Eagles Must Show Offensive Strength Against Connecticut

Coming off another nationally televised blowout loss at the hands of Florida State, Boston College football once again finds itself looking to rebound in a must-win game if it wants a shot at postseason play. With two games remaining on the schedule, the Eagles (4-6, 1-6 Atlantic Coast) must win out to become bowl eligible for the third time in four years under head coach Steve Addazio. The postseason push begins this weekend as BC celebrates the jersey retirement of Matt Ryan on Senior Day against Connecticut (3-7, 1-6 American Athletic).

The spotlight did not bode well for the Eagles in either of the last two weeks. Granted, these games were against two of the nation’s toughest opponents, but the country saw the Eagles get embarrassed on both occasions. BC watched Heisman Trophy candidate Lamar Jackson account for 416 total yards and seven touchdowns in a 52-7 beatdown by No. 7 Louisville, followed by a 45-7 defeat in Tallahassee against No. 18 Florida State, in which the Eagles put up a mere 146 yards of offense. After dropping these two games, BC has now been outscored by ACC opponents 261-79 on the season.

In many ways, the Huskies are similar to the Eagles, especially offensively. Connecticut has the worst offense in the country in terms of points per game at 16.5. It ranks in the bottom 15 in rushing yards per game with 123 and total yards per game with 341. If you’re wondering where BC finds itself in these categories, you don’t have to look far. The Eagles are right behind UConn as the fifth-worst-scoring offense in points per game at 18.2. They have the ninth-fewest passing yards per game with 144.1, and they have the worst total offense in the country with just 296 yards per game. While BC can still rely on its 17th-ranked defense against UConn’s dreadful attack, the offense needs to make sure it does enough to push the Eagles past the Huskies in what’s likely to be a low-scoring affair.

The Eagles have made efforts to add creativity to their offensive scheme, as seen by Tommy Sweeney’s game-winning touchdown catch from running back Davon Jones a few weeks ago against North Carolina State. Nevertheless, the Eagles’ trickery and game-to-game schemes haven’t led to many positive results beyond that one play. While BC’s 17th-ranked defense will hold an edge, Addazio is aware that UConn’s defense could also cause problems for the Eagles’ already struggling offense.

“On defense, they’re strong,” Addazio said. “They are 32nd in the country against the run. Very tough to run against them. They are 76th in total defense. I think they’ve got some good, strong, stout players.”

Addazio isn’t the only one taking notice—quarterback Patrick Towles recognizes the talent and threats that exist on that Huskies defense.

“They’re really good upfront,” Towles said after Tuesday’s practice. “They’ve got a pro player upfront. They’re good in the back end, especially at safety. They’re going to bring some kind of particular pressures that we’ve got to be ready for.”

For a BC offense that runs the ball on almost two-thirds of its offensive plays, that could pose major problems for Eagles. A major key for the Eagles will be Towles’ ability to develop a passing game that has been lacking to expand the field and open up BC’s running attack.

In an effort to shake up the offense, an interesting strategy to pay attention to will be Addazio’s utilization of his running backs. While the Eagles’ offense relies heavily on pounding the ball on the ground, its prime running back and former all-ACC preseason running back Jon Hilliman has been slumping this season, especially recently. Hilliman is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry on the season, and in the past two weeks he only has 36 yards on 21 carries—just 1.7 yards per attempt. Although they’ve seen significantly fewer carries than Hilliman, Myles Willis and Jones have brought energy and production to a lagging offense. Both players have quietly put together solid seasons for the Eagles, averaging over 4 yards per attempt. If the offense continues to struggle, look for Willis and Jones to get some touches in the backfield.

In a game featuring two of the nation’s worst offenses, it may come down to the turnover battle. Although BC personnel lauded UConn’s solid defense, the Eagles hold the advantage in this phase of the game. Despite the Huskies’ poor offense, however, it manages to hold onto the football, as Connecticut ranks 17th in the nation for fewest turnovers, while the Eagles are 85th. UConn’s defense, however, is the 18th-worst in the country at forcing turnovers, while BC is the 54th-best. While the Huskies don’t turn the ball over, they don’t take it away from opponents either. If the Eagles’ defense can come away with some key plays and win the turnover margin, BC will likely have an opportunity to become bowl eligible against Wake Forest in the season finale.

“Our goal for the entire season has been to play in the postseason,” Towles said. “We dropped one or two that we shouldn’t have dropped. But we still have an opportunity. These next two weeks are huge, but if we don’t win this one, then the last one won’t really matter.”

Regardless of all the regional rivalry and bowl eligibility chatter surrounding the team, the message is loud and clear for the Eagles on Saturday: beat UConn.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

November 16, 2016