The formula to beat Boston College is pretty clear, but unfortunately the blueprint does not jive well with N.C. State's (few) strengths. Slow Andre Williams, the NCAA leader in rushing yards, and take advantage of the ACC's weakest pass defense, and the Eagles (5-4, 2-3) can be had. But the Pack (3-6, 0-6) are allowing a league-worst 4.7 yards per opponent carry and only Virginia rivals the Pack for passing futility, so slowing Williams and beating BC's Swiss cheese secondary is likely not in the cards for Saturday's 12:30 tilt in Chestnut Hill.
In BC's five wins, Williams averages 208.4 yards per game on a 6.9 per carry average. He's scored 11 of his 12 rushing touchdowns in wins (and his 12 total TDs are good for 7th in the FBS). In BC's four losses, Williams gains a still respectable 107.3 yards per game on 4.5 per carry, but that 100-yard per game difference is insurmountable for a slow-paced, pass-averse offense that averages just 357.4 total yards per game, the 12th most in the ACC. Chase Rettig has been very good--he has a 14-4 TD-INT ratio and his 149.3 passer rating is fourth in the conference--but he gets just 21 attempts per game and can be exposed if the offense is forced to rely too heavily on his decidedly average skillset.
BC's glacial pace is evident when comparing its ACC rank in yards per play against its rank in total yards. The Eagles gain a respectable 5.92 yards per play, sixth best in the league, so the total offense numbers (12th) belie the true ability of this offense. They would have a lot more total yards if they didn't seem to always snap the ball with one second on the play clock. Only UCF and South Florida have run less plays than the Eagles, and both programs have played one less game. BC's 60.3 offensive plays per game are dead last in the FBS. (Yawn. Stretch.)
It would help BC amass more yardage if it weren't terrible on third down; the Eagles convert just 31.7% on third-down chances, the worst mark in the ACC. But the main reason why Steve Addazio's offense has such sad total offense numbers is that he milks the clock is to protect one of the league's worst defenses, particularly against the pass. The Eagles allow 28.1 points per game (13th in the ACC) chiefly due to getting burned through the air. Opponents have a 154.5 passer rating, average 8.6 yards per pass attempt, and have connected for 18 touchdowns through the air, marks that are all dead last in the conference. Unfortunately, Brandon Mitchell, who has been re-anointed as the fulltime quarterback, is completing just 48.7% of his throws with an average of 6.6 yards per attempt. While plenty adept on the ground, Mitchell has thrown just one touchdown compared to six interceptions. Pete Thomas is not exactly setting records with his passing numbers, but he is the guy who at least has the reputation as the better passer, making the decision to go with Mitchell yet another curious coaching call from a staff that has made plenty of them.
When BC throws the ball, there are two things opponents can be fairly certain of: 1) it's not going to Williams, who does not have one single reception all season, and 2) it's probably going to Alex Amidon, who is ninth in the ACC with 80.7 yards per game through the air. Amidon has been on the receiving end of 49.6% of BC's passing yardage and is over 600 yards ahead of tight end Mike Naples, who is second on the club with 118 yards receiving. Everyone in the stadium knew that Tanner Price was going to throw it to Michael Campanaro, and State still couldn't stop it. Hopefully, if they can get BC off schedule and force Rettig's pass attempts up, the Pack will do a better job of blanketing the guy who is so obviously the primary target of the passing game. The can't stop Campanaro game notwithstanding, the Pack have defended the pass well. They allow just 6.6 yards per opponent attempt (4th in the ACC) and an opponent passer rating of 120.5 (5th) despite generating little pressure up front. The Pack sack the opposition just 1.9 times per game, 12th in the ACC.
Aside from the well-documented inability to convert red zone trips to seven points and the obvious ineffectiveness at quarterback, the biggest problem for State's offense has been its tendency to dig holes for itself through negative plays. The Pack gets sacked 2.8 times per game, a mark that is next to last in the league, and they get thrown for a loss 8.4 times per game, which is dead last. This is an offense for which converting third-and-long is truly a longshot, so the Pack will have to hope to avoid getting off schedule in order to spring the upset and win their first road game under Dave Doeren.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Steele Divitto (well hello there, porn name), and Kasim Edebali are the three gentlemen most likely to be the culprits if State is stopped for a loss. Linebackers Pierre-Louis and Divitto rank second and third in the ACC in tackles per game with nine and 8.9, respectively. Edebali averages 0.8 sacks per game, good for fourth in the conference, and has forced a league-high four fumbles.
Another BC guy to watch is Nate Freese, who is a perfect 11-for-11 on field goals and leads the ACC with a 64.9-yard average kickoff distance and 77.6% touchback rate, though kicking it into the end zone probably plays to the Pack's advantage since Doeren refuses to put Rashard Smith, the team's lone gifted return man, deep for kickoffs. Smith's 17.3-yard average and two touchdowns are tops in the ACC among punt return men. On kickoff returns, the Pack average just 17.8 yards, 117th worst in the FBS.
Williams, Rettig, Pierre-Louis, Divitto, Edebali, and Freese all share one thing in common: they're seniors hungry for a bowl, as the Eagles haven't been to one since the Fight Hunger Bowl in 2010, and none of them made the box score in that one. Other than the Florida State blowout, the Pack have been in every game they lost going into the fourth quarter before ultimately coming up short. A senior-led team with bowl eligibility on the line will likely make certain the same fate befalls the Pack again on Saturday.