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Lack Of Passing Attempts Raises Questions About Darius Wade’s Readiness

We’re onto Week Three of what has already turned out to be an incredibly exciting college football season. Auburn nearly fell to FCS squad Jacksonville State, Brigham Young continues to break everyone’s hearts with last-second Hail Marys—do you still call them Hail Marys for Mormons?—and Cardale Jones stopped trying to read books and returned to reading defenses.

In that time, Boston College’s defense has looked to live up to Connor Wujciak’s preseason expectations of having a top-five unit in the country. The Eagles have yet to give up a touchdown, holding their first two opponents to a combined net total of 102 yards. BC’s swarming front seven has pushed back its opposing running backs on the ground almost as much as they’ve gained—102 yards forward, 88 yards back, for a net total of 14. That helps out the secondary, since BC’s pass rush has forced underwhelming attempts for only 88 yards.

Offensively, the Eagles look like a juggernaut. BC’s core of backs has dashed for 842 yards and a whopping 100 points, something that took four games to reach last season. Tyler Rouse has already surpassed his 2014 touchdown total and is currently one of only seven players in college football with at least five rushing TDs. The Eagles have continued to prevent turnovers while accumulating enough, something they were adept at with Tyler Murphy behind center.

And yet, I feel like Socrates. Two games down and we still know nothing about this team. And I hate to keep asking this, but…who is Darius Wade?

After two games, we can’t answer that.

It really doesn’t matter what he or the team has looked like thus far this season. Those first two teams—Maine and Howard—both come from the lesser FCS. Brad Bates and Co. have paid each hundreds of thousands of dollars to invite them up to Chestnut Hill and allow Steve Addazio’s team to kick the ever-living crap out of them.

Of course, not every Division 1-AA team is created equally. We all remember then-FCS squad Appalachian State’s epic takedown of No. 5 Michigan in the Big House. Four-time defending champion North Dakota State easily thumps its yearly FBS foe—in 2013, the Bison slammed Kansas State; in 2014, Iowa State.

But neither Maine nor Howard is a particularly good FCS opponent. The Black Bears went 5-6 a year ago, while Howard has had only one winning season in the last decade and lost last week to Appa State 49-0.

Sure, the way the defense has crushed the opposition might give some reason for optimism. We knew they’d be good, but so far—against terrible competition, but scholarship-receiving football players nonetheless—they’ve looked like the ’85 Bears. The running game seems to be up to snuff, too, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given BC’s ground excellence from the last two seasons.

Despite playing a pair of cupcake games, Addazio has been unwilling to unleash his sophomore quarterback and his inexperienced receiving corps. Wade has attempted only 38 passes total in his collegiate career—30 this season and only five from the Howard game.

And he hasn’t been blowing away defenses. He’s completed 17 of those 30 passes he has thrown this year, for a total of 185 yards. So far, he has about the same career completion percentage as Murphy. It’s a small sample size, but Murphy completed 57 percent of his passes against tough defenses, including a few—Louisville, Penn State, Clemson—that ended up in the top-10.

Wade is a quarterback who is marketed, and markets himself, as more of a threat in the aerial game. Yet he’s completed 57 percent of his passes against FCS defenses.

A huge component of becoming a better quarterback is developing relationships with your receivers. You don’t need to put up mind-shattering numbers like Chad Pennington and Randy Moss did at Marshall in 1997. Chase Rettig and Alex Amidon didn’t set the world on fire at BC. But they got to the point where their chemistry was so great that wherever Rettig threw the ball or whatever route Amidon ran, the Eagles gained yardage.

At this point, Wade hasn’t gotten the chance to develop that relationship with his receivers. He has told me he has an excellent connection with Thadd Smith, the sophomore who entered the season as the top receiver on BC’s depth chart, from a 7-on-7 tournament at IMG Academy. But, as Addazio points out routinely, playing 7-on-7 is not the same as real game action. And while Wade has attempted a couple of deep, well-thrown passes to Smith, they haven’t landed—Smith has only caught two passes for 26 yards thus far in 2015.

A lot of this has to come down on the play calling. The Eagles have attempted 40 passes total compared to 89 rushing attempts, a difference of more than 70-30. Everyone and their mother knew that BC could run the ball up the gut and down the throat of the Bison’s pitiful defense. So why didn’t they try to go against the typical gameplan and air it out down the field? It’s not as if Addazio wasn’t above reaching into his bag of tricks—after all, following BC’s third touchdown, the Eagles tried to go for a two-point conversion. Although there’s nothing impressive about lighting up Howard’s secondary, Wade shouldn’t have his first attempt at seriously trying out his arm against Florida State.

It also makes little sense why Wade wasn’t used in longer drives, when he’d have the opportunity to air out the ball. Granted, BC had few of those on Saturday, but when the team did, it was Troy Flutie or Jeff Smith behind center. But even in the short drives that BC got within Howard’s red zone, the playbook seemed to stick to running the ball.

Even if running is the Eagles’ gameplan when they enter the red zone—something that makes sense given BC’s strength is still in the running game—there need to be backup options. Look at the Louisville game last season, when the Cardinals shut down Jonathan Hilliman and Murphy on the ground. BC had no choice but to go to the passing game. That didn’t work out so well—Murphy threw four interceptions, three of which came in the fourth quarter.

Addazio made a fair point at his press conference on Saturday. He didn’t want to risk players getting hurt in a blowout game, and he didn’t want to be stubborn about keeping his starters in when there was nothing to be gained but playing time. That’s a reasonable response, especially since Wade’s right hamstring had been acting up throughout the week.

But both Addazio and Wade assured me that his hamstring was both completely fine and had no direct correlation with the coaching staff’s decision to sit the new face of their amateur franchise. And even the head coach, who was all smiles on Saturday, found the lack of playing time for his main guys troubling.

“In my heart, I knew that wasn’t enough for our ones,” Addazio said.

As for Wade, he still feels confident in his ability to throw the ball despite the lack of playing time. When asked whether he felt he got enough attempts on Saturday, he replied with a laugh: “You gotta do what coach tells you to do.”

Based on his high school stats and highlight videos, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade lets a few balls fly deep into the heart of an ESPN-broadcasted, Massachusetts night.

But expect to see, at least, a shaky start. As confident as he may be, Wade still hasn’t seen a defense as hungry as the Seminoles. Although they don’t put up fearsome numbers compared to the one he will face down the road in Death Valley, they still have bigger bodies and better athletes than FCS teams can field.

And just one extra quarter behind center might’ve made the difference between a top-10 upset and another loss at the unrelenting hands of the Tomahawk Chop.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

September 14, 2015

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