This Saturday, Wake Forest ships up to Boston for their annual Atlantic Division matchup with the Boston College Eagles. It's a key game for two teams teetering with a .500 record and fighting through struggles in the first half of the year.
The Boston College issues are well-documented. The offense ranks 94th in total offense and is fighting through a hole at the quarterback situation. Although the defense is currently ranked #1 in most major categories, the Eagles are fighting against their offensive woes, well-documented and well-analyzed.
Wake Forest is in a similar boat. Although the Demon Deacons are 44th in the nation in total yardage, they're 100th in the nation in scoring. After defeating Elon, 41-3, in the opening game, they've failed to score with regularity, scoring 17 in a loss to Syracuse, 17 in a win over Army, 24 in a loss to Indiana, and 16 in a loss to Florida State. This comes a year after they were arguably the worst offense in the history of the FBS.
We can operate under an assumption that BC's defense will perform at a high to elite level. The key, therefore, comes from the way the Eagle offense performs against a Deacs defense currently ranked 35th in total yardage and 39th in points allowed.
When it comes to the BC offense, everyone wants to take a macro view, criticizing the personnel selection and overall philosophy. But if we take a micro view, we can look for potential holes where BC can look to create advantages through game planning. This will open up the plays, then boiling down to execution moreso than a criticism or discussion of players and coaches. The point, after all, is to look at what the defense presents and look to impose will through different methods of thinking.
Against FSU, the Wake Forest defense was susceptible to the big play. Halfway through the first quarter, the Seminoles took over with a 1st-and-10 at their own six yard line. FSU broke the huddle from a straight up I formation, while the Deacons countered with their defensive set:
Watching the play, there are a couple of heady plays to spring running back Dalvin Cook. First, the fullback makes a tremendous block against the edge rusher, realizing that he shouldn't plow up into the line and instead sealing off the tackle box by opening things up. This helps open up a seam where Cook breaks it into the second level. Wake's defense forgets how to form tackle, allowing Cook to open things up and take off from there.
Realistically, Cook should be brought down at the 10 yard line, which would've been a good gain of four on first down. So that's what we're choosing to focus on. The hole opens up nicely thanks to the fullback having the awareness of where to block, sealing off the edge so the RB can break it open. While BC is unlikely to break off a 90-plus yard run, this is a good example of how the Eagles hypothetically will be able to grind out four to five yard type plays and sustain drives.
But let's say play action roll out is your thing. Florida State also ran that to success off of read option:
Using two running backs, FSU splits all of its blockers out to the right on a read option run. They use Cook off to the left as a receiver for the check down option if the run isn't there. The quarterback makes the read and opts to keep the ball, which means he's either looking for the running back out of the pattern or taking it himself. Even though a wide receiver runs vertical up the sideline, I don't think there was ever an intention to throw it downfield.
When the quarterback rolls out, Cook uses his speed to get out left to the line of scrimmage. The throw to Cook opens up a short gain when he gets out to the sideline, but his athleticism turns it into a longer gain of four or five. At the end of the play, any longer gain is negated when Cook pulls up lame, but there's at least something to look for.
This play is nearly the exact replica of the one BC ran on fourth down on the final drive against Duke. In this situation, the quarterback needs to throw it right into the waiting hands so the receiver can catch it in stride and gain three to five yards. A poor throw results in a gain of less or the play being blown up altogether in the backfield.
These are basic plays in the Boston College repertoire also used as part of the Florida State playbook. Because the play design is similar, we can see that, with good execution, it can work to get yardage and sustain drives against a talented defense. Although the Wake Forest linebackers are athletic and talented, the Eagles can negate them by running plays designed to attack defensive linemen and players in motion. A quick release by the quarterback here or a good block there, and the BC offense might actually be able to roll.
For the past couple of weeks, we've been looking at the BC offense and determining that it just can't work in its current incarnation. But if the Eagles are going to push forward, then they can get it to boil down to execution as one unit where calling someone as a "who" doesn't matter as much as calling the type of offense designed to defeat the Demon Deacons.