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Four Keys to Victory: NC State

Staff writer Mitchell Wolfe provides four necessary objectives for Boston College to defeat NC State.

Dennis, meet Devin

For Boston College to win this game, Boston College’s quarterback will have to play more like his NC State counterpart. Through his first three starts this season, Dennis Grosel has been very inconsistent. It’s still a relatively small sample size, but Grosel has looked like a different quarterback every game. He’s made good plays and put together solid drives in each game, but he needs to do that more consistently moving forward.

Across the field from Grosel is Devin Leary. Leary is younger but similarly sized to Grosel (6’1”, 210 lbs). He doesn’t have the strongest arm, and he isn’t the best athlete. But Leary has excelled this season in taking care of the ball and keeping the offense on schedule. In his 184 passing attempts this season, he has only thrown two interceptions and hasn’t thrown one since the Week 2 loss to Mississippi State. He’s only committed four turnover-worthy throws and has an adjusted completion percentage of 77.5% (drops, throwaways, and batted balls removed). Conversely, even though he has some of the same physical limitations, Grosel tries to make too many plays by himself that gets him and the offense into trouble.

Against NC State, Grosel will face an excellent defense that is one of the best in the country at preventing third-down conversions and getting off the field. To defeat the Wolfpack, Grosel will have to channel some elements of Leary’s game. Do not test the defense when you don’t need to; throw the ball away and live to fight another down; get rid of the ball quickly and let the receivers make plays. I’ve been saying this for weeks now but maybe after the bye week and some self-scouting, Cignetti and Grosel will make some changes.

Deplatform Devin Leary

With the limitations of the quarterbacks in mind, the Boston College defense must find a way to move Leary off his spot. Unfortunately, it would still be best for the defense to do this without blitzing and only rushing four. As previously mentioned, the NC State offense is designed to protect the quarterback from making bad decisions and turning over the football. Leary throws a ton of bubble screens does not throw vertically very much.

While Leary does not have the strongest arm, he’s been quite good at throwing the ball down the field. Therefore, the key to limiting the NC State offense is putting pressure on Leary when he takes deep shots. When Leary is kept clean, his completion percentage is 74.5%, and he has thrown 11 of his 12 touchdowns. But when he is pressured, the completion percentage drops to 41%; he has only thrown one touchdown when pressured. 

The issue is that Leary is not very affected by the blitz, indicating he’s a smart player who understands where the blitz is coming from and how to counterattack against it. His completion percentages are almost exactly the same when he is blitzed (68%) vs. when he is not blitzed (66%). He has thrown the same amount of touchdowns (6) for each scenario and has made the same amount of turnover-worthy plays (2), even though he has been blitzed on only half the amount of dropbacks as when he has not been blitzed (Not Blitzed: 139; Blitzed: 61).

As previously mentioned, BC’s defense will need to collapse the pocket around Leary and force him to either take the sack, throw the ball away, or escape the pocket. Leary is not the best runner; he has taken only one rushing attempt in each game this season. If the BC defense can force Leary to get outside the pocket and try to create off-platform and out of structure, the NC State offense will collapse. He struggles to make plays on his own outside of the pocket, making this BC’s best chance to win this game.

Outflank the Opponent

Through their first five games, the Boston College Eagles sought to dominate their opponent by running the ball between the tackles. They wanted to physically impose their will on the defense to help open up the play-action passing game. Against NC State, however, I do not think this strategy would be as effective. 

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The Wolfpack has a strong defensive line, featuring two talented transfers in Daniel Joseph and Cory Durden. They also have arguably the best linebacking duo in the conference with Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas. NC State deploys a 3-3-5 defensive front, which ostensibly should be weaker against the run. However, they have allowed the 14th-lowest rushing yards per game (92.0) this season in college football, good enough for the best in the ACC.

Therefore, I think the best strategy for the BC offense would be to invert their offensive plan of attack. The Eagles should try to spread the Wolfpack defense out by attacking the outside edges of the defense. This means throwing quickly to the outside, namely to players like Zay Flowers and Jaelen Gill. These players are extremely talented and can make plays on their own in space. NC State is relatively weaker in their secondary, as they have been somewhat susceptible to mistakes and missed tackles. 

But this strategy goes beyond Flowers and Gill. If the Eagles can successfully throw outside the hashes, that will force the Wolfpack to put more defensive backs on the field and pull defenders out of the box. As the game goes on, this will allow for more open running lanes for the running backs. Additionally, the experienced BC offensive line should be able to consistently dominate light boxes from NC State’s defense.

This should also help the Eagles’ quarterback, Dennis Grosel. As previously mentioned, Grosel has struggled with consistency through his first three starts; part of his struggles stem from his unwillingness to get rid of the ball more quickly. With more designed throws to the outside, this should help quicken Grosel’s processing and decision-making. 

Additionally, Grosel is surprisingly effective throwing to the outside. All of Grosel’s turnover-worthy plays (5) and interceptions (4) have come when targeting the intermediate or deep part of the field. Conversely, he has been quite efficient when throwing outside in the short or intermediate area, completing 17 of 22 passes for 259 yards and 2 TDs.

Slay the Two-Headed Monster, Knight-Person

The Boston College defense faces a different kind of running threat than any they faced this season. Where Tyler Badie brought great vision and elusiveness and Clemson added the quarterback to their running game, the Wolfpack sport two excellent running backs with diverse skillsets. Zonovan “Bam” Knight and Ricky Person Jr. make up the best running back duo in the conference and one of the best in the country. 

Knight is the more traditional runner with better athleticism; he leads the Wolfpack in rushing yards (459), but he’s also fumbled twice. Person is a big back (6’1”, 222 lbs) who leads the team in rushing touchdowns (4) and is also receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Defeating this pair of runners will be a massive challenge for the BC defense. They did a decent job of preventing Tyler Badie from killing them. But Badie was small and shifty, while Knight and Person are big, strong backs that can physically punish a defense. Like BC, North Carolina State relies on a Zone-blocking rushing attack, primarily using outside and wide zone runs. Therefore, BC will need to deploy a two-pronged strategy to deal with this duet.

First, they will have to put more defenders in the box. Hafley and Lukabu might stick with their five-defensive back packages, but they will most likely have to put players like Jahmin Muse and Jaiden Lars-Woodbey closer to the line of scrimmage to help stop the run. In a game like this, a smart player with more strength like Vinny DePalma could see extended playing time.

Second, the linebackers will have to be extremely disciplined and gap-sound. Zone rushing games rely on creating multiple running lanes for their running backs to choose from. To prevent these alleys from opening, the linebackers need to be patient and resolute with staying in their gap and flowing with the play. Luckily, unlike previous rushing attacks that the Eagles struggled against, the quarterback is not a running threat for NC State. As previously mentioned, Devin Leary has only run the ball five times for 26 yards.

I could also imagine that Hafley and Lukabu will be imploring the defense to go after the football. As previously mentioned, Bam Knight has had some fumbling issues, as has the quarterback. Making sure tackles and getting ball carriers to the ground. But I would expect hard-hitters like Woodbey and Muse to be delivering hard hits to the backs and experienced players like Isaiah Graham-Mobley to pick their spots to rip at the ball.