Football, Sports

Notebook: Brown’s Accurate Day Offset by Third-Down Woes in Wake Forest Defeat

With 3:01 to play in Boston College football’s game against Wake Forest, the Eagles defense needed to make one final stop. Trailing by a field goal, BC had forced Jamie Newman and the Demon Deacons’ offense into 3rd-and-4. An incompletion or run short of the sticks would have given Anthony Brown and the Eagles—who had few problems moving the ball all day—a chance to send the game into overtime or win it outright. 

It wasn’t to be. Newman found Jack Freudenthal on a short route over the middle of the field to move the sticks for Wake Forest’s 17th third-down conversion of the day. By the time BC got the ball back at its own five-yard line, just 28 seconds remained, and the Eagles weren’t able to manufacture a miracle drive, falling to the Demon Deacons, 27-24. It was an odd loss for BC, which played very well but made mistakes in key moments that ended up costing it the game. Here are three up, and three down from the Eagles’ second loss of the season. 

Three Up: 

1) Brown’s Accuracy 

It’s stating the obvious that an accurate quarterback can do wonders for an offense—even one that relies heavily on the run like BC’s—and it’s certainly been the case in the past that when Brown is on his game, the Eagles have been virtually unstoppable on offense. The Wake Forest game from last season and BC’s first half against Virginia Tech this season are two examples that immediately come to mind. Saturday, after two mediocre games against Rutgers and Kansas, Brown was once again back on the mark against the Demon Deacons. He threw an ill-advised interception into double coverage on the Eagles’ first series of the game, but then bounced back to complete 13 of his next 14 throws. 

It began on a 3rd-and-8, when the redshirt junior threaded the needle between two defenders for a completion to Jake Burt that moved the chains, but Brown continued to drop passes into his receivers’ laps throughout the day. Six plays after the completion to Burt, Brown delivered a strike to Kobay White on a slant route in the end zone while being hammered by Luke Masterson. Unfortunately for BC, White wasn’t able to haul the ball in, and the Eagles had to settle for three points. 

Brown continued to dish out good throws for the remainder of the game. He delivered a pin-point deep ball to Zay Flowers for a 26-yard touchdown, and then pirouetted out of a sack and then threw a dime along the sideline to Ben Glines during a nine-play, 48-yard drive that tied the score at 17. 

All told, Brown finished the day 21-of-29 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. Though two interceptions blemished his final stat line, the performance was definitely among the redshirt junior’s better games with the Eagles. 

2) Dillon’s Explosiveness

AJ Dillon entered the game with 486 yards rushing—good for sixth-most among FBS backs—but put on his best performance of the season against the Demon Deacons. Throughout the game, the New London, Conn., native showcased the best of what he had to offer, finding the edge with speed on sweep plays and other outside runs, while also busting through tackles and dragging defenders on runs in between the tackles. Dillon finished the day with 23 carries for 159 yards and was rarely stuffed behind the line, even when Wake Forest insisted on stacking the box with eight defenders. 

He provided the BC offense with the spark it needed in the first quarter, busting up the gut for 33 tough yards before being tackled at the Eagles’ 45-yard line. The carry flipped the field and gave BC—which trailed, 10-0, at the time—offensive momentum. In total, Dillon finished with five runs that went 10-plus yards, in addition to his sixth reception of the season. On a trademark Brown rollout play, Dillon found himself all alone and took a short throw before turning upfield and gaining 33 yards, wrapping up the play by staying inbounds and pushing over a pair of defenders. 

3) Stacking the Box

The Demon Deacons have a unique running game, one in which Newman and the running back—usually Cade Carney—pause behind the line for a second or more before Newman either keeps the ball or hands it off to Carney. It’s a confusing action, one that could befuddle any opposing defense that is undisciplined, but the Eagles did an excellent job against Wake Forest’s delayed handoffs. 

On most plays, BC threw an extra defender into the box, collapsing the offensive line in order to prevent Carney from having much space to wriggle free. 

“We were trying to put more pressure, have backup blitzes, and we were playing more man into the boundary,” Brandon Sebastian said of the defensive strategy.

