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Three Keys to Victory: Florida State

Three objectives for the Eagles to defeat the Seminoles

Protect the Protectors

For the last two weeks, Boston College has done a great job protecting the quarterback. Against Virginia Tech, that resulted from making some position changes; against Georgia Tech, it was about the offensive line being healthy, but also not facing any premier pass rushers. However, this week against the Florida State Seminoles, the Eagles will face the best pass rush they’ve seen since the Clemson game. FSU’s defensive line is led by former Georgia Bulldog Jermaine Johnson, who leads the ACC in tackles for loss (16), pressures (36), and sacks (10.5). Johnson has been basically unstoppable this entire season now that he can finally see the field, as he could not break through Georgia’s insane depth along the defensive line.

Florida State also has plenty of talented players around Johnson. Keir Thomas, another SEC transfer (South Carolina), has 24 pressures and 4.5 sacks on the other side of the defensive line. They also have two experienced talented defensive tackles in Robert Cooper and Fabien Lovett. Overall, the Seminoles are sixth in the ACC in sacks with 28, but they rank 26th in the FBS. We typically trust the BC offensive line to handle whatever the defense throws at them and they have delivered the last two weeks. However, while they do have Phil Jurkovec behind them who can escape pressure, this defensive line presents an entirely different test.

This week, BC needs to continue their hot streak of quality play along the offensive line, but also give the offensive line some assistance. Frank Cignetti and Matt Applebaum can realize this goal through two avenues: extra blockers and play selection. Putting extra men in the protection is the most straightforward avenue towards helping the offensive line in pass protection. Throughout the season, the running backs have struggled in this role, so this might mean keeping a tight end (Joey Luchetti specifically) in to pass block. The running backs, and the offense as a whole, might be better served if they are asked to chip the pass rushers then release into the flat to give Jurkovec check-down options.

As previously mentioned, the other way to slow down the pass rush is through game-planning and playcalling. There are several ways to neuter a pass rush via playcalling but the most common are throwing quick passes, typically RPOs and screens, and running the ball well. Luckily, BC already does the latter very well. The former achieves the objective by confusing the defensive line and frustrating them by getting rid of the ball before they have an opportunity to affect the quarterback. Eventually, pass rushers slow down if they expect the screen or if they want to get their hands up to block passes. However, especially with Jurkovec at quarterback, the Eagles have moved away from those kinds of plays this year. BC has only run screens on about 10% (27) of their passing attempts (268) this year. Regardless, Boston College needs to give its offensive line as much help as possible this week and there are several viable avenues to do so.

Win the Conversion Battle

Sticking with the theme, this goal contains two smaller goals, perhaps even four. Whoever can win the third-down and the red zone conversion battles will most likely win this game. Each team in this matchup has a distinct advantage in one of the categories. On both sides of the ball, Boston College is much better on third downs; conversely, Florida State is the better team in the red zone.

Third Downs: Boston College

We’ll start with Boston College and their advantages on third downs. On both sides of the ball, especially on third down, the Eagles are one of the best teams in the ACC and even the nation. On offense, BC converts 42.1% of their third downs, good for 6th in the ACC and 52nd in the FBS. If you drill down further into these numbers, BC is an even 50% on third down in games where Phil Jurkovec plays the majority of the snaps (Colgate, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech); conversely, in the five ACC games that Dennis Grosel started, the offense only converted 28.5%. If you use the Jurkovec number, the Eagles would rank 2nd in the ACC and 7th in the nation. On defense, the numbers are even better. The BC defense is allowing a third-down conversion rate of 32.8%, which ranks 4th in the ACC and 19th in the FBS. They have only allowed two teams to convert more than 50% of their third-down opportunities (Missouri, and Georgia Tech).

