Boston College football blew out Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon and it was a decisive win that was revealing in many ways, from the lofty potential of quarterback Anthony Brown to the defensive unit’s clear strengths across the field. It also showcased a large stable of running backs for offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to cycle through—most notably a trio of big, bruising running backs in Heisman hopeful A.J. Dillon, two-way linebacker and apparent go-to goal line back Davon Jones, and freshman David Bailey. All three weigh in at over 235 pounds and tough to bring down, but as BC has found in years past, there’s only so much a power running game can do without variety. Brown provides one such outlet with impressive passing ability, but one of the most successful wrinkles Loeffler turned to against the Minutemen was a familiar one—the jet sweep.
For those unfamiliar, the jet sweep is a rushing play where instead of using a running back, the offense opts to let a wide receiver carry the ball. The wideout lines up in his usual position, but then motions across the offense, parallel to the line of scrimmage. The quarterback takes the snap, hands it to the wide receiver, who follows a lead blocker or two and attempts to break a run to the outside. When successful, it can be devastating—an offense can load up one side of the formation, only to send a speedy player with the ball in the opposite direction and often reach the second level.
Fans of the Eagles are well familiar with this play—it was run often with Thadd Smith last year, as seen above in the 41-10 rout of Virginia. But, unless you go back and watch the game film, it’s hard to understand just how important the play is to Loeffler. Against UMass, it was run or incorporated in play action upwards of seven times, with impressive results. All it takes is one look at the first time it appeared, on the first drive of the game, and you can begin to trace the ripple effect.
Facing 2nd-and-10 on the UMass 42-yard-line after an incompletion, the Eagles lined up with three receivers on the right and a running back, Travis Levy, in the backfield. Brown motioned Jeff Smith from his right and the back followed excellent blocks from Levy and tight end Tommy Sweeney to a nine-yard gain, narrowly being tripped up at the sideline.
The next play, after stretching the defense wide, they handed it to Dillon right up the middle—and he rumbled for eight yards and a first down. It was a stark contrast, as the defense had gone from sprinting to the outside after a quick 190-lb wide receiver to attempting to drag down a 245-lb every down back. After a pair of runs from Levy, Loeffler’s brilliance really shined, as the Eagles scored their first touchdown of the game.
Here’s how they lined up on first-and-10 at the UMass 15:
The player circled is Michael Walker, a similar speed option at wide receiver that returns punts for the Eagles. He’s lined up in the same spot as Smith was in the prior jet sweep, with the only difference is that instead of having two receivers alongside him, he’s alone—the other wideout is lined up on the left, and the third is replaced with a two tight end set.
When Walker is put in motion by Brown, his man goes with him, but so does the secondary. The drawing below shows the defensive back who is caught staring at the motion—he ultimately ends up sprinting to the other side in an effort to blow up the play, but ends up just grasping at air while the play actually goes to the other side of the field.
Here it is in full speed—Brown rolls out, finds a wide-open Dillon in the flat, and it’s an easy six.
This is just one such example of the jet sweep opening up the offense to find later success, and it appeared throughout the game. Walker actually took a carry on the second drive, gaining nine yards as the UMass defense responded slowly, then Smith added a 21-yard effort on the third drive. It proved an adept way to pile up yards, while additionally spreading the defense and setting up Brown for easy throws. Variations showed up later—Smith notably went in motion, then worked his way back across the field on a crossing route to the other sideline for a first-down catch. Dillon was twice open on similar plays out of the backfield, as was Levy.
It was a small facet of Loeffler’s impressive game plan against the Minutemen, but a notable one. The Eagles were able to use pre-snap motions, the threat of the jet sweep, and well-executed play-action passes to accumulate 455 yards—in the first half alone. Loeffler has the best group of players he’s had in his three years at BC, and the use of the jet sweep is no longer just an occasional gimmick—it was creating all kinds of problems for the UMass defenders and setting up wide-open looks or long gains.
With an assortment of fast receivers in Walker, Smith, and even the likes of Ben Glines, the jet sweep as a part of the Eagles’ offense has plenty of room to run with. After struggling to feature anything resembling a productive offense up to the midway point of last year, it has to be refreshing for BC fans to see that Loeffler and the Eagles aren’t simply falling back on the “hand it to Dillon every play and throw it on third down” offense many may have expected.
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Staff