Notebook: Pass Rush, Offensive Gameplan Keys Rout of Massachusetts

Behind an excellent offense, a pass rush that wreaked havoc, and a return to a starring role for Anthony Brown, Boston College football rolled to a thorough 55-21 win over Massachusetts in Saturday afternoon’s home opener. The Eagles built a 48-7 halftime lead and worked through the bench the rest of the way, easily coasting to a win in which they piled up 622 yards of offense, the highest single-game total since 2003. 

Three Up

1) Anthony Brown

Brown, returning to make his first start after suffering a torn ACL against North Carolina State in 2017, had drawn rave reviews from the Eagles’ coaching staff through preseason, but he was still a question mark—he hadn’t obviously been tackled in preseason play, and recovering from an ACL injury as a dual-threat quarterback isn’t often easy.

On Saturday afternoon, Brown put all doubters to rest. He was nothing short of remarkable, completing 15-of-21 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns—and the redshirt sophomore didn’t even play in the second half. Most have focused in on A.J. Dillon as the engine that makes the offense go, and while that’s true, it was Brown’s pinpoint accuracy and ability to roll out and hit receivers in stride that made the visiting Minutemen crumble early. He was nearly a perfect 7-for-7 on passes that traveled over 20 yards, with the lone miss was in the first quarter when miscommunication with Ben Glines spoiled a chance at a lengthy score. He was also able to spread the wealth, connecting with Dillon, Kobay White twice on deep balls, and Ray Marten for scores.

His favorite target, White, said after that he thinks Brown “throws some of the best balls in college football.” The praise was well-deserved, as White’s two highlight reel catches—a 25-yard completion down the left sideline in the first quarter and a 33-yard touchdown in the second—were the product of absolute perfect ball placement.

2) Pass Rush

Head coach Steve Addazio described the pass rush as “outstanding,” and you can be sure that UMass’s quarterbacks, Andrew Ford and Ross Comis, would echo that sentiment. Time and time again, the defensive line wreaked havoc in the backfield, forcing Ford in particular into rushed throws or knocking him down. From the third Minutemen drive on, the impact that the likes of Zach Allen and Wyatt Ray were having on the game was clear.

With the Eagles fresh off taking a 14-7 lead, UMass returned to the field with hopes of keeping the game competitive. After a run for a minimal gain, BC sent six pass rushers and the pocket collapsed quickly, with Connor Strachan recording the sack. After another short run play, the Eagles only sent four on third-and-long, but still picked up a sack. Hamp Cheevers came in off the edge on a cornerback blitz, and while he merely brushed an evasive Ford, he still forced a sack as Allen worked through a double team to drag the Minutemen quarterback down. It was a crucial play—despite dropping seven in coverage, there was still an open Andrew Isabella down the field, a fact that head coach Mark Whipple pointed out with chagrin after.

The rest of the game featured plenty of starring moments—Allen and John Lamot both registered quarterback hurries, the former hammering Ford from behind right after he released an incomplete pass. Nose tackle Ray Smith even picked up a lunging interception, diving impressively off of a deflection to haul it in.

3) Offensive Play Calling

The very first drive of the game, for BC, was a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by Dillon’s dive for the pylon after a 15-yard reception in the flat. It was a methodical three-minute drive that featured seven rushes, three passes, and inspired optimism. The next drive was a three-and-out, but the five other touchdown drives of the half for the Eagles was an impressive display of play calling from offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.

They went 73, 80, 45, 68, and 97 yards in succession in the first half. The final one, another 10-play drive, was remarkable—it surpassed last year’s season-high of 95 yards against Syracuse, and it was accomplished in just over three minutes. At its simplest, the offense was a steady stream of plays packaged as similar formation-wise, but with vastly different outcomes.

The jet sweep, inherited by Jeff Smith from Thadd Smith, worked several times, and it also started to stretch the defense out. Loeffler liked to use it as a distraction as well—the play-action was devastating. A fresh set of legs was often out there in the form of different tight ends, and the most notable one, Tommy Sweeney, didn’t even make a catch. Instead, it was the likes of Chris Garrison, Korab Idrizi, Jake Burt, Marten and Long that were Brown’s targets. Davon Jones, a linebacker-running back hybrid, came in as a goal-line back and performed well, using his tremendous size to push through for two touchdowns. The need to resort to trickery, a facet of years past, wasn’t even a thought—BC just methodically went to work and it was nothing short of impressive.

Three Down

1) Special Teams

Suffice to say, things didn’t run super smoothly on several occasions. The kick coverage team let up a 73-yard return and several lengthy ones, the field goal unit—after starting long snapper Jimmy Martin missed several plays—had a pair of false starts and a botched snap, and punter Grant Carlson had to make something out of nothing after a Kevin Bletzer snap sailed several feet over his head.

“Special teams-wise, we had a couple issues when we lost [long snapper] Jimmy Martin on the field goal short snap and then an issue on the punt, obviously, and we let up a kickoff return,” Addazio said. “That’s not anything that we’re going to do around here. But that happened, so I’m going to have to take a look and address what that problem was.”

Note: Carlson, taking punting duties over for Mike Knoll, doesn’t belong in this category. He was excellent in his debut, with his first punt going 49 yards and the one on the high snap still managing to go 17 yards after he sprinted back to chase it down.

2) Blown Coverages

For as well as the Eagles played defensively as a whole, there were certainly several plays that the secondary will want to take a long, hard look at it—especially when the quality of opponent increases in a few weeks. The most notable slip up came on the lone touchdown drive of the first half for the Minutemen. Isabella, a speedster, did a simple double move on Brandon Sebastian and was left untouched streaking down the right sideline. It was an easy throw for Comis, and if Lukas Denis hadn’t swooped over from the free safety position to slow him down enough for Sebastian to come up with the tackle from behind, it would’ve been a 50-plus yard touchdown.

Isabella’s speed caused problems at times, and he’s a top-notch wide receiver that provided a good early test for the Eagles secondary. UMass’s offensive line wasn’t a match for the BC pass rush, so the defensive backs didn’t have to run around in coverage as much with the pocket often collapsing quickly. Still, it’s worth nit-picking little things that could pop up later in the year. Sebastian played well, but was caught looking inside while a capable receiver beat him with ease—that can’t happen against ACC opponents.

3) A.J. Dillon’s Heisman Candidacy

Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins broke his school’s passing yards and touchdowns in a debut record. Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson ran for two touchdowns and 100 yards on five carries. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier threw for 400 yards. All of the top candidates enjoyed stellar first games, piling up touchdowns and yards in impressive fashion.

Dillon, BC’s Heisman hopeful, didn’t put up the same numbers. He played excellently in his first game, sitting out the second half, but still finished with just 98 rushing yards—and zero touchdowns on the ground. He hauled in two catches for 27 yards and a touchdown, but as a premier running back, watching a pair of touchdowns go to Jones at the goal line could prove costly down the line. It’s one game, certainly, and Dillon isn’t obviously concerned about what was a stellar team win—but he’ll have work to do to make up ground on the early leaders throughout the nation.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff

September 2, 2018