Notebook: Against Wolfpack, Missed Opportunities Overshadow Dillon’s Monster Day

With running back Jonathan Hilliman at his hip, Boston College football quarterback Anthony Brown snapped the ball out of the shotgun, just two minutes into the second quarter of Saturday’s game against North Carolina State. The redshirt freshman surveyed the field, but soon after, made the split-second decision to tuck the ball and run. Brown sprinted out of the pocket, bee-lining for the first down marker. All he had to do was make one guy miss—something he’s done with relative ease the back half of this season. But before he could even juke, the play, and probably his season, were over.

Approaching the 20-yard line, Brown planted his right foot in the ground, attempting to misdirect NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt. Right then and there, Brown’s knee buckled, and he tumbled to the ground.

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The redshirt freshman squirmed in pain, as team doctors rushed onto the field. A few minutes later, he was helped off the field, and backup Darius Wade entered the game—his sixth of the season.

Just four weeks prior, Wade led the Eagles to a comeback victory over Louisville. Executing the play-fake to near perfection, he orchestrated four-consecutive touchdown drives. But on Saturday, the graduate student couldn’t do anything of the sort. Wade completed just eight of his 15 pass attempts for a mere 82 yards. Quite simply, the offense reverted back to its old, predictable self. The Eagles averaged 4.6 yards per play—close to 1.4 yards less than they did in the previous three wins, and could no longer score at will.

Missed field goals and turnovers kept BC in the game, but, in the end, even that wasn’t enough to make up for Wade and the offense’s lack of production. The 17-14 loss not only slides the Eagles back to .500, but it also puts a fork in their three-game, ACC win streak—one that started and ended with Wade behind center. 

Three Up

1) A.J. Dillon

No. 23 NC State (7-3, 5-1 Atlantic Coast) entered the game with the 26th-ranked rushing defense in the country. BC (5-5, 3-4) running back A.J. Dillon couldn’t have cared less. The true freshman racked up 196 yards on the ground, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark on the year. Per usual, Dillon was quite effective pushing the pile and running through the tackles.

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But he also bounced off the edge more than he has in the past, and it paid off. Dillon ripped off a handful of chunk runs, none more electric than his 66-yard touchdown run down the left sideline to break the scoreless tie.

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Thanks to Sam Schmal and Aaron Monteiro, the true freshman had all the room in the world to run. The only time he was touched was when Thadd Smith dapped him up in the end zone. Dillon had significantly less success in the second half, only rushing for 58 yards in the latter portion of play. Regardless, he is now the Eagles’ all-time freshman rushing leader. Even more impressive, over the past five weeks, Dillon is the third-leading rusher in the Power Five.

2) Pass Defense

Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley is arguably the most improved quarterback in the ACC this season. Coming into Saturday, the junior was the most accurate starting signal caller in the conference. Not to mention that he was putting up close to 280 yards per game. But for the second-consecutive year, BC got inside his head.

Finley struggled to connect with his receivers, especially on first and second down. He only completed 40.6 percent of his passes, and recorded just 146 yards through the air—both of which were season-lows. The Eagles were also the first team this year to hold Finley without a touchdown pass.

Despite cornerback Kamrin Moore being sidelined for most of the game, BC’s secondary played one of its best games of the season. Often, the Eagles’ defensive backs forced the Wolfpack receivers outside, essentially making Finley throw a bunch of back-shoulder passes near the sideline.

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The linebackers got their fair share of glory too. Ty Schwab picked of a screen pass—his second interception in as many weeks—and Kevin Bletzer scooped up Jaylen Samuels’ backward lateral pass for a big return.

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3) Getting on the Board First

In each of BC’s previous two victories, head coach Steve Addazio’s team stormed out to a 20-plus-point lead in the first half. Scoring early gave offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler a boatload of options in the final 30 minutes. To a certain extent, he had that luxury on Saturday.

The Eagles came pretty close to scoring on their first drive of the game. Dillon tacked on a couple of nice runs, and then Brown scampered for a 23-yard gain, moving BC into the red zone. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Brown proceeded to throw a interception in the end zone.

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Nevertheless, BC was still the first to get on the board. Dillon’s 66-yard touchdown run was the longest play from scrimmage on the day, and rejuvenated Alumni—a stadium that, before then, was completely silent, following Brown’s knee injury.

