Boston College has, in recent years, been a team which prides itself on defense. In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, it wasn’t like there was much offense to steal their thunder. Northwestern, on the other hand, was a team in 2010 which got to a bowl game mainly based off of their offense and the Dan Persa effect. These two defenses are in different places right now, and the numbers bear that out.
We start with the Boston College Eagles, home of one of the best players in the nation, Luke Kuechly. They were 2010′s top rushing defense and the 13th-best defense in FBS in total yardage. It is not a stretch at all to say that without the Eagles’ defense being what it was, they don’t even win 7 games as a team last year. This is a unit which has put together some strong results over the years, and they will be called upon once again to do it in 2011.
Aye, but there’s a catch. It starts with the graduations: Chris Fox, DeLeon Gause, Mark Herzlich, and Alex Albright, amongst others, are all gone. Now to the defections: safeties Okechukwu Okoroha and Dominick LeGrande are now off the team. Okoroha was dismissed for a violation of team rules (and it hadn’t been the first violation we knew about), while LeGrande elected to transfer. Finally, to the injuries, and one of them was freshman Spenser Rositano suffering a concussion in practice, while defensive lineman Kaleb Ramsey is questionable with a shoulder injury. This has left the Eagles thin in their secondary and possibly less potent up front; in the backfield, this has forced them to move Jim Noel back to safety, move Hampton Hughes from safety to wide receiver and back to safety again, and put freshman standout Al Louis-Jean in the line of fire at corner. In short, we are seeing more turnover back here than we expected.
Pass coverage was a problem for BC last year. In spite of being the top-ranked rush defense and 13th overall, they were 76th in FBS in pass defense. Now you take out some of BC’s experience in the defensive backfield and you have given the other team their general gameplan: pass the ball. They know they’re not going to get very much on the ground, and we’ve heard the complaints about the secondary being “soft” during practice, so I fully expect a team like Northwestern, presumably with Persa, to exploit it. Guys like Hughes and ALJ (amongst others) are going to be baptized by fire on Saturday, and they will have to step up lest a major flaw in the Eagles’ defense is exposed, and defensive coordinator Bill McGovern is going to have to find ways to adapt with the talent he’s got.
As for Northwestern, well, defense just wasn’t their thing last year, particularly at the end. They do return seven starters on this side of the ball, and a lot of them are seniors, but they were the 97th-overall defense in 2010. Earlier on, their numbers seemed respectable enough, but they folded up like a cheap tent by the finale. In the last three games of the year, including the bowl game loss to Texas Tech, the Wildcat D allowed 163 points, or a little over 54 points per game. Northwestern was just one of the teams Wisconsin flattened last season, and the other two dealing those losses were the aforementioned Red Raiders and the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Granted, the Eagles haven’t exactly shown yet they have the kind of offense that can hang 54 points in a game on anyone, let alone another FBS school, but the Wildcats’ defense on paper is not what the Eagles’ defense is, injuries and defections notwithstanding.
Boston College will probably go to the air early and often against Northwestern, taking Chase Rettig for a test drive in Kevin Rogers’ new offensive scheme, but expect our non-square dancing RB Andre Williams to get his share of carries and show the coaches what he showed everyone in his limited playing time last season. Not many teams were able to stop him, and given Northwestern’s unimpressive run defense last year, at this point it doesn’t look like they will be able to, either.
I know, it sucks having to use last season’s stats to figure out what’s going to happen this season. After all, 2010 was then is 2011 is now, and past performance is not necessarily indicative of future outcomes, especially when going from one season to the next. This is, however, what we have, and based on what we know, the Wildcat defense struggled at times, while the Eagles, though they had their moments of slacking off last year, were quite good on the whole. The question for the Eagles now becomes one of their continued effectiveness with a handful of new starters.