Football, Featured Story

Point / Counterpoint: Should the Eagles Attack the Air More?

The Offense Ain’t Broken. Don’t Try to Fix It.

Michael Sullivan | Sports Editor

Who coined the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Seriously, I want to know the answer to that question. Whoever did should be a billionaire.

The same can be said about Boston College football’s offense. That statement isn’t to say that the Eagles are good or where they want to be yet. Just ask Steve Addazio—he’ll eventually tell you they’re not up to his standards. Look at where the Eagles are thus far. They have 664 yards—100th most in the nation, with only Wake Forest behind them among ACC teams. Splitting that up among passing and rushing yards, that’s 164.5 on the ground (80th in the nation) and 167.5 through the air (105th). Addazio would like to see at least 200 in each category, a respectable number that would get the Eagles in the middle of the pack in the nation offensively.

“Middle of the pack” might not be enough for most, and that’s fair. But considering where the Eagles were last year, this season has, so far, looked to be a massive improvement.

A lot of that is because of the new offense implemented by coordinator Scot Loeffler. The 41-year-old Ohio native has worked as the offensive coordinator for many Division I programs, including Virginia Tech, Auburn, and Temple, the last of which was under Addazio. He also spent time as a quarterbacks coach for the Detroit Lions, as well as over 10 years coaching for Michigan. One of the Wolverines he coached ended up becoming, arguably, the best quarterback who ever lived. That man plays on Sundays in Foxborough (starting in October, that is). Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

It’s impossible to question Loeffler’s resume. Though his teams’ successes have been modest—the best an offense of his has finished in yards per game was 63rd with Temple in 2011, and he averaged 92nd in three years with the Hokies—it’s a huge improvement over the predictable offense of Todd Fitch.

In every facet, and even taking injuries to Darius Wade and Jonathan Hilliman into account, Fitch’s 2015 offense was awful. He rarely showed urgency in his play calling. Fitch single-handedly created #RRPP—run, run, pass, punt—that spread through BC Sports Twitter quicker than the norovirus outbreak of 2015 (Ts and Ps to Dennis Clifford). And, from start to finish, the offensive system showed no improvement, even if a few—emphasis on few—players did.

The complete opposite has occurred with Loeffler. His play-action, pro-style attack has worked well enough to keep BC in and winning games. Nothing we have seen thus far has justified a change to a spread or pass-first mentality.

Loeffler has used the run to set up potential first-down passes, as was displayed on Saturday against Massachusetts. Last year, the Eagles didn’t have a quarterback with whom they could employ this strategy. Now, they have Patrick Towles. The graduate transfer from Kentucky has thrown for 335 yards, with two touchdowns—a third on the ground—and two interceptions. In his next game, he’ll likely surpass John Fadule’s team-leading passing total from last season of 464 yards. This offense has also given several wide receivers, such as Jeff Smith, Michael Walker, and Charlie Callinan an avenue to succeed. The three have looked like valuable attacks in the passing game early in the season.

Lauding the passing game does not mean the running game has been completely abandoned. So far, the offensive line has done a decent job of opening up the proper holes. In particular, the right side of the line—guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Jimmy Lowery, as well as center Jon Baker—has been where Loeffler has directed the running attack. The problem for the ground game comes into the fact that, because opposing defenses know where Jonathan Hilliman and Co. are going, they stack the defense to that side of the field. That alignment leaves the left side vulnerable for attacking, but it lacks the offensive line talent—at least for the time being—to exploit it.

It’s a shame that that is the case, because Hilliman has shown phenomenal explosiveness once in the open field. The two times he has found a clear hole in the offensive line, he has broken through for touchdown runs—one of 15 yards, the other, 73. It doesn’t appear that the problem is the scheme, but rather the production behind it.

In its first two games, BC has scored 14 and 26 points, respectively. That includes two missed field goals, two turnovers within the opposing 30, and one turnover on downs within the opposing 30. Obviously, the mistakes need to be remedied. And averaging 20 points in two games, one of which was against a glorified FCS team, isn’t ideal for most.

But it has been enough to get the Eagles a win—their first in 339 days—and just enough to get them a second one. Like it or not, with this defense, that’s all BC’s offense needs to do—have just enough scoring to win. And right now, the pro-style, play-action, occasional option attack isn’t broken. So, why fix it?

