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Louisville 17, Boston College 14: The Key Play - The Jeff Smith Fumble

This was a bad moment for the offense.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the second quarter, Boston College trailed Louisville, 7-0, when they forced a Cardinals punt. UL punted it back over the 50, but Sherm Alston, the BC kick returner, got clocked, resulting in a 15-yard kick catch interference penalty. That set up BC with a first and 10 in plus territory on the Louisville 42 yard line.

Prior to the play, I made a remark to someone that, "You really can't come away from this drive without points."

You're all welcome.

On the first play of the drive, BC lined up in their standard formation. They had two wide receivers on the field with a single back formation and two tight ends flanking the offensive line. Louisville countered with a 4-3 defense in man-to-man coverage, with their slot DB playing soft coverage while their wide DB played up tight on the line of scrimmage. They put two safeties deep and one linebacker blitzing off the edge:

Right off the start, the right defensive end shifts over the left on a stunt. He moves over just enough to get the left tackle off his position. The tackle, meanwhile, attempts to drill the defensive end but winds up not getting enough of a hit on him. That leaves him beyond the DE, who is now 1-on-1 against an offensive guard.

At the same time, the center chooses to double team the left defensive tackle, opening a hole from which the right defensive tackle explodes through. Because the left tackle missed his full block, the left guard is left against a defensive end, leaving that right defensive tackle completely alone.

The center doesn't get into the block on the defensive tackle nearly fast enough, and #75 for the Eagles (Chris Lindstrom) is overpowered as the DT drives through him. At the same time, quarterback Jeff Smith is trying to execute play action and roll out to his right—right where the line is breaking down. All the while this is happening, there's an unblocked defense tackle coming through the middle, and a defensive end going 1-on-1 against the left guard, who is supposed to be going up against a defensive tackle that's going through the hole because the center went the other way.

Because BC is using the tight end in the receiving scheme, the Eagles lose track of another unblocked rusher: the strong side linebacker. Nobody is blocking him either. That means there's at least three guys coming in before Smith ever fakes the handoff to the deep back. Even if one guy goes with the play action, that's a lot of beef coming through the line like a runaway train.

By the time Smith is done with the handoff, he turns around and sees A LOT of red bearing down on him. There's a linebacker and defensive tackle clearly already by the play action handoff, and Lindstrom is losing his block. I'm not even sure Smith had time to react with the gripping fear I'm sure he felt at this moment.

All Smith can do at this point is start running for his life, which leaves him unprotected as he outruns whatever's left of his blocking scheme. There are three men chasing him and Rankins coming in off the double coverage on the far side. Smith really needed to get outside the tackle box and throw it away, but since he didn't, the Louisville defensive line bears down on him, hitting him from the back side.

The linebacker is really the key to this whole play. He's on his horse and catches up to Smith because he's the most athletic defender on the field. With BC so far behind, all that's left is for Sheldon Rankins to pick up the ball and then use ungodly speed for a 300 pound defender to outrun everyone the rest of the way.

What I find most disconcerting is that there are three offensive linemen at the Louisville 45 yard line while Smith gets crunched back at his own 47. That means there are three players ten yards behind the play while the guys they should be blocking are destroying his quarterback. Rankins is at the UL 48 yard line so when the ball comes free, it can bounce right into his line of vision. Players 2 and 3 in that last frame form the necessary "blocker" if you will to hold up Lindstrom and running back Myles Willis from ever getting to the play.

In retrospect, this maybe wasn't the #1 reason why BC lost the game, but it was definitely a major difference between Louisville and BC. After all, if you take those points off the board, BC goes from losing 17-14 to winning 14-10. It just serves as an example of where the Eagles' deficiencies are at this point and what they need to work on as the season moves forward.