2015 CFB Preview – Boston College

    Boston College EaglesGo to Team Page EaglesGo to Selection Page           BC and Steve Addazio — a perfect marriage on the

    June 30, 2015

    Boston College
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    BC and Steve Addazio — a perfect marriage on the Heights.

    By Rich Cirminiello | @RichCirminiello

    The Eagles absolutely nailed the hiring of Addazio two years ago, a move that has changed the course of the program’s future. So, yeah, there’s a fair amount of rebuilding to be done this year on both sides of the ball. But there’s also a sense that everything will be fine, because the man in charge owns a blueprint for building from the ground up by preaching hard work and old-school physicality.

    Boston College will never be Florida State or Clemson. The individual talent base just won’t stack up. It can, however, be what Tom O’Brien had for a decade, a well-coached, rock-solid outfit that Florida State and Clemson dread facing each fall.

    Addazio has specific issues he and his staff are working to solve this offseason. On offense, new coordinator Todd Fitch is mentoring his young quarterbacks, while holding his breath about an O-line that lost five starters to graduation.

    In all likelihood, sophomore southpaw Darius Wade will be lining up behind the rebuilt front wall, determined to bring more passing game pop to a decidedly run-first playbook. The Eagles can always fall back on their smash-mouth ground troops, but that’s an approach with a hard cap to its overall potential.

    The defense in Boston is grappling with a split-personality. On the one hand, the run D is a rock, chiseled out of a blue-collar work ethic and the strength to hold up extremely well at the point of attack. The secondary, though, is susceptible and soft, which will make preparing for the Eagles less complicated.

    In order to help the defensive backs, coordinator Don Brown wants to hound opposing quarterbacks without necessarily having to further expose his corners by blitzing. Fortunately, the team is evolving at defensive end with Kevin Kavalec and Malachi Moore, and Mike Strizak has been moved from linebacker for situational purposes.

    The struggles of the brief Frank Spaziani era are but a fading memory. Addazio has captained his team to a new place of stability, with a roll-up-the-sleeves approach serving as the bedrock principle. Of course, that’s not to suggest that Addazio—or anyone inside his program—is content with seven-win seasons. Boston College is after bigger prizes, though hovering around the .500 mark might the Eagles’ reality for at least one more season.

    What you need to know about the offense: Boston College is going to run the ball. Boston College always seems to be able to run the ball. And even with a made-over offensive line, the Eagles still figure to grind out yards between the tackles with the capable trio of Jon Hilliman, Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse. However, if newly-minted offensive coordinator Todd Fitch is to have early success on the job, he must get more production from a passing game that was dormant in 2014. Fitch is seeking a more textured attack, one that can keep defenses from fixating on stopping Hilliman, Myles and Rouse. But for that to happen, a first-time starting quarterback, likely Darius Wade, and an unremarkable set of receivers will have to exceed expectations. And then there’s the issues with the front wall, a work-in-progress pinning hopes on veterans Harris Williams, Dave Bowen and Frank Taylor to serve as leaders of a two-deep that’s going to be unusually green and expected to feature rookies.

    What you need to know about the defense: Stop the pass. That’s the mandate being laid down by coordinator Don Brown this offseason. The Eagles have the whole run-stuffing thing down pat. They finished No. 2 nationally a year ago, and will be stout up the middle with LB Steven Daniels and tackles Connor Wujciak, Mehdi Adbesmad and Truman Gutapfel. But it won’t be difficult game-planning for BC if the secondary remains a flashing liability. Two starters must be replaced from a unit that ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns allowed, picks and, of course, passer rating. This area has to be addressed, which is why veteran CB John Johnson will be under the microscope in 2015. Two starting linebackers must be replaced as well. But Daniels is a solid anchor, and this program has excelled recently at coaching up the position. The Eagles will be young at the second level, but Matt Milano, Connor Strachan and Ty Schwab are being reared on the Heights to embrace this opportunity.

    What to look for on offense: Sticking to the script. Steve Addazio has talked in the offseason about throwing the ball more, but who’s he kidding? This is Steve Addazio, whose love of downhill runners has been well-documented. Plus, the quarterback, likely sophomore Darius Wade, is unproven, the receivers don’t scare ACC defensive backs and a new pair of tackles will be pass protecting this fall. The Eagles would love balance in theory, but it’ll be a whole lot safer just to continue feeding the ball to Jon Hilliman, Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse.

