October 16, 2009

BC / NC State: The Preview

Has anyone ever nailed down why Tom O'Brien left the Heights? Was it his frustration with being able to attract recruits to academics-first Boston College? Did he feel like he wasn't being paid what he was worth?

O'Brien's history is well documented. The BC football program was mired in a gambling scandal that ripped away the guts of the program, leaving it a soul-less mess for O'Brien to clean up. But O'Brien restored dignity to a program that was almost put out of existence. He went 76-45 as BC's coach before he left for NC State. But one has to wonder if he had to do it all over again, if he would change his mind.

After watching film from the Wolfpack's last two games, the coaching staff and the athletes are definitely not on the same page. While it's unclear whether Tom O'Brien is making his players walk the plank, or whether he has a mutiny on his hands, one thing's for certain, he ain't in Kansas anymore. The Wolfpack are coming off an embarrassing loss at home against lowly Duke last week, which was preceded by an effortless defeat at Wake Forest the week before. There also seemed to be a lot of Wolfpack fans dressed as empty seats last weekend. Now in his third year as head coach, O'Brien's program seems to have more questions than answers.

On the flip side, Boston College needs this game like you needed your parent's woody station wagon on a Friday night in high school. I was in attendance for last weekend's Blacksburg Massacre, and afterwards I still couldn't figure out how a team can come out that unprepared. It's almost as if the Hokie entrance song - Metallica's "Enter Sandman" - actual put the Eagles in an Ambien-like state. As my esteemed colleague Eric Hoffses wrote earlier in the week, the team meeting after that loss seems to have put a spring back in their step. It's quite clear the Eagle players understand that they still have an excellent chance at going back to the ACC Championship game for a third consecutive year. It's funny how irony works, as Coach O'Brien now stares down his third straight losing season. Now on to the preview -

When NC State runs : Advantage BC

95% of the time, NC State lines up in a three-wide shotgun set, with either one back and a tight end or they bring the tight end into the backfield as somewhat of an "H" back. Their tendency is to try to run the ball outside the hash marks and the results in ACC play so far has been mediocre. Good portions of their running yards come on the legs of scrambling quarterback Russell Wilson. In fact Wilson does just about everything for the Wolfpack except for fill the water jugs and play the trombone in the marching band. Toney Baker and Jamelle Eugene have below-average size and speed, and seem to run like Pee-Wee football backs, constantly looking to rush outside no matter how big the holes are made the line.

Let us forget what happened to the Eagle's defense last weekend at Virginia Tech. The Eagles still rank fourth in rushing defense in the ACC, allowing only 124 yards per game on the ground. This defense only allowed 70 yards rushing the week before against Florida State, and the Wolfpack will not beat the Eagle's linebackers and safeties to the corner. This will put even more pressure on Wilson to throw the ball.

When NC State passes : Advantage BC

Russell Wilson appears to have a coach in his ear telling him he needs to look to throw first, when actually the opposite is true. NC State Offensive Coordinator Dana Bible runs a pretty predictable offense (if I can watch two games and pick up their tendencies, imagine what Coach Spaz knows). On third downs, Wilson's first option is big tight end George Bryan, who leads the Wolfpack in receptions (26), yards (275), and touchdowns (4). Expect Mike McLaughlin to be matched up against him in pass coverage, and it will be a good test to see how far BC's defensive captain has recovered from his Achilles' injury.

Wilson becomes wildly inaccurate when he has to throw beyond 15 yards, which means that BC's secondary should jam the wideouts on the line of scrimmage. This should disrupt the timing of the passing game, and NC State's receivers don't exactly run the crispest of routes. One player to look out for is 6-foot-3 Owen Spencer, who has the ability to be a home run threat. The offensive line for NC State does a decent job giving Wilson time to throw the ball, and a good amount of their 17 sacks allowed this season have been of the coverage variety.

The Eagles secondary has been a victim of being left on the field for long stretches of time this season, and that has attributed to some near-collapses in weeks past. The Wolfpack's passing stats (252 yards per game, 4th in ACC) are overrated as they've been playing from behind most of the season. BC has the better athletes, but they have to contain Wilson from escaping the pocket.

When BC runs: Advantage BC

Another statistical mirage is NC State's run defense numbers - 62 yards per game - which ranks them first in the ACC. The reason for that is Duke threw the ball 50 times last week, and the week prior to that the stat keeper counted all of their sack yardage against Riley Skinner[/db[ as rushing losses.

The fact of the matter is that their defensive front is soft against the run. The Wolfpack's defensive tackles are consistently getting blown five yards off the ball, and their linebackers don't seem to care about their gap responsibilities, it's more of a guessing game with them. The Eagles offensive line should be able to handle them in the trenches.

When BC passes: Advantage BC

Are we sure [db]Dave Shinskie didn't pitch in the Red Sox minor league system? Because just like our beloved BoSox, he doesn't seem to play very well outside the confines of Alumni Stadium. Going back to the film of NC State's secondary, they are simply out-to-lunch. The safeties have no idea how to play a two deep, the corners can't jam receivers, and that leads to them getting gouged with the pass. These factors, plus poor tackling, leads to the Wolfpack giving up 220 yards in the air per game. NC State's linebackers don't provide any relief, and for whatever reason they are constantly relied upon to have curl-flat coverage, which leads the defense open to underneath crossing patterns all day.

Shinskie and company have proven that they have the ability to light up the scoreboard in the air, and now is the time for the coaching staff to utilize Josh Haden and Montel Harris in the passing game. The Eagle offensive line should have their hands full with Wolfpack defensive end Willie Young, who has seven sacks on the season, and could wind up having his name called in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He rounds out a great pass-rushing defense that leads the ACC in sacks with 18.

Special Teams: Advantage BC

Field position is always key in any game. BC is only allowing 13.7 yards per kickoff return, while NC State allows 21.6 yards. That's almost a first down less the offense needs to gain.

Vegas Vantage Point: BC is laying 2.5 points. Usually Vegas gives three points for the home team in any contest.

Extra Point: Russell Wilson owns the FBS record for most consecutive passes without an interception, 379, which was broken against Wake Forest.

Prediction: BC has overcome too much this season to fall flat two weeks in a row. The Eagles are going to come out fired up, and NC State doesn't have the firepower to comeback if they get down two scores.

BC 31, NC State 14

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