time in the backfield or allowing the offensive line to charge their lane against guys hanging back.  That'll open up some nice space as it did last year for Andre Williams.

Every year, somebody who enjoys the spoils of good offensive line play rewards them with a gift.  It makes for a nice story.  But God forbid that offensive line screw up anywhere.  O-linemen are replaceable if they fail to perform anywhere, extremely movable parts that are always the sum of the whole.  A good quarterback can make receivers better.  A good running back can make the entire offense successful.  A good offensive tackle is nothing without the rest of his mates.  But if one of them screws up, we all know it and can all point it out.

Can BC win on Saturday?  I don't know.  Everything in my gut is pointing this out as a massacre in the making.  I'm really thinking USC could go out and destroy the Eagles, up 42-0 at halftime.  But one thing I do know is that BC can give itself a fighting chance if they can win the battle in the trenches.  Five men stand across (six including the tight end, seven in double tight end sets).  Watch them, and you'll see just how close this game can really be or how badly it can really get.