Passing Attack Too Stacked Not to Give It a Try

Annabel Steele | Asst. Sports Editor

You know that feeling when you have just discovered something great, and you know you get to enjoy it for a really long time? Say, for example, you just started watching a great TV show, like LOST, on Netflix. While you are binge-watching, you get to appreciate that you have a long journey in front of you.

Man, isn’t that feeling just great? You think, This is going to be amazing, and this is only just the beginning.

Boston College football fans should be enjoying that feeling right now. Anyone who watched the Eagles defeat the University of Massachusetts last weekend should have noticed something big. Something that has not really been present for the last couple years, and certainly was not present last year. Something that spells good fortune ahead for the Eagles, if only they play to it: a deep passing threat.

Remember when Jeff Smith used to be a quarterback? Well, now he’s showing that he can make a huge impact on the team as a wide receiver. Against UMass, Smith caught just five passes—but tallied 98 yards and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Patrick Towles looked like he had a great connection with Smith, and after the game praised his teammate’s speediness.

If Towles and Smith can keep it up, they will turn into an undeniable threat this season. And the best news of all? Smith isn’t even the only wide receiver with serious potential on this roster. With the talent level and potential, the Eagles should look to turn into a pass-heavy team this season.

Last year, it wasn’t in the cards for the Eagles to be a legitimate passing threat. Without real stability in the quarterback position, it was not easy for the receivers to establish themselves as a dominant force. The numbers reflect this: Thadd Smith finished as the team leader in receptions, yards, and receiving touchdowns. Throughout the entire season, he had only 17 catches, 233 yards and two touchdowns. Yup, those numbers are accurate. Let that sink in for a moment.

Nobody expects BC to have a dangerous passing attack, and that is precisely why it should use its receiving corps to inflict some real damage this season. Aside from Smith, there are several talented receivers with the potential to be playmakers this season.

Against UMass, Charlie Callinan made an impressive leaping grab along the sideline to put BC deep into Minutemen territory. After the contest concluded, head coach Steve Addazio referred to that play as instrumental in the game. Callinan also showed potential as a deep threat when he recorded 53 yards on four catches against Georgia Tech in Week One. Smith referred to Callinan as a great leader and mentor earlier this summer.

Elijah Robinson and Michael Walker may be primed for real breakout seasons this year, too. Last year, Robinson recorded 111 yards. This year, with a consistent quarterback and a positive atmosphere around the team, he is perfectly positioned to emerge as another serious threat for the Eagles. And Walker, who was successful as a kick returner last year, totaled 35 yards against Georgia Tech this year. The Eagles may continue to use him in future games this season.   

With this talented receiving corps, you may be wondering—will Towles be up for the challenge? He most certainly will be. Throughout two games this season, Towles has 332 yards passing. During his time at Kentucky, he amassed more than 5,000 yards passing with 24 touchdown passes. Towles has a strong arm and confidence. With a talented receiving corps, there is no reason why he shouldn’t have a strong year. He is more than up for the challenge of transforming BC into a serious passing threat this year.  

Even without considering the depth on BC’s roster, the coaching staff is well-equipped to help the receivers develop into a dangerous threat. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler has almost 20 years of experience working with signal callers and offensive threats. Wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell also has an impressive resume. As a wide receiver for BC himself, he was named Most Valuable Player in 2009. Gunnell’s 2459 receiving yards are good enough to earn him second place on the all-time BC receiving list. Loeffler and Gunnell together have the skills and knowledge necessary to help the receivers emerge as a dangerous aspect of the offense this season.

But what about the running game? You might be asking yourself this question. If BC turns to the wide receivers as the primary threat, what will happen to Jonathan Hilliman and Co.? Relying on the wide receivers doesn’t mean the Eagles will never use the running game. Hilliman is talented and will be a dangerous offensive player for the Eagles this year. But the running game can’t win by itself. And against UMass, the running game just wasn’t working. Sure, Hilliman rushed for a touchdown, but that was pretty much it for offensive contributions from running backs. He finished with 54 yards, while teammate Myles Willis ran for just 22 yards on the day.

Nobody can deny that BC has serious potential with Towles and the receiving corps. Smith and Callinan have already shown that they are veritable threats. Robinson and Walker are both primed for breakout seasons. Towles is more than capable of rising up to the challenge. The coaching staff would be crazy not to explore this option. Converting to a pass-happy offense is a change from the BC of the past, but a good one.

You know that amazing feeling you get when you start something new and exciting, like LOST? Yup, BC fans, it’s time—get excited for this football season, because the passing threat is a new and wonderful thing.  

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor

September 14, 2016