Third Downs: Florida State

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Florida State ranks 12th in the ACC and 98th in the FBS on offensive third downs, coming in at 35.4%. However, they are also tied with Syracuse for the lowest number of third downs faced (130). On the one hand, it’s good that their offense keeps them in first and second down; on the other, if they do get to third, they struggle to convert. This works well for BC as they consistently get offenses off the field on third down, especially with long distances to go.

On defense, the Seminoles are slightly better but still below average, ranking 9th in the ACC and 63rd in the FBS at 39.6%. Similarly, BC’s offense ranks fourth in the ACC in offensive third-down attempts, as the strong running game keeps them out of third downs. Furthermore, now that BC has opened up the deep passing game with Jurkovec back in the lineup, that should further prevent them from seeing many third downs. While BC shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball on FSU’s defense or getting their offense off the field if the ball gets into the red zone, the narrative changes.

Red Zone: Florida State

We’ll begin with Florida State’s offense. The Seminoles rank 4th in the ACC and 35th in the FBS with a scoring rate of 88.6%. This is most likely due to having a strong running game, especially one that uses a mobile/running quarterback. Dual-threat quarterbacks are especially dangerous in the red zone because defenses are keyed in on stopping more traditional run plays; plus, they can also scramble on passing plays and score if uncovered. However, the Seminoles are tied for 10th in the ACC in red zone opportunities so they don’t get into the red zone that much.

Florida State’s defense ranks 2nd in the conference and 11th in the nation in their red-zone scoring rate at 70.4%. They’re also tied for 2nd in the conference with the least red-zone possessions allowed. This is pretty surprising given that FSU is slightly below average in terms of scoring and total defense.

Red Zone: Boston College

Boston College’s red zone defense is better than their red zone offense. The Eagles rank 5th in the ACC and t-22nd in the nation on defense with a scoring rate of 75%. This is still quite good, but just slightly worse than Florida State’s. Interestingly, Florida State has not thrown a red-zone interception yet this season and BC has not made one. But of the 15 touchdowns the BC defense has allowed in the red zone, 10 have come on the ground, with only five going through the air. Therefore, in order to win the conversion battle on defense, BC needs to make sure they keep their eyes on the quarterback, most likely Jordan Travis.

On offense, BC’s red zone offense is slightly below average. The Eagles rank 8th in the conference and 69th in the nation with a scoring rate of 84.2%. However, once again, we need to drill down into the numbers. Again, in games where Phil Jurkovec played the majority of the snaps (Colgate, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech), BC is perfect in the red zone (12-12). In the four ACC games without Jurkovec, the Eagles only scored on 61.5% of their drives. On offense, the Eagles may need to find ways to score from outside the red zone, something they had no trouble with last week against Georgia Tech. But even if they do get into the red zone, with Jurkovec back under center, I would not be too concerned.

Get Grant Going

Obviously, BC fans don’t want to see their punter very much in any game. But for the first few weeks of the season, Grant Carlson provided Boston College with a significant weapon. Through the first five games, Carlson averaged a hangtime of 3.98. But through the last five weeks, that number fell to 3.62. That .36 seconds may not seem like that much but you can also see how his yardage has dropped. In the first five weeks, Carlson averaged 45.72 yards per punt; in the previous five, only 42.96. These decreased numbers are also allowing punt returners to get more yardage on punt returns. In the first five weeks, on returned punts, BC only allowed about seven yards per return but in the last five, that number has more than doubled, going up to 18.4 yards per return.

Luckily for the Eagles, Florida State is abysmal at returning punts. The Seminoles are dead last in the ACC in punt return yards (60) and average (4.0). This ranks 121st in the FBS and is the third-worst among Power Five schools. Part of the breakdown in special teams could be because more backup players are being forced into action due to injuries. But this game should be a good time to reset and get the punting game back on track. The team is back home and it’s going to be cold (low-40s/high-30s) and dry so the ball should fly through the air easily. Through the first half of the season, Grant Carlson was putting together the best year of his career; let’s hope he rebounds and returns to that form against Florida State.