Boston College coach Steve Addazio talking up his team’s passing game feels like a subterfuge.
“We will throw it more,” Addazio promised after the Eagles wrapped up their spring practice at the end of March.
“More,” of course, is relative, but even with a new coordinator, new quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line, it would be foolish to expect Addazio to find his inner Mike Leach.
Only one Power 5 conference team (Georgia Tech) ran the ball more per game than Boston College (48.8) did last season. The Eagles rode quarterback Tyler Murphy (1,184 rushing yards) to a surprising 7-6 season, that with a bounce here or there, easily could have been 10-3.
Murphy set a new single-season rushing record for an ACC quarterback, but he only attempted 230 passes and just 72 in the final five ACC games.
Connor Halliday, Leach’s quarterback at Washington State, threw the ball 79 times in a Pac-12 loss to Arizona.
Addazio has squeezed the most out of the talent he inherited, or in the case of Murphy acquired via transfer, since he took over the program after back-to-back losing seasons in 2011 and ’12.
Addazio, a former Florida assistant and Temple head coach, has been looking for what he calls “dudes” on the recruiting trail. With 58 first- or second-year players on the roster, Addazio needs some new “dudes” to step up this season to continue the trend of outperforming expectations.
Sophomore running back Jon Hilliman (860 yards, 13 touchdowns) will be the centerpiece of the offense, with sophomore Darius Wade taking over for Murphy at quarterback and five new starters on the line.
Addazio has praised Wade’s arm strength and accuracy. He will likely throw the ball more under new coordinator Todd Fitch, who worked with Skip Holtz at East Carolina and South Florida, than Murphy did last season.
But if Addazio’s track record is any indication, Hilliman will be plenty busy this season, and so will speedy slot back Sherman Alston.
In Addazio’s four seasons as a head coach, two at BC and two at Temple, his offenses have attempted more than 140 percent more running plays (2,262) than passing plays (930).
The Eagles ranked 15th in the country last year in rushing yards per game (254.7), and their attempts went up (635 compared to 523 in 2013) even after losing the only 2,000-yard rusher in ACC history (Andre Williams).
The question for the Eagles, who have been able to lean on a veteran offensive line in Addazio’s first two seasons, is: Howquickly can they start over up front?
Other than fifth-year senior guard Harris Williams, a starter in 2013 but missed last year with an ankle injury, there are more questions than answers.
“We can still piece together a physical line,” Addazio said.
No doubt, they’ve been doing that at Boston College forever, but there will be an adjustment.
There are holes to be filled on defense, too. The Eagles were excellent at stopping the run last season. They ranked second in the country, yielding just 94.4 yards per game.
Nose tackle Connor Wujciak, a fifth-year senior, and linebacker Steven Daniels, a senior, should keep the Eagles strong up the middle but there are many new faces in the secondary.
Boston College was a late touchdown by Colorado State (24-21 loss), a late field goal by Florida State (20-17 loss) and an extra point against Penn State (31-30 overtime loss) away from a special season.
The Eagles will need a lot of new parts to click in 2015, but Addazio has proven he can do more with less and certainly when little is expected.
ACC preview schedule
May 31: No. 1 Florida State
June 7: No. 2 Clemson
June 14: No. 3 N.C. State
June 21: No. 4 Louisville
June 28: No. 5 Boston College
July 5: No. 6 Syracuse
July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest
July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech
July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech
Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC
Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke
Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt
Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami
Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia
Boston College at a glance
2014: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Coach: Steve Addazio (13-12, third year at BC)
Returning starters: Offense (4), Defense (6), Special teams (1)
▪ Jon Hilliman hit a wall in November of his freshman year. The 6-foot, 215-pound running back averaged 4.2 yards per carry for his first eight college games and then just 2.8 for the next four. He rebounded with 148 yards on 25 carries (5.9 per carry) in the Pinstripe Bowl.
With a full year of conditioning, Hilliman should be better, even with a reworked offensive line, this season.
Pitt’s James Conner (1,765 yards), Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (1,008) and N.C. State’s Shadrach Thornton (907) are the only returning running backs in the ACC who ran for more yards last year than Hilliman (860).
▪ The consolation in “only” going 7-6 is Steve Addazio didn’t get scooped up elsewhere. Pardon the pun but the dude can coach.
▪ Boston College has had a knack for finding quarterbacks. Sophomore Darius Wade might be the next one, but there’s going to be a learning curve.
Tyler Murphy, with six career starts at Florida, was a bona fide proven commodity compared Wade, who has three mop-up appearances and eight pass attempts under his belt.
What Wade, who’s listed at 6-foot and 204 pounds (pro tip: no quarterback listed at 6-foot is really that tall), does have going for him is he has spent a full season, plus a spring, in the program. Murphy graduated from Florida and was only able to jump into the mix in August last year.
▪ It was Boston College’s offensive line, incredibly made up of five fifth-year seniors last year, that inspired N.C. State coach Dave Doeren’s mini-rant last October about inheriting “stocked cabinets.”
The Eagles will have to replenish the cabinet after losing center Andy Gallik and tackle Ian Silberman (both sixth-round picks) and guard Bobby Vardaro (45 career starts).
Addazio squeezes another pint of blood from the ACC football turnip for five conference wins, out-of-leagues wins over Northern Illinois and Notre Dame to post double-digit wins for the third time since 1985.
The line struggles, Wade flounders, both Northern Illinois and Notre Dame bite them out of the league and the Eagles go 0-for-Tobacco Road and drop to 4-8.
This program is in good hands with Addazio. The early stretch of the schedule should offer enough time to find some footing on offense and give the Eagles a chance to find their way back to a third straight bowl.
Newcomer to watch
Chris Lindstrom, G
It’s not easy for a true freshman to start on the offensive line, but Lindstrom enrolled in January and has good bloodlines. His father, Chris, played defensive line in the NFL and his uncle, Eric, played defensive end at BC in the 1980s.
Sept. 5: Maine
Sept. 12: Howard
Sept. 18: Florida State
Sept. 26: Northern Illinois
Oct. 3: at Duke
Oct. 10: Wake Forest
Oct. 17: at Clemson
Oct. 24: at Louisville
Oct. 31: Virginia Tech
Nov. 7: N.C. State
Nov. 14: OPEN
Nov. 21: Notre Dame (at Fenway Park)
Nov. 28: at Syracuse
Opening with Maine and Howard is like holding new quarterback Darius Wade’s hand and walking him into the kiddie pool.
The ACC opener with Florida State on a Friday night national game? That’s pushing him into the deep end.
Ultimately the success of the Eagles’ season will likely be determined by the four games with Northern Illinois, Duke (on the road), Wake Forest and N.C. State. It bodes well for Boston College that three of those are at home.
And if nothing else, that late November date with Notre Dame at Boston’s Fenway Park will make for interesting theater for NBC.