Boston College spent the past three seasons mired in deep offensive turmoil. Ineffectiveness, poor execution, and hideous playcalling frequently kept the Eagles under 20 points per game, giving the then-decent defense a difficult task of having to hold opponents way down.
For one afternoon in College Park, that changed. Boston College went to Maryland and shredded the Terrapins on the ground to the tune of 372 yards (62 carries) on a day when there would not be much throwing the football. Maryland’s defensive front seven could do nothing to stop it. The Eagles won the game, 28-17. What can BC’s offense accomplish here against the Terps, and how will the gameplan vary in 2012?
In last year’s contest, the Eagles ran 62 times and passed 12, with bad weather ruling the day. Two things are different now: Current forecasts call for some sunshine and temperatures in the 60s, and the offensive philosophy of Boston College has changed. The 2011 Terps game was the one in which BC figured out it had to run the ball to stay in games, and unfortunately, it did not work in every remaining contest. Still, this is not a run-first team anymore, nor has the Eagles’ ground game been anything special. As a matter of fact, BC’s rushing offense is statistically one of the worst in the country. Though Andre Williams has looked decent at times, this sub-unit of the offense is still mostly a non-factor. It was more potent in 2011 when Maryland and BC last met.
What is a factor is the passing game and Chase Rettig, though the numbers have been in a backslide as of late. Rettig’s completion percentage is just 56.3%, which barely cracks the top 100 nationally, and he is now 68th in the nation with 7.3 yards per attempt. Part of this has been the uptick in the level of competition, some problems with the offensive line in pass blocking, a receiver drop here and there, and some decision-making issues on the part of Rettig. Whereas at the start of the season, his games were excellent, now, we say “he did fine” more than “he was great.” He is not having any truly bad games, but he has had his misses.
Though Eagles fans like to talk about the progress made in the offense since last season, so far, the results have not been dramatically different. Whereas BC was ~110th in many major offensive categories in 2011, they are in the mid-80s now when it comes to scoring and total offense. What BC has is an offense that is more capable of scoring than previously and is not terribly explosive, but is often let down by the defense.
Speaking of defense, Maryland’s comes into this game much, much better than the 2011 version. The Terps are 11th in FBS in total defense, allowing just 288.43 yards per game. Maryland is also 31st in scoring defense at 20.29 points per game, 29th in pass defense, and 17th in both sacks and tackles for a loss. Their run defense has been brilliant, sitting at 6th in the nation at 87.57 yards per game. Finally, Maryland is 3rd in the nation in first downs allowed at 14.43, 40th in third-downs at 35.59%, and T-36th in red zone defense at 76%, though they have allowed field goals 8 of those 13 scores (17 drives).
Simply put, this is not the same team that gave up 372 yards on the ground last October.
Some of the Terps’ opponents this year don’t exactly light up the scoreboard, but you can only play the teams on your schedule, and Maryland has held up well against them defensively. Demetrius Hartsfield is a big part of why: the senior linebacker has 64 tackles and three sacks so far this year, while fellow senior linebacker Darin Drakeford has six sacks. In total, there are four Terps on the ACC top 20 sacks leaderboard. Joe Vellano, one of those four, leads the ACC in tackles for a loss with 11.5.
Last season, Maryland was near the bottom in the country in most defensive categories, so it is truly remarkable how they have turned it around completely in one season. Do not make the mistake of thinking BC will shred them like they did last year at College Park. They might, but it would be a foolish expectation given how good Maryland’s defense is.
Were the Terps’ defense similar in quality to last year, I might have called this a slight BC advantage. I cannot now. Maryland has the edge when these units are on the field because the Terrapins have the ability to hold down opposing offenses, keep them out of the end zone, and keep them from converting on third downs — and BC has plenty of weaknesses that correspond to Maryland’s strengths.