    What to look for on defense: A strong core. Boston College will be very tough in the midsection this season, especially if DT Mehdi Adbesmad’s knee finally checks out at 100%. Connor Wujciak is a stout all-star at the nose, and Truman Gutapfel impressed when he got on the field in 2014. Plus, Steven Daniels is one of the ACC’s biggest and strongest middle linebackers. After ranking No. 2 nationally against the run, it’ll once again be extremely difficult to navigate the Eagle D between the tackles.

    The team will be much better if … the passing game takes some heat off the backs. Yeah, BC is a run-first program, but those runners will get a huge assist if opposing defenses aren’t permitted to stack the line of scrimmage. And the onus of inciting a passing game that finished 124th nationally last year falls on more than just young QB Darius Wade. The Eagles will also need a mediocre corps of receivers to perform above expectations. Sophomore Thadd Smith is a young playmaker the team likes, and seniors Harrison Jackson and Bobby Swigert are hoping to return following lengthy injury rehabs.

    The Schedule: The Eagles get two light scrimmages against Maine and Howard to start out the year, but they can be forgiven for the layups with Florida State to kick off the ACC season.
    – Northern Illinois is hardly a sure-thing non-conference date – even at home – and the Notre Dame game should be interesting in Fenway.
    – The Coastal game against Duke is the first road trip of the year, coming in October, and the other interdivisional game against Virginia Tech comes after the roughest stretch of the season.
    – BC doesn’t leave Massachusetts in September and goes another month without leaving the state late in the season.
    – The one nasty stretch is right in the middle, going on the road three times in four week at Duke, Clemson and Louisville.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … Northern Illinois. The Huskies tagged Northwestern last year in Evanston, and they’re the sandwich game for BC between Florida State and the first road game at Duke.

    Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Jon Hilliman. Hilliman runs as if he was born to be the focal point of Steve Addazio-led offense. Hilliman was instantly successful in his debut out of high school, softening opposing defenses with a no-nonsense, north-south style of running. He’s especially effective in short yardage, scoring 13 times, and should improve as a second-half runner as his conditioning does. Boston College needs Hilliman—and backups Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse—to be the catalysts of an attack working with a new quarterback and a new line.

    Best Defensive Player: Senior NT Connor Wujciak. The Eagles were a fortress against the run in 2014, allowing just three yards per carry and 94 yards per game. Wujciak from the inside of the line was a key, if sometimes overlooked, cog in the defense’s success. Not only will he anchor the line and excel at the point of attack, but he’s also just agile enough to make stops for minus yards. Wujciak will play his final year knowing that NFL scouts will be watching him closely.

    Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. The veteran O-line that paved the way for Andre Williams’ 2,000-yard season and Jon Hilliman’s precocious debut has all but disbanded. Last year’s five starting blockers have dispersed to create uncertainty in the trenches. Harris Williams is back at right guard after being felled by a season-ending ankle fracture. But depth will be an issue, and there’ll be a lot of pressure on C Frank Taylor, LG Jon Baker and tackles Dave Bowen and James Hendren to perform as if they’ve been here before. Collectively, the quartet has no starting experience, so they’ll be under the microscope this September.

    The season will be a success if … the Eagles qualify for a third straight bowl under Steve Addazio. Ideally, BC would love to ascend beyond 7-6 for the first time since 2009, but that might be a reach in a year that the offense is getting a facelift. Plus, the schedule is thorny after Maine and Howard visit on the first two weekends. If the Eagles can continue stringing together winning seasons in a year when the quarterback and entire O-line are new, it’ll further solidify the foundation being poured by Addazio.

    Key game: Oct. 31 vs. Virginia Tech. The former Big East rivals will meet in Chestnut Hill on Halloween, with the Eagles looking to make it three straight over the Hokies. The Eagles won at home in 2013 and then again in Blacksburg last fall behind QB Tyler Murphy. BC might really need this game to stem the tide, since road trips to Clemson and Louisville will be in the rear view mirror, and NC State and Notre Dame will be in the on-deck circle. If the Eagles are going back to the postseason, holding serve at Alumni Stadium is a must in 2015.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Rushing yards per game: Boston College 254.7 – Opponents 94.5
    – Fumbles lost: 3 – Opponents 5
    – Sacks: Boston College 33 – Opponents 21

    Players You Need To Know

    1. RB Jon Hilliman, Soph.
    Steve Addazio has found the big back that his offense will be built upon. And it didn’t take very long either. Just a year after the graduation of 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams, Hilliman stepped into the spotlight as a true freshman out of St. Peters (N.J.) Prep. He’s a 6-0, 215-pound downhill thumper, the likes of which fits the Boston College personality to a tee. Hilliman also displayed good quickness and agility in his debut, leading the BC backs with 860 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 bone-jarring carries.