On a couple plays, by the time Newman handed the ball off the Eagles had gotten so far upfield that they were able to make a tackle from behind. Wake Forest finished with 54 carries for 197 yards, but remove a 50-yard Newman quarterback draw—one of the only times that BC’s defensive front cracked—from the equation, and the Demon Deacons averaged just 2.77 yards per carry.

The Eagles’ aggressive approach extended to the passing game, too. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan blitzed liberally, and it worked on many occasions. Max Richardson bowled over a helpless Beal-Smith for one of BC’s two sacks, but even when the Eagles didn’t bring Newman down they were able to influence many of his throws. TJ Rayam batted down a pass, and John Lamot nearly forced a fumble by hitting Newman as he threw. In total, BC had three quarterback hits.

BC’s defensive strategy should be commended, with the exception of its third-down struggles. On a day where Newman picked the right throw whenever he had a clean pocket, the Eagles stayed aggressive throughout the game, making life difficult for the redshirt junior. Newman entered the game averaging 319.5 yards passing but finished the day 21-of-33 for 243 yards. 

Three Down: 

1) Missed Scoring Opportunities

In a game decided by three points, BC will certainly rue two opportunities that left a total of six points on the board. First, on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half, BC steadily marched the ball down the field but faced 4th-and-3 from the Wake Forest 21-yard line. With the wind blowing in the Eagles’ faces, Steve Addazio elected against trying a 38-yard field goal with Aaron Boumerhi and went for it. Brown rolled out, but fired a pass toward the sideline that was intercepted by Essang Bassey. 

Then, in the fourth quarter, with the wind now in BC’s favor, Addazio elected to try a 44-yard field goal. Boumerhi’s kick was good, but the Eagles were whistled for delay of game, backing them up five more yards. On the ensuing try from 49 yards out, Dennis Grosel bobbled a low snap, and then rolled out and threw up a prayer toward Danny Dalton that was batted down. A made field goal would have tied the score at 20. Instead, the Eagles left three points on the board in what ended up as a three-point game. In a game that had such fine margins, BC couldn’t afford those mistakes—especially the delay-of-game penalty.

2) Third-Down Woes 

When it really mattered, the Eagles could not get off the field. Wake Forest finished the game 17-of-24 on third down, an unacceptable clip for any defense. Before the crucial completion to Freudenthal, Newman also completed a nine-yard pass on third down to Kendall Hinton that kept the chains moving as the Demon Deacons looked to kill clock. 

Earlier in the game, Wake Forest also embarked on a 20-play, 78-yard drive that featured three crucial third-down conversions. It only ended in three points, after an important Jason Maitre pass breakup, but the methodical march also sapped nearly seven minutes off the clock. Finally, on the Demon Deacons’ final touchdown drive of the game, Newman threw a perfect 27-yard touchdown pass to Scotty Washington on 3rd-and-7, just a play after offsetting penalties had negated an incomplete pass. 

All told, Wake Forest converted in a variety of ways, whether it was Newman squirming up the middle on a quarterback draw, Hinton on out routes toward the sideline, or Surratt on comeback routes on the boundary. A third-down stop or two could have flipped the momentum of the game—especially when the Eagles trailed in the second half—but for all the good things BC’s defense did Saturday, it wasn’t able to make a third-down stop when it mattered most.

3) Losing the Turnover Battle 

For the first time all season, the Eagles lost the turnover battle. The minus-1 differential in and of itself didn’t cost BC the game, but it’s undeniable that the Eagles’ turnovers—both of which were Brown interceptions—occurred at inopportune times. 

Brown’s first pick came on the very first series of the game. After moving the chains on the first third down of the game with a 17-yard dart to Ben Glines, the redshirt junior’s next throw was a lofted ball toward the sideline for White. Brown had Jake Burt open underneath but instead forced the ball to White, and Amari Henderson came down with an easy interception. It was Brown’s first pick in 102 pass attempts this season.

The early interception immediately gave Wake Forest momentum, and it capitalized with an 11-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a five-yard Carney touchdown run that put BC in an early 7-0 hole. The Eagles played catch up from there and never were able to take the lead.

The second, of course, was the aforementioned attempted fourth-down throw to White. The ensuing Demon Deacons drive was the 20-play march that restored the Wake Forest lead. When all was said and done, the two BC turnovers resulted in 10 Demon Deacons points and cost the Eagles offensive momentum at critical times.

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor

September 29, 2019