The play that set the tone for Boston College’s 41-10 win over Virginia last Saturday — and may exemplify the way the team’s offense has blossomed over the past two games — was a third-down scramble by redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown that salvaged a broken play and kept the Eagles from stalling out early.
On their first drive of the game, the Eagles were backed up on their 6-yard line facing a third-and-6. Brown was working out of the shotgun, and as soon as he got the snap, Virginia brought the house.
He found himself in his end zone, surrounded by blue jerseys, dangerously close to taking a safety. But he managed to make two tacklers miss, then shot upfield for a 15-yard gain.
Instead of falling into a hole early, the Eagles drove 85 yards on 15 plays, converting three third downs and using 5:40 of the clock to get a field goal out of a drive that looked dead on arrival.
For an offense that has seen drops, penalties, and inefficiency short-circuit drives and kill momentum before it could even be built, that drive was the foundation of perhaps the Eagles’ best offensive performance of the season.
The Eagles piled up 500 yards and put 40 points on the scoreboard for the second straight week, riding an offense that has begun to find itself midway through the season.
“We’ve had a lot of those plays, but we just weren’t making those plays,” said coach Steve Addazio. “We had that same opportunity against Virginia Tech and we didn’t make them.
“Now we made them. It changes the whole complexion of games. That’s why when I walked away from that game, I said to myself, ‘We’ll be all right. We’re going to make those plays. It’ll come.’
“So I think we’re trying to increase the diversity in our offense a little bit. We have to be careful because all of a sudden you overload the young quarterback and the next thing you know, it all looks kind of nasty.
“So you want to grow and you want to throw a little more and sometimes it’s like, ‘Is that too much salt or not enough salt?’ And you hope you’re right. But you could be wrong and it’s hard to know.”
The balance that Addazio promised coming into the season had been lacking early on, with injuries taking a toll on the offense and inexperience at key positions making it difficult to open up the playbook.
But over the past two weeks, the offense has shown more than just flashes of what it could be.
Freshman running back A.J. Dillon ran for 272 yards in the 45-42 win over Louisville two weeks ago. Brown threw for a career-high 275 yards and three touchdowns.
But contributions have come from all over. Brown completed passes to seven different receivers against Virginia, with tight ends Tommy Sweeney and Chris Garrison becoming more involved in the offense.
‘Just keeping drives alive, getting that first first down, and then keeping it rolling has been huge.’
“I think the whole team — offense, every receiver, both quarterbacks — I think we’re a lot more confident now that we actually got to see it,” said redshirt freshman receiver Kobay White.
As Dillon has emerged as the workhorse in the backfield, that has allowed the passing game to open up.
“Because of the game that we had as a team running the ball against Louisville, Virginia may have had to change a little bit of the schemes up, and that opened up the passing game a little bit,” Dillon said.
“Any time you can have a balanced offense, like we did against Virginia, I feel like we’re playing at the best of our ability.”
The most important factor in the progression of the offense has been finding ways to keep drives from stalling. On the season, the Eagles are converting 36.1 percent of third downs, 10th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. But over the past two weeks, they’ve converted 51.3 percent (19 of 37), and the offense has reaped the benefits of long drives.
“Just keeping drives alive, getting that first first down, and then keeping it rolling has been huge,” Brown said. “Converting on third down is really big because it keeps our drives alive and it takes a little bit out of the defense.”
Addazio will concede that, even with the past two performances, the offense is by no means where he would like it to be. He came off the practice field Tuesday after trying to install a new play and wondered to himself whether it was too soon. With a bye week after Florida State on Friday, there will be more time to make sure it’s fully grasped.
In the meantime, the progress has been enough to keep the season alive.
“So it’s push, but be careful,” Addazio said. “That’s where we are right now.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.