FOOTBALL: Leading The Way
BC's Ability, Or Inability To Run, Will Decide USC Game
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 00:09
Before last Saturday, it had been almost three years since Andre Williams had seen so clearly on the football field. Time after time, quarterback Chase Rettig would hand the Boston College senior the ball, and Williams could envision exactly where he needed to go. Matt Patchan and Bobby Vardaro moved the Deacons out of the way on the left, Harris Williams and captain Ian White did the same on the right. Center Andy Gallik forced holes in the middle.
The Eagles offensive line accumulated more than 20 knockdowns, a good number against an ACC team. It was down from the 30 knockdowns the unit put up against Villanova, but that number probably can’t be topped.
“I’ve never seen knockdowns like we had in the first game,” White said. “The score didn’t necessarily show it, but physically we dominated them up front, which we should’ve. They didn’t have the size of the ACC opponents.”
It may not have shown in the score, as BC put up 24 points in each game, but it has shown in the rushing statistics. Williams has already accumulated 52 percent of his yardage total on the ground from 2012, with outings of 114 and 204 yards in the first two games this year. Williams gave a lot of the credit for his success to the five guys up front.
“It always starts with the offensive line,” Williams said. “They’re not going to be in the tabloids all the times, but it really starts with them. Making sure they’re on their aiming points, making sure they’re being physical, and I’m just the follow-up.”
It’s helped, though, that Williams is back to following up in the right way. He pounded his way to two consecutive 100-yard games at the end of the regular season his freshman year, but since then he’s had trouble establishing himself at the position.
Rather than continuing to punish any defender trying to take him down, Williams spent his sophomore and junior years trying to add more agile movements to his game. The former Pennsylvania track star looked like he was trying to get back to his roots. It didn’t work.
Now averaging a full yard per carry more than he did last season, he’s back to hitting people relentlessly, and his team, especially the offensive line, is loving it.
“This is his offense,” White said. “All of our plays are the perfect plays for him. Even when we start running side-to-side he can pound it up in there. He can run any offense, but handing him the rock down the field is what he wants and that’s what we’re doing.
“There’s no running away from people in this offense—well, maybe Chase. If he gets out there he might slide, but other than that we’re looking for one more hit, one more block.”
When the Eagles face USC on Saturday, the progress made in the run game will be put to its biggest test yet. Although the Trojans have stumbled out of the game with a disappointing 10-7 loss to Washington State last week, the defense has proven itself as one of the most dominant in the country. The numbers don’t even seem real.
Hawaii put up just 23 yards on its 31 attempts in USC’s season opener. Washington State registered only seven yards on its 22 attempts. Through the first two games, the Trojans are allowing offense to average an absurd 15 yards per game on the ground and .6 yards per rush.
“We have played great defense through two games … phenomenal effort by our players … very aggressive,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin on a conference call Tuesday. “I’m really glad we have fixed what we set out to do last January, which was to change our defensive structure [and] to be more attacking to deal more with the different offenses that we face.”
Last January, Kiffin appointed Cal-Berkeley’s Clancy Pendergast to replace his father Monte Kiffin as defensive coordinator, and Pendergast’s “52” defensive scheme has worked wonders for USC. Williams said he’s been watching some Cal tape to get ready for Saturday and the Trojans’ new multiple scheme.
USC essentially has five defensive linemen and two middle linebackers on the front seven, but only two, or sometimes three, of the defensive lineman are actually down on the ground. The rest stand up, and it’s troubling offenses so far.
“They do something a little different with their front seven,” Williams said. “I think really the main thing that I need to focus on this week is being able to identify who’s who. It’s another team. I’m going to respect them, but I’m not going to give them too much respect, though. It’s another team.”
Williams said the mixing of defensive linemen with linebackers, along with who is standing and who is down, makes the holes more difficult to identify.
The Trojans have typically used 6-foot-3, 285-pound George Uko and 6-foot-5, 270-pound Leonard Williams as the down defensive tackles so far with 6-foot-1, 315-pound nose tackle Antwaun Woods also working in. Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson are the primary linebackers behind the line, and Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin have been the standup rushers up front.
It’s something that, according to Williams, BC hasn’t seen before.
“I think it’s one of the best defenses in the country, to tell you the truth,” said BC head coach Steve Addazio. “They’ve got six returning starters and a bunch of great players. Guys that can rush the quarterback. Guys that can sack the quarterback. Guys that can run you down. Aggressive in the secondary, physical linebackers, and they make interceptions.”
For the BC offense to be successful, the attack must start with the power running game and build from there.
“The challenge for us will be to strike some balance,” Addazio said. “In order to do that, our receivers are going to have to get open and we’re going to have to throw and catch well.