Sports, Football, Fall

BC’s Versatile Ground Game Must Come Up Big Against Pittsburgh

It’s no mystery what Boston College is up against on Friday night. Soon after 7 p.m., when the first snap is taken, you can expect one thing regardless of which side wins the coin toss: an aggressive, ground and pound run game.

It has been 10 years since BC and Pitt last met, but this weekend the two will play a classic hard-fought, physical Northeastern battle, and neither side will be unfamiliar with its opponent’s offensive strategy.

“Some people run it, some people know how to run it,” BC head coach Steve Addazio said. “[Pitt head coach Paul Chryst] knows how to run it. So we know this will be a real line of scrimmage game, a real physical game, two programs that want to establish the run, two programs that want to play physically on defense, so that’s the kind of match.”

With a fresh, diversified core of running backs, as well as a new dual-threat quarterback, the Eagles relied heavily on their run game last weekend against UMass.

“I think our run game, we ran the ball well,” Addazio said. “And we did it with a collection of people, not only the quarterback but a bunch of running backs, and as I said earlier in the year, that’s kind of who we’ll be this year. We don’t have kind of the one guy that we’re going to hand the ball, at least right now, 40 times a game to, so we’re going to be a little bit more diverse in our run game approach.”

Six different Eagles had carries last Saturday, and quarterback Tyler Murphy led the way with 118 yards. He was followed by Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis, who had 87 and 65 yards, respectively.

While there are several players who have the ability to chip away at the yardage toward the end zone, what BC has yet to display is an ability to make big, breakout plays for longer stretches of yardage. With Andre Williams graduated, the Eagles don’t have a replacement back with the same kind of power, and thus are forced to take the yards as they come in smaller bits.

“We’ve gotta be very efficient,” Addazio said. “We’ve gotta have an executing offense with an ability to sustain long drives, because we’re not going to be able to get as much in chunks, so it’s a little different.”

Right now, the run game is the biggest weapon that Murphy and the BC offense have, but that doesn’t mean that the team is opposed to getting the ball in the air more often.

“In a perfect world, we’d love to have more balance,” Addazio said. “I think we have the capability more this year than last year. We are a different make up now for different reasons.”

On the offensive line, the Eagles will still be missing impact player Harris Williams, who left Saturday’s game in the first quarter after sustaining an ankle injury. He has since had surgery, and will likely make his return in six to eight weeks. In his place at right guard will be Aaron Kramer, a 6-foot-7, 293-pound graduate student from Duxbury, Mass.

Despite facing a short week, the defense will be able to get a good look at Pitt’s offense.

“We can simulate their offense,” Addazio said. “We are a base 4-3 defense like they are—we may be a little more pressure orientated,” Addazio said.

In other weeks the Eagles may face teams that work more through the air, challenging the secondary, but Friday’s test will be almost certainly be on the ground—Pitt has a strong core of backs that rushed for 409 yards in its 62-0 demolition of Delaware last weekend.

“We better be darn good, because that’s as good of a running team as there is in America,” Addazio said. “We’re a pressure outfit and we’ve gotta really be gap-sound and be able to get off blocks, and we’re going to be tested. We’re not playing a finesse team … You’ve got to be able to stop a downhill team, and the way you do that is with penetration.”

With the rest of the team settling into their roles, the one complicated scenario remains at the kicking position. Addazio chose to use two different kickers last weekend, Alex Howell from longer range, and Joey Launceford from closer in. He plans to do the same on Friday.

“Our opinion right now is that Alex Howell has a big leg,” Addazio said. “Longer field goals belong to Alex. The shorter range is Joey [Launceford] right now. But [Mike] Knoll may have the best stroke and best kick on the ball. I think he’s going to be a really good kicker. He’s young right now. That’s where we are today.”

With a short week to prepare for a very formidable opponent, some of the work the Eagles have done has had to involve looking in the mirror and deciphering what it will take to overcome a power running team.

“The thing about the game is it will be very physical game, because they’re a power running outfit,” Addazio said. “I don’t think either program is going to trick each other in this game.”

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor

September 4, 2014