As Boston College welcomes Miami for Friday night's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown at Alumni Stadium, both teams are coming off a bye, but from different ends of the spectrum.
The host Eagles gained some confidence back in their last game with a win over a Louisville despite the absence of star running back AJ Dillon, while Miami lost to a very average Virginia team on the road.
Both teams enter at 5-2, and this is a game that could go either way, so let's look at a couple factors that could tip the scale in one direction or another, aside from the obvious bonus for BC that Dillon is expected to return this week.
— BC's offense is unique to what Miami has mostly faced this season, which could favor the Eagles. You can say that about most of BC's opponents this season, because, by and large, college football has gone the way of the spread, and the teams that go under center and pound it usually don't go up-tempo like the Eagles do. Maybe the closest approximation to BC's offense that Miami has faced this year was its opener against LSU, but not really. Unlike recent years, LSU employed more shotgun sets in that game, and did not push the pace. When teams have gone under center and used the power-run and guard-pulling principles that BC butters its bread with, the Hurricanes have done a good job of shooting gaps and forcing either negative plays or keeping opponents behind the chains. Still, there are not many examples of teams running exactly what BC is likely to throw at Miami.
— That said, one of the best ways to beat the Miami defense is to use its aggressiveness against itself. That sounds a little confusing, but this is sort of a common talking point when you approach a defense like Miami's. Hurricanes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz loves to blitz, and unlike some play-callers on that side of the ball, he does not simply wait for favorable downs and distances to do so. Slow-developing plays simply don't work against this defense, and this is the fastest one BC will see to this point in the season. But there are a few ways the Eagles can turn this into a positive. When, as Miami tends to do, the Hurricanes bring as many as 10 players within five yards of the line of scrimmage with press coverage on the outside, an effective power run that walls off the linebackers at the second level can turn into a huge play. Also, even though one would suspect the jet sweep to be less effective against a team with Miami's speed in the back seven, just having it as a decoy on some plays can force the Hurricanes to be on their heels a bit, so the Eagles need to work it in.
— The Eagles can't be afraid to use the middle of the field in the passing game. This may go against conventional wisdom a little, but it is important. The reason this is not necessarily an easy call revolves around the fact that the Hurricanes prey upon teams that challenge them in this respect. Miami has defensive backs that are terrific at anticipating routes and baiting quarterbacks into thinking they have open receivers when there are none. However, the Eagles employ the type of personnel that can overcome this with their use of tight ends. Going back to the first note, Miami simply has not faced many teams that use that position when throwing the ball, and that's something that BC has to exploit to score against the Hurricanes. Intermediate throws across the middle of the field to Tommy Sweeney and Co. can be effective, and like any successful facet of any offense, will open up options for the rest of the playbook.
— Keep everything in front of you and make Miami drive the ball. This one applies to every game, but especially this one. Malik Rosier has been named the starting quarterback this week for the Hurricanes, but he was benched earlier in the season, and Miami does not really have any great options there. As a team, Miami ranks 106th in the nation in passing completion percentage. However, when the Hurricanes do connect, they hit it big, as they are 19th in yards per completion. As one opposing coach relayed to a television broadcast crew early in the season, Miami does not feature an intermediate passing game. Basically, this will be a game for the Eagles to not allow the big play, force Rosier to dink-and-dunk his offense down the field, which is not what the Hurricanes do best. With the speed Miami has on the perimeter, it's easier said than done, but BC can create pressure on this offensive line without blitzing, and Rosier is not particularly accurate when he's forced to throw on the run.