After a frustrating nine-turnover performance last Saturday, the Boston College offense got at least somewhat back on track today in the team's final scrimmage before the season opener against UMass next week. Head coach Steve Addazio moved the final scrimmage up to today to emphasize the need to eliminate the mistakes from Saturday and to give the team more time to recover. Here are some notes and observations from both sides of the ball:
-Addazio said it was difficult to draw out too many big plays from the offense because the players are so worn down from camp. The team has the day off tomorrow before starting prep for UMass on Friday and Saturday. The players have the day off again on Sunday before officially beginning game week on Monday.
-Despite some sluggish moments, there were positives on the offensive end. Tyler Murphy hit Charlie Callinan on a nice back-shoulder throw for a 22-yard touchdown. Darius Wade also found Thaddius Smith with a pretty deep ball for a 40-yard gain. Smith had the only turnover of the game for the offense, coughing up the ball near the sideline.
-Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse saw limited action today to help keep them fresh for next week. Josh Bordner played through an illness, but mainly lined up as the far tight end when he was in. This allowed some of the younger players to get reps. Jon Hilliman, Richard Wilson, and Marcus Outlow all split a fair number of carries, and each of them impressed in spurts. Wilson continues to refuse to go down without a fight and is already a solid runner in the trenches. Outlow had his best day since I've been watching him. He's usually gone down early after only gaining a couple of yards, but his speed finally broke free today.
-Sherman Alston got a lot of work in with the first team, and he's still being used all over the field to make plays. One of the encouraging things about his performance today was his refusal to shy away from contact. Although he's very noticeably the smallest player on the field, he ran right into defenders today for extra yards.
-When asked what he thinks the offense does well, Murphy said that the unit has gotten better at using different personnel sets to get mismatches that take advantage of the defense. From there, the offense can build off the mismatches and spread the ball around to get any of its offensive weapons into a position to make plays.
-Addazio blew the whistle early whenever Wade was about to take off and run. He said that, although Wade is feeling good, the freshman QB is still just one snap away from seeing field at any time and BC can't afford for him to reinjure the hamstring. There was a lot of talk about Urban Meyer's team at Ohio State and the situation the Buckeyes are in after losing Braxton Miller. Addazio said stuff like that keeps him up at night.
-It can be discouraging for the offense not to put up many points in these scrimmages-the Murphy to Callinan ball was the only real offensive touchdown today, and there was another score from a specific goal-line set-up- but Addazio said that this is mainly a function of practicing against Don Brown's defense.
"When you go against a team that plays that much defense, you've got to narrow your package down," he said. "You've got to attack that defense. We're not doing that now. Ryan's not gameplaning Donny."
The same thing happened last season. The offense struggled against the multiple, aggressive defense in camp and then found ways to score against opposing defenses in games. Addazio said that can be an advantage for the offense once the real games start.
"We wouldn't know what to do if we were in a vanilla game now," he said. "We wouldn't know what to do if we just played a team that was kind of like BC used to play before I got here."
Offensive coordinator Ryan Day has been installing his offense in spite of Brown's tactics, and the hope for BC is that when there's less pressure and fewer defensive sets to worry about the offensive production should come more easily.
-Josh Keyes was yet again one of the defensive MVPs. He looks so frustrated every time he gets to the quarterback and can only put two hands on him. I wouldn't be surprised to see him level a UMass player in the backfield with a huge hit once he's finally unleashed next week.
Mehdi Abdesmad was with the first team again. Like Addazio assured last week, Abdesmad should be good to go for the opener.
-Although Steven Daniels has played well in camp, Mike Strizak and Sean Duggan are still the two linebackers next to Keyes. But based on the scrimmages and conversations with players, it sounds like a lot of the front seven is interchangeable. When the depth chart is released next week, the difference between the first team and the second team on the defensive line and with the linebackers likely won't matter much. Just like in camp, there should be plenty of guys cycling through those positions throughout the game.
-Brian Mihalik tipped two passes at the line of scrimmage. He, Malachi Moore, and Kevin Kavalek all had productive days on the line, and freshman Kevin Cohee recovered Smith's fumble. Noa Merritt also stuffed a few runs up the middle right at the line of scrimmage.
-I'd project Bryce Jones as the primary kick and punt returner for the opener. Some other guys got opportunities, but Jones seems well established as the starter until someone replaces him. He broke free for a nice touchdown run on one kick return today.
-Alex Howell took all of the field goals in the scrimmage, and appears to be the established starter on kickoffs, punts, and field goals, despite some initial competition from freshman Mike Knoll. Howell missed a 48-yard field goal wide right that looked like it had the distance. He then nailed a 24-yarder later in the scrimmage before missing a 41-yarder, also wide right.
"He's done well in camp, but in these competitive situations here, we've got to get his accuracy up," Addazio said of Howell. "Because that's when it matters. He's done a good job kicking off, his punts have been pretty good, but the accuracy in competitive situations has got to be better than that."
It's no longer an automatic three points when the BC offense gets inside field-goal range. Tyler Murphy is holding the ball on field goals. It doesn't look like the staff wants one of the freshmen handling that job.
-Addazio wished he could have another scrimmage, especially for his young players, but he said the team needs to recover and get its legs back for the opener.
"We're so young," he said. "I wish I had another one of these. In the stadium, coaches in the booth-I wish I could do this one more time, but I really can't. We've got what we've got right now. Got to focus on UMass now."
Addazio said he still needs to decide how much he can rely on the freshmen early in the season, especially the offensive weapons, since they are still risks to make mistakes.
"It's a decision that I've got to make-if they're ready to be in the game and if I'm willing to take those risks, versus the rewards of some of their explosiveness," he said.
"We're in a footrace with the youth of our team. Exactly where that's going to be, I wish I had a crystal ball. I just don't know."
-Addazio was a little surprised when he was asked if captains would be announced next week.
"That's a good question," he said. "I would say probably yes."
"You almost had to remind me. I kind of like the way our whole team is operating right now. I kind of like it like this right now, I don't know if I want to rock that boat."
The team votes on captains, according to Addazio. He said the coaches have no say in the decision.