October 24, 2006

Buffalo a quick fix for running game?

Defense wins championships. It's as simple as that and for the Boston College Eagles, that's a good thing wrapped in a sigh of relief because Tom O'Brien appears to be completely content to let the defense win his games for him.

That concept is fine and dandy for football purists who know that at the heart of this theory, the offense still plays a major role and that is as the custodian of the football. To be an effective custodian, one must be able to run the football and right now that is something this team simply can not do.

Matt Ryan is clearly the leader of this team and his inspirational play over the last few weeks has been a major reason why the Eagles have beaten Virginia Tech and Florida State. However, this is New England and the weather can turn ugly from October on and if the Eagles plan on being a legitimate contender for the ACC crown, they must be able to run the football and not have to rely on the passing game.

Now is the time to fix the running game. If BC goes in to the final part of the schedule, with three very good teams ahead of them in Maryland, Miami and Wake Forest, and they can not run the football, they're in trouble. Given that Ryan is one step away from being done for the season, it is more imperative than ever that the offense take this week against Buffalo to fix what ails the running game.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the offense from the Florida State Game.

Quarterback: A

The play of the game for the offense was not a touchdown. It came late in the 3rd quarter. FSU had just pinned BC inside their own 5 yard line. BC ran the ball on first down and then an incomplete to Palmer on second. Third down had Matt Ryan in the shotgun. He got pressure up the middle but saw his receiver break open and Ryan took an extra step, stopped and planted and threw a frozen rope to his receiver for a 40 yard gain. Had Ryan not completed that pass and gotten BC out of the shadows of their own goal posts, the outcome may very well have been different.

That is what Ryan means to this team. If you notice, he planted with his broken foot and then took a monstrous hit he knew was coming. Simply put, due to the lack of a running game, this team can not win without the presence of Matt Ryan.

Running Backs: C-

With 1.9 yards-per-carry on 30 attempts, it's easy to point to the running backs as the cause of the running game malaise. A fan with rosy colored glasses would simply point to the increased talent level of the ACC as the reason and others might highlight the offensive line as the source of the ailment.

However, it's probably more complicated than that. In a zone blocking scheme, a running back needs to read the blocks of his linemen and how the defense reacts to the offensive line movement. That is called getting in to a rhythm but with backs that rotate out every series, it's almost impossible for the backs to find that rhythm. Additionally, with the complete and astounding lack of any counter plays in the offense, linebackers and backside ends and linemen simply read the helmets of the offensive line and get to the play and plug the hole.

Lastly, the handoffs are so deep in the backfield, any holes that did open are more often than not, closed by the time the running backs hit the them. I am aware that in the zone running scheme, (belly, stretch, etc) the hand off needs to be deeper than a lead or dive or power series, but the current schema is pulling the curtains shut well before the show gets to start.

On a final note, 1.9 yards per carry is a failing grade but the two main running backs, L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender, have done a tremendous job in max protection.

Offensive Line: B

It is a bit odd to grade the running backs as lowly as we did but praise the offensive line but one has to remember that the offensive line does a tremendous job protecting Matt Ryan. FSU possesses a very fast, very good defense. Their blitzes were timed well and they are very good at pressuring the quarterback.

So while the running game is a mess, the pass pro is in fine shape.

Wide Receivers: C+

The defensive backs of Florida State are young and fast but the BC receivers did a decent job of getting separation but dropsies and fumbles aare still plaguing the Eagles. However, this is a tough group of kids that can catch in traffic and take a hit when they need to.

Coaching: C-

The offense is relying almost solely on Matt Ryan and it could even be said that the offense was only responsible for one touchdown on the day. In a scheme where defenses do not have to worry about protecting the backside or counter, defenders can simply play to their first reads. This gives the defense a tremendous advantage and takes away any pre-snap advantage the offense might have had.

The running game ailments must be fixed in time for the rest of the ACC schedule for the Eagles to have a chance at the ACCCG. The teams they are playing are simply too good and too hot to play one dimensionally.






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