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Meet the 2016 Boston College Eagles, who are still not good at football

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The Eagles’ struggles on the offensive side continue to submarine seasons.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Virginia Tech
“There’s gotta be a light at the end of this tunnel somewhere. Hell, that’s how tunnels WORK, dammit!”
“Coach, what if there’s a cave-in.”
“WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT CAVE-INS, DARRYL.”
“We don’t talk about them, as we must keep our minds free of negative outcomes, which are poisonous to one’s dude-Chi?”
“Poisonous to one’s dude-Chi, correct.”
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another football season with Boston College as the ACC’s most imbalanced team. Not in playcalling or tendency, but in the sheer degree of difference in quality between offense and defense. The Eagles had one of the nation’s top two or three defenses in 2015, and one of the worst handful of offenses.

The picture hasn’t changed much. BC’s offense is slightly better in some ways, its defense is slightly worse in some ways, but still this is a team of extremes. Head coach Steve Addazio continues to search for ways to end his program’s ongoing streak of futility in league play with no answers readily apparent.

There was some belief heading into the season that BC was in for some kind of turnaround—after all, it’s not like that offense could possibly be worse, right? The Eagles were even picked 5th in the Atlantic Division, ahead of Wake Forest and Syracuse. Here in late October, with the Eagles at 0-4 in the ACC, that faith seems badly misplaced.

Boston College S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Offense 124 4.4 (124) 3.9 (96) 5.4 (121)
2016 Offense 123 4.8 (123) 3.9 (98) 6.4 (109)

(Note: There are 128 FBS teams.)

In an effort to improve his team’s dismal passing attack, Addazio brought in graduate transfer quarterback Patrick Towles, who spent two seasons as a starter at Kentucky. Now, he wasn’t any good at Kentucky, mind you, but “not any good” is nonetheless a lot better than the dreary performance artists he had on hand. (Their masterpiece IMO was the game where they performed as though they had no arms.)

Towles was one reason why some bounce-back for BC was anticipated, and he has helped BC to some marginal improvements, but nothing really significant, and nothing that’s changed losses to wins.

In ACC games this season, BC is averaging 11 points per game, 4.0 yards per play, and 4.3 yards per passing attempt. In 2015, BC’s averages in those categories were 9.1, 3.8, and 5.0.

When they brought Towles in, I’m sure the Eagles were anticipating a bump in at least one area: completion percentage. Towles completed 56-57 percent of his throws while a starter at UK in 2014 and 2015, which ain’t great, but again, the bar labeled IMPROVEMENT at BC in this area is installed below sea level. (Had to dig a trench. Took a lot of work.)

Perhaps through no fault of his own—it is difficult to thrive in the conditions that exist currently at BC—Towles has come no where close to replicating that number, and in fact is completing less than half his throws. That’s still an improvement!

He’s the best option they have, and if he can’t go this weekend, BC will be reaching once more into the Void Of Who The Hell Knows Who This Guy Is Or What He Might Do. That has yet to end well. But then, what has?

The Eagles are woefully inefficient whether they’re throwing or passing. They rank 100th or worst on 1st downs, 2nd downs, and 3rd downs. And they are still desperately trying to pretend like they don’t need a quarterback, electing to run the ball on 70.1% of standard downs, well above the national average of 59.9%.

BC even runs the ball on passing downs 47.3% of the time. The national average is 34.7%.

Every week it’s like Boston College steps into a starship simulator and tries to take down the Kobayashi Maru. The phasers don’t work, the photon torpedoes ain’t doin’ shit, and the shields, man, the damn shields are tired from having to do all the work around here and have a few bones to pick with the phasers and photon torpedoes.

I mean, running the ball 70% of the time on standard downs—how do you characterize that? Is it madness? Incredibly sober accounting? A pure give-no-cares approach? BC may simply call plays using a board game spinner with play suggestions annotated with some variation of “this probably won’t work,” the expletives increasing in both number and degree with each subsequent entry.

Boston College S&P+ national rank Yds/Play
(national rank)
Yds/Rush
(national rank)
Yds/Pass Att.
(national rank)
2015 Defense 3 4.1 (1) 2.4 (1) 6.2 (19)
2016 Defense 16 4.9 (19) 3.0 (7) 7.3 (66)

Boston College’s defense is well above average again. The Eagles have been exceptionally efficient on running plays, and its defensive line is one of the most disruptive in the country.

And you do not want to get stuck in a lot of passing downs against this group. BC ranks second in passing downs success rate, allowing successful plays in those situations only 16% of the time. It also ranks third in sack rate on passing downs. (A passing down is 2nd-and-8+, 3rd-and-5+, 4th-and-5+. Everything else is a standard down.)

But when the Eagles do inevitably break down, often they do so spectacularly—when opponents piece together successful plays, they tend to be more successful than your typical successful play, if that makes sense. There’s a baseline for everything, folks! (See: IsoPPP)

And they’re riding an alarming trend lately: Clemson averaged 8.3 yards per play against them, and last weekend Syracuse posted better than 7.0 yards per play. They’ve allowed 6+ YPP to three of their four ACC opponents, after allowing only one team to hit that mark in 2015. Only two ACC opponents even cracked 5.0 YPP against BC in 2015 (NCSU, Clemson).

It’s hard to imagine BC’s defense remaining that vulnerable-looking through the rest of league play, but the results to date point to a unit that’s a bit easier to scheme, even if its front seven remains tough as hell.