ACC Preview: After squandering 2015 defense, Boston College needs offensive resurgence
Steve Addazio’s tenure in Chestnut Hill hit a speed bump in 2015. Boston College finished off a 3-9 campaign with a string of injuries and eight consecutive losses — a far cry from the bowl-eligible teams in Addazio’s first two seasons.
Records can be slightly deceiving, though. The Eagles lost five games decided by three points or fewer in 2016. Three of those teams (Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame) won eight or more games. Two or three plays, particularly from one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the country, could have completely changed the narrative.
Instead, the Eagles are eyeing a bounce-back with a new-look coaching staff.
Can Scot Loeffler revive the Eagles’ offense?
The former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator did not orchestrate juggernauts during his time in Blacksburg, and that will not be the expectation at his next ACC stop.
Loeffler, who coached with Addazio at Temple and Florida, comes with pedigree. Addazio called him one of the nation’s top quarterback coaches at the time of the hire — a nod to Loeffler’s past work with the likes of Tom Brady and Tim Tebow — although his previous Power Five coordinator stints at Auburn and Virginia Tech never produced a top-50 scoring offense. However, the Hokies gradually improved from 22.5 to 31 points per game from 2013 to 2015, which might as well be a Big 12 air raid attack based on where the Eagles were last season.
Loeffler will bring a more spread-based passing offense north with him, but even one of his own running backs does not expect sweeping changes … just better execution.
"Boston College philosophy never changes. We’re hard-nosed, a tough team," running back Myles Willis said at ACC Kickoff. "Regardless of who the coach is, historically Boston College has been a hard-nosed, tough team. Hard working. The new offensive coordinator, he’s bringing his own things. But at the end of the day, Boston College football will always be Boston College football."
The program desperately needed a change of scenery, though. Loeffler provides just that.
The pivotal question will be just how many more points will his offense provide.
Is graduate transfer Patrick Towles the answer, or can Darius Wade keep his starting job at quarterback?
Loeffler’s first quarterback at Boston College remains up in the air, but the choices seem clear: Patrick Towles, a graduate transfer from Kentucky, and 2015 injured starter Darius Wade.
Towles, a former four-star recruit, is the clear-cut favorite. At 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, Addazio called his new quarterback an elite athlete who "can run sub-4.6 (40-yard dash) and has a dynamic arm." Towles took over as Kentucky’s full-time starting quarterback as a sophomore in 2014, eventually racking up 5,099 yards, 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions in his career, primarily against SEC competition. Now he steps into a new environment, but the presence of a new offensive coordinator means every player is starting from square one.
Wade enjoyed a decent start to the 2015 season as the heir apparent to dual-threat success Tyler Murphy, but a broken ankle against Florida State in Week 3 sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Towles’ experience at running a pass-heavy offense should give him the leg up heading into the season, which would mean the Eagles’ offensive revival is relying on the program’s two highest-profile new faces.
Will Harold Landry and Matt Milano keep Boston College’s defense among the nation’s elite?
For the past two seasons, the Eagles have claimed a top-five rushing defense nationally — only reigning national champion Alabama can say the same. It’s been an Addazio staple, one that can serve as a foundation for success.
The defense finished No. 4 nationally in scoring last season but it loses front-seven contributors Steven Daniels, Mehdi Abdesmad and Connor Wujciak, each of whom logged double-digit tackles for loss. However, the cupboard is not bare.
Senior linebacker Matt Milano trails only Louisville’s Devonte Fields and Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Price for the conference lead in returning tackles for loss after logging 17.5 a year ago. He will be joined by rising juniors Harold Landry and Connor Strachan, both of whom lived in opponents’ backfields. Landry, in particular, burst onto the ACC scene with 4.5 tackles for loss against Florida State and could become one of the league’s most feared pass rushers with a little more consistency.
The Eagles’ typically staunch rushing defense will get an early test against Georgia Tech’s triple-option in Dublin, Ireland, in the first game of the season. Do not be surprised if, at the very least, this area of the program’s strength holds up.