The Boston College Eagles moved to 3-0 this past weekend, their best start since 2018. Without Phil Jurkovec, the offense struggled to consistently move the ball, especially through the air. However, the defense put on a clinic, holding Temple to three points and under 250 total yards. The Eagles now turn their eyes to their final out of conference matchup: a home tilt against the Missouri Tigers. This will be the first time Boston College has hosted an SEC opponent since they played Tennessee in 1987. Missouri stands at 2-1 after defeating Central Michigan and Southeast Missouri State; they lost to SEC foe, Kentucky, 35-28.
1. Play Fast; Hit for Contact
Against Temple, not much was asked of Dennis Grosel, especially as a passer. To make matters worse, when asked to throw, he did not perform very well. We have waxed poetic about how the talent disparity between him and Phil Jurkovec limits the offense. I’ve discussed how the long dropbacks relying on clean pockets will not last against better opponents. Furthermore, Grosel did not look comfortable in those pockets, as he held the ball long and either took sacks or checked the ball down too late. How, then, will BC’s passing offense succeed?
This section technically discusses two keys, but they are intertwined and integral to the success of BC’s passing game. The first is that the coaching staff needs to impress upon Grosel to play faster and make quicker decisions. Against Temple and Virginia, Grosel got into trouble because he held the ball too long in the pocket, leading to sacks and fumbles. Obviously, Grosel is not the athlete that Phil Jurkovec is, or even most of the other quarterbacks in the Power 5. However, he can still escape the pocket and buy enough time to get rid of the ball, even if it is only a throw-away or check-down.
Last week against Temple, it seemed that the BC coaching staff wanted to keep running the same offense they’ve been using the past two weeks. Moving forward, especially with Grosel at the helm, this is no longer an option. Against Temple, they leaned on the run game to burn the clock and get out with a win. Against Missouri, even though their run defense has been suspect, that is also not a stable solution for victory. Therefore, as part of speeding up Grosel’s processing and decision-making, the coaching staff must give him simpler, quicker reads. They need to get the ball out of his hands faster and into the hands of Flowers, Gill, Barry, and other playmakers.
The final piece is reminding Grosel that not every throw needs to be the home run; hitting for contact with singles and doubles is more than acceptable. Taking the shorter, simpler throw keeps the offense on schedule and gives the defense time to rest and regroup. If Grosel can execute the offense efficiently, BC has a good chance of winning this game.
2. Shorty a Little Badie
Missouri’s offense runs through their running back, Tyler Badie. Badie is a redshirt senior who bided his time behind current Los Angeles Chargers running back, Larry Rountree III. While smaller than Roundtree (5’11, 210), Badie (5’8”, 194) is a more dynamic athlete. He’s quicker and faster; he also is a versatile weapon that can be used as a receiving threat. Badie currently leads the Tigers in rushing, receiving, and scrimmage yards, carries and catches, and touchdowns. He has almost five times as many yards from scrimmage as the next Missouri player.
In short, the offense runs through Badie. Quarterback Connor Bazelak is a solid player, but he’s pretty young, so Missouri protects him with a dynamic running game. Of the 155 snaps Badie has played this year, he has either carried the ball or been targeted in the passing game on 68 of them (43%).
Therefore, BC’s primary focus on Saturday must be Badie. Missouri primarily runs Zone schemes when they hand the ball to him (34 of 49 carries this year). They also like to run out of the Pistol formation a fair bit. Therefore, BC’s linebackers need to play very disciplined and gap-sound; if they give Badie a cutback lane, he could take it for big yardage.
Badie contributes significantly to the Tigers’ passing offense as well. As previously mentioned, he leads them in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. He is very shifty in the open field, so he can create yards by forcing missed tackles. Badie primarily aligns as a traditional running back. But Missouri occasionally flexes him into the slot or even out wide when they go into Empty sets. Wherever Badie goes on the field, BC needs to make sure they send a competent or equal athlete to follow him. If Badie has a big day on the ground and through the air, it will be tough for BC to pull out a win.
3. You Rush the Quarterback
For the last few weeks, I suggested that the BC defense slow down their pass rush to deal with mobile and or inexperienced quarterbacks. This strategy paid substantial dividends, preventing quarterbacks from getting outside the pocket and using their legs. However, this week, it’s time to change course; it’s time for BC to turn up the heat.
Connor Bazelak is another young quarterback, but he has plenty of experience. Furthermore, his experience is against the best football conference in the country. Therefore, it’s fair to expect that he’s seen a lot. Bazelak might be the best quarterback BC faces this entire season (given DJ Uiagalelei’s struggles). He’s a smart player and a solid athlete that can throw the ball all over the field.
If BC deploys the same strategy they’ve used the past few weeks, Bazelak will just sit in the pocket and pick this defense apart. Unlike the two true freshmen BC played the last two weeks and the FCS QB they played in Week 1, Bazelak has the arm talent to deliver the ball into tight windows and stretch the field vertically.
Therefore, BC needs to deploy exotic blitz packages to get Missouri off their game. Marcus Valdez’s status is still somewhat up in the air; if he can’t go, that’s a major limiting factor for BC’s pass rush. The starting ends, Shitta Sillah and Brandon Barlow, need to have their best games against Missouri. Unfortunately, the Tigers boast two very solid tackles. BC will most likely not be able to generate a pass rush with only three or four players.
Last week, BC brought some more varied pressure looks. Even if they only rush four on some downs, they need to line up like they are bringing five or six rushers. These alignments are known as “sim pressures” or “creepers” and are very popular across collegiate and professional defenses. Expect to see players like Isaiah Graham-Mobley, Vinny DePalma, Jaiden Woodbey, and Jahmin Muse aligned near the ball like they will blitz. Then, after the snap, some combination of those players will blitz, but not necessarily all of them. This should keep the offensive line and the quarterback off balance, as they will not know who is blitzing and dropping on any given pass.
One final benefit of this strategy connects to the second key. If BC’s pass rush starts getting home, Missouri could be forced to keep Tyler Badie in the backfield to pass protect. This decision gives BC the advantage in two ways. Firstly, it prevents Badie from getting the ball in space and eating up yards as a receiver. Secondly, Badie has struggled severely in pass protection this season. As a smaller running back, this makes a lot of sense. But BC can exploit this even further by using exotic blitzes to confuse Badie, as he may get confused as to who to block. Even if he does block well, as previously mentioned, it prevents him from being more dangerous as a pass-catcher.