    2. DT Connor Wujciak, Sr.
    Wujciak begins his final season in Chestnut Hill as one of Boston College’s most talented and most experienced defenders. He’s a veteran of 27 starts, a feisty interior lineman who uses his hands extremely well. Wujciak is strong at the point of attack, which is amplified by the technique and leverage he employs. The 6-3, 304-pound was the only Eagle named Third Team All-ACC last fall, while making 33 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and three sacks.

    3. LB Steven Daniels, Sr.
    The Eagles figure to be strong up the middle this season, with 6-0, 257-pound Daniels leading the charge from the second level. He’s about to enter his third season as a starter, a borderline All-ACC performer who brings size, toughness and strength against the run to the Boston College D. Daniels possesses keen diagnostic skills and the ability to bury opposing players upon impact. His production dipped a bit in 2014, though he did finish second on the team with 72 tackles, seven stops for loss and a pair of fumble recoveries.

    4. DE Kevin Kavalec, Jr.
    Kavalec is a blue-collar overachiever, the kind of Eagle who’s always fighting to the whistle. In other words, he’s an Addazio guy. Kavalec is one of the young players to take advantage of the attrition in the attrition by nabbing a starting job and never letting it go. The 6-2, 256-pound earned the praise of his coaching staff, as he picked up 40 tackles, 10.5 stops for minus yards, 3.5 sacks and three hurries. Even more will be expected from him this fall.

    5. S Justin Simmons, Sr.
    Simmons was versatility personified in 2014, playing half the year at his natural free safety spot before moving to corner to prop up a position depleted by injuries. And despite the shifting responsibilities, he still led the team with 76 tackles and a couple of interceptions. Simmons will now head back to safety, where his athleticism and 6-3, 198-pound frame ensures he’ll be one of the Eagles’ top defensive playmakers for a second straight year.

    6. DT Mehdi Adbesmad, Sr.
    There’s cautious optimism around the Heights that Adbesmad will be healthy enough to resume his role as Connor Wujciak’s running mate on the interior of the defensive line. Adbesmad has had unresolved left knee issues that limited him to just seven games over the last two seasons. Prior to the injury in 2013, the 6-7, 278-pound Montreal native was playing as well as any BC lineman. Now, the Eagles are holding their breath that Adbesmad can stay healthy and recapture his old form.

    7. OG Harris Williams, Sr.
    As the only returning Eagle offensive lineman with appreciable starting experience, Williams’ importance to the 2015 squad cannot be overstated. The 6-3, 299-pounder was a full-timer at right guard in 2013, a role he was set to reprise before fracturing his left ankle in the opener. After taking it slow in the spring, Williams will open things up in the summer, serving as both a unit leader and the program’s most assertive run blocker.

    8. WR Sherman Alston, Soph.
    Boston College has a simple plan for Alston this fall—find new ways to increase his touches. The all-purpose dynamo is only 5-6 and 163 pounds, but he can get lost in space before exploding through the defense. In his Eagle debut, he was used in myriad ways, as a receiver, taking handoffs on end-arounds and as a punt returner. In total, he accounted for 652 yards, including over 10 yards on the ground, and scored four touchdowns.

    9. RB Myles Willis, Jr.
    That Willis lost carries to teammates last year had more to do with backfield depth than any individual shortcomings. He’s rushed for 805 yards and four touchdowns on 148 carries through two years, while being one of just three ACC players to return a kickoff for a touchdown in 2014. The 5-9, 203-pound Willis runs with a low center of gravity, bouncing off would-be tacklers for additional yardage.

    10. DE Malachi Moore, Sr.
    With an opportunity to finally crack the starting lineup, Moore is looking to sustain the flashes that he showed as a pass rusher last season. He’ll be bucking to replace Brian Mihalik on the opposite side of Kevin Kavalec after chipping in with 17 tackles, six stops for loss and four sacks off the bench in 2014. At 6-7 and 274 pounds, Moore has the size of a strongside end, yet is also quick to get penetration on passing downs.

    Head Coach: Steve Addazio
    3rd year: 14-12
    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 NC State
    Nov. 14 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 21 at Notre Dame (at Fenway)
    Nov. 28 at Syracuse
    Ten Best Eagles Players
    1. RB Jon Hilliman, Soph.
    2. NT Connor Wujciak, Sr.
    3. LB Steven Daniels, Sr.
    4. DE Kevin Kavalec, Jr.
    5. S Justin Simmons, Sr.
    6. DT Mehdi Adbesmad, Sr.
    7. OG Harris Williams, Sr.
    8. WR Sherman Alston, Soph
    9. RB Myles Willis, Jr.
    10. DE Malachi Moore, Sr.


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