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How Frank Cignetti Should Tailor the Offense to Dennis Grosel

Dennis Grosel is BC's new starting quarterback. How will offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti change the offense to mesh with his new signal-caller?

We all know the circumstances. Phil Jurkovec is doubtful to return this season; Dennis Grosel will start for Boston College this weekend against Temple. Fans are very familiar with Grosel’s work, as he has appeared in 16 games over the last three seasons. Grosel is a former walk-on who worked up the depth chart due to his intelligence and leadership. He’s slightly undersized and doesn’t have the biggest arm. But he’s accurate and can make plays with his feet. With those qualities in mind, let’s talk about what Frank Cignetti Jr. will do to tailor the BC offense to Grosel’s skills.

More Quick Game

To put Grosel into the best possible position, Cignetti needs to open up the playbook, specifically the quick passing game. Through two games, the BC passing offense relied on long dropbacks, sometimes with hard play-action fakes, that ask the quarterback to sit in the pocket, read the defense, and deliver the ball to receivers on long-developing route combinations. 

Part of the reason why these plays are so successful is that the BC offensive line. They have been excellent in pass protection, affording the quarterbacks lots of time to hang in the pocket. According to PFF, Phil Jurkovec had the 26th-most time to throw in the pocket, averaging 3.01 seconds (minimum 25 dropbacks). Grosel has averaged even more time to throw with 3.64 seconds. On 53 dropbacks, BC’s quarterbacks have only been pressured 17 times on 53 dropbacks (33%). That may seem high, but it’s pretty decent. BC has only allowed one sack, and it looks like it came on scramble where Grosel technically took a loss.

However, another major factor behind the time in the pocket and lack of pressure is the quality of opponents that BC has faced. Neither Colgate nor UMass consistently generated pressure against either quarterback. That lack of pass rush will not remain consistent throughout the season. Temple has done a decent job getting to the quarterback. They’ve generated pressure on 37 dropbacks out of 79 (47%). I think it’s clear that BC will still have the advantage in the trenches. But asking Dennis Grosel to sit in the pocket for four or five seconds and read the whole field might not be the best strategy.

Therefore, the solution is incorporating more quick passes. As previously mentioned, Grosel is a very smart, experienced player who knows the playbook better than some of the coaches. Against UMass, Grosel’s depth of target was nearly 13 yards, and his average time in the pocket was 3.86 seconds. That will not be replicable against better opponents. Against Temple, Cignetti should incorporate more quick passing concepts, with both pre-snap and post-snap reads. 

One of the few areas where Grosel might be better than Jurkovec is his mental processing and ability to read a defense. He’s also not the deep pass gunslinger that Jurkovec is, so he’s not going to look off an easy check-down in favor of a contested deep ball. So, on Saturday, look for BC to target their tight ends on quick routes in the middle of the field and their wide receivers on slants or quick-ins, possibly off RPOs.

The Run Game Must Keep Improving

Throughout the summer and even into the first week of the season, we at BC Bulletin harped on the issues with the running game. Many factors went into why the running game struggled last season: COVID preventing workouts and practice, a significant scheme overhaul, and position changes. This season, all those factors have been removed. The Eagles still struggled to get the ground game going against Colgate; I think this was primarily due to the rotation of running backs (to prevent injury), which prevented them from getting into a rhythm.

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Against UMass, the running backs finally found some traction, with Patrick Garwo setting a new single-game rushing record in the Hafley era. Alec Sinkfield and Travis Levy also ran pretty well. This season, Temple has allowed nearly 200 yards per game on the ground so far, so the backs should have a pretty successful outing against the Owls. But they need to make sure they continue to improve in the run game. Strong defenses like Missouri, Clemson, NC State, and Virginia Tech may give the run game problems. Nevertheless, Cignetti and Applebaum need to find ways to get the running backs into the second level of the defense.

Another way to improve the running game would be to use Grosel as a running threat. I supported this idea for Phil Jurkovec; maybe that idea needs to be scrapped entirely given his injury history. But Grosel is a smarter runner. He knows how to slide (unlike Jurkovec, he has that baseball background), and he’s not going to try to truck and punish defenders. 

Cignetti probably won’t scheme up any designed inside runs beyond QB sneaks, given his lack of size. But they could get him on the edge to use his quickness with zone reads and RPOs. As I said in the offseason, the run game does not need to be Adazzio-level dominant. But Grosel played quite well when he had a consistent run game to lean on, and he didn’t need to make all the plays himself.

Let Denny Bake

Last season in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks got off to a very hot start on offense. They were throwing the ball all over the field. Some attributed this to the online movement that demanded Pete Carroll allow Russell Wilson to throw the ball more. This movement operated under the mantra “Let Russ Cook.” Now, this strategy eventually petered out (no pun intended), but the results were still encouraging, and the Seahawks will still be incorporating some of those concepts this year. But keep the phrase “Let Russ Cook” in the back of your mind.

Before I get into how this affects BC’s offense, let me describe one more metaphor. There is an aphorism (phrase, idiom, what have you) that quarterbacks are either bakers or chefs. When you bake, you have to follow a particular set of instructions to the letter to make the best product. If you make a few minor mistakes, the product is generally okay, but it could also completely ruin the bake. 

Conversely, when you cook, as a chef does, there are general guidelines to follow, but there is significantly more room for creativity. Now apply this idea to quarterbacks. Some are bakers who don’t have that creative license (think Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo); some are chefs (Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson).

Now, combine these two ideas: Let Denny Bake. We saw what an unhinged Dennis Grosel looked like against Virginia last season. He threw for tons of yards but turned the ball over and put it in harm’s way. We also saw what he looked like when asked to be the driving force of the offense in 2019 against Clemson and Notre Dame. Granted, those are elite opponents, but the point stands. Cignetti and Hafley need to ensure that Grosel knows he does not need to do it by himself. He does not need to come into the kitchen and whip up a three-course, five-star meal; instead, he just needs to follow the recipe and put together a nice banana bread. 

The offense has enough talent and experience to make Grosel look good and protect him, as long as he plays within the confines. As I wrote in my piece earlier this week, BC fans do not need to panic, as eight wins are still within reach. If Grosel lets the offense work for him, nine wins is a realistic possibility.