First Downs Will Be Key For Offense At Wake Forest

By Austin Tedesco, Asst. Sports Editor

After putting up over 30 points in four out of its first five games, the Boston College offense has struggled to get into the end zone the last three times out, including Saturday’s win over Maryland. The Eagles’ offense thrived early in the season by striking fast, getting the defense on its toes, and then forcing the ball down the field at will.

“We’ve seen throughout the season that not a lot of people can stop our no-huddle,” said senior offensive lineman Emmett Cleary. “We have a certain amount of confidence that once we get that first first-down we really get rolling and it’s difficult for people [to stop us].”

Cleary couldn’t be more right. The BC offense has played very well once it builds momentum off that initial first down, especially when the very first play of the drive is successful.

Of the 19 touchdown drives for the Eagles (drives that only included one play or began inside the opponent’s 10 were excluded from this statistic), 14 of them began with an initial first-down play of five yards or more. It is further proof that once the Eagles have gotten rolling, they’ve been tough to stop.

Additionally, out of BC’s 28 scoring drives (which includes both touchdowns and field goals) 18 of them have come off of initial first-down plays of five yards or more. In fact, BC is averaging right around 14 yards per initial first-down play on its scoring drives.

The problem in the last three games has been getting that important first-down play. Out of 35 opportunities against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Maryland, the Eagles picked up five yards or more on 14 of those initial first-down plays. Ten of those 14 plays for five yards or more led to scoring drives. BC will need to execute solid gains on first down at a much more efficient clip if the offense is going to bring back the success it had early in the year.

“For whatever reason in the [Maryland] game, first downs weren’t very good for us,” said quarterback Chase Rettig. “If we can fix our first downs, we’ll be able to put ourselves in much better situations.”

Not only will the first-down plays get BC in an early groove, but they will also help prevent the dangerously long third downs the Eagles have constantly faced.

“The hard thing is, you’re in third-and-10 and the offensive coordinator is put into a situation where he has to call a pass play – and our conversions in the two-minute drill were good, but obviously the defense knows you’ll be passing the ball in that situation,” Rettig said. “We’ve got to do a better job of controlling our down and distance.”

Rettig noted that an improved running game would make life a lot easier on first-down.

“I read some stat that our average third down before the two-minute drive was like 10 or 11 yards out,” Rettig said. “We can definitely make it easier on ourselves. If we’re going to run the ball on first down it needs to be for three or four yards, and then a play-action or anything just to get a couple yards to make it easier on yourself when its second-and-long or third-and-long.”

When the Eagles run on an initial first-down this season, they’ve averaged 3.77 yards per rush, which isn’t bad, but that stat is misleading due to some very long runs mixed in with plenty of runs for no gain. They’ve been much better through the air, but now teams are expecting it. The play-action calls are going to be less successful and the gaps that tight end Chris Pantale and wide receiver Alex Amidon have been finding in the middle of the field will start to close.

It will be on running back Andre Williams and the offensive line to keep the defense honest and keep those gaps open with solid gains on first-down. Williams said at this point it’s just going to take execution and discipline.

“We just have to be disciplined and be able to be precise and execute,” Williams said. “We see in every game it’s always the precision and execution that hurts us. If we’re not precise and we can’t execute then we hurt ourselves, but if we can put it together, then like coach Martin says we can score 30 or 40 points.”

That execution and discipline will be most important on BC’s very first play of each possession. If the Eagles can find success there, then that 30 or 40-point performance won’t seem so out of reach.

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