Three Down

1) Play-Calling

Addazio’s recruiting or leadership skills have never been doubted. His in-game decision-making, on the other hand, has always been in question—as it was on Saturday. Immediately after Brown went down in the second quarter, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-1. Instead of kicking the field goal to take the lead, Addazio elected to go for it. He didn’t call for a run up the gut, nor did he run a play-action pass play. The fifth-year man dialed up the ol’ halfback jump pass.

Out of the I-formation, Wade snapped the ball and handed it off to Hilliman. The redshirt junior took a couple steps forward, side-stepped to the right, leapt, and then tossed the ball to Chris Garrison. The pass bounced off the tight end’s hands, as he was smothered by a pair of Wolfpack defenders, and NC State took over on downs.

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From the snap to the whistle, the Wolfpack was all over the trick play. After all, it saw BC practically run same one just a year ago.

Boston College football

In the postgame press conference, Addazio was brutally honest about the decision.

“That call is my call,” he said. “The three options were mine. Obviously I made the wrong one.”

Even though Addazio insisted that he stuck to the gameplan after Brown’s injury, it was apparent that he was reluctant to call the same kind of passing plays with Wade in at quarterback. Not once, did the graduate student throw the ball more than 25 yards downfield. And rather than having him roll out of the pocket—where he plays his best football—Addazio and Loeffler tied him down, in between the tackles. Wade was set up for failure. He was sacked five times and never found a rhythm.

To cap it all off, Addazio called four-consecutive pass plays on the Eagles’ potential game-winning drive—one that started at their own 29-yard line with a tad more than three minutes remaining on the clock. Dillon, BC’s most valuable player, was on the sideline for all four plays, each of which ended in an incompletion.

2) Third-Down Defense

During BC’s three-game win streak, the Eagles’ defense limited its opponents to a 35 percent third-down conversion rate. Just two weeks ago, they held Florida State to a meager 4-of-14 on third down. But on Saturday, BC couldn’t get off the field.

Typically, the Eagles would stuff the line of scrimmage or force an incompletion on first or second down, but when it came to third, they fell apart. The Wolfpack converted more than half of its third-down conversions (9-of-17). Either Finley would find a soft part in the BC zone or Samuels and Nyheim Hines would speed ahead for a series-extending first down.

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Many of these long drives resulted in scoring opportunities. Luckily for the Eagles, Kyle Bambard missed three field goals. Couple that with a handful of other Wolfpack miscues, and it becomes quite obvious that this one could have been a lot more lopsided.

3) Special Teams

The Eagles’ special teams unit didn’t stoop to the level of NC State’s, but it had more than a few costly errors, starting with the punt team. Late in the first half, Addazio tried to run out the clock with the game tied at seven. Even though it was probably the right call, the execution was subpar. Dillon was stopped in his tracks on three-straight run plays, and Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren unexpectedly used up all three of his timeouts, leaving NC State time to get the ball back. Mike Knoll trotted out to the field to punt, and for the first time all year, the mid-season All-American was blocked.

A trio of Wolfpack special teamers plowed through the likes of Bletzer, Zach Allen, and Ray Marten, and, in unison, flung their arms up the air. Defensive end Tirone Riley got a hand on the ball, and it fell a few yards to the left of Knoll. The graduate student picked up the loose ball, and scurried for a measly four yards.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Up 14-10, Knoll came back out to punt. He booted the ball 54 yards all the way down to the NC State two-yard line. But an illegal formation penalty brought it back. Knoll’s next punt only traveled 44 yards, which gave the Wolfpack remarkably better field position for a drive that would eventually culminate in the game-winning touchdown.

Worst of all, the Eagles botched a potential game-tying field goal on the ensuing drive. From 39 yards out, the snap was wide right. There was no way that Jeff Smith was going to get the hold down in time, so he grabbed the ball and rolled right to buy himself some time. Smith tried to fit a pass to fullback Colton Cardinal, but the ball was overthrown.

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Colton Lichtenberg has had trouble kicking the ball with consistency this season, but really only from 40 yards and out. Inside of 40, he is 8-of-9 on the year. So, if the snap wasn’t off-centered, BC could have very well forced overtime.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff

November 11, 2017

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