Eagles issues start with the run

BC’s offensive line has not lived up to its predecessors, but guard Ian White knows he has some great backing.
BC’s offensive line has not lived up to its predecessors, but guard Ian White knows he has some great backing.
photo courtesy of Boston college

The text message that former Boston College offensive lineman Marc Colombo sent to strength and conditioning coach Mike Poidomani wasn’t surprising, it was necessary.

The way the tradition works with the Eagles’ football program, the eyes of past players peek in every so often.

Colombo didn’t need 140 characters to get his point across.

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His message read, “This O-Line’s got to take over.”

Matt Tennant sent one along the same lines.

For the players currently on the Eagles’ offensive line, the one that’s given up six sacks this season but at the same time has struggled to establish a running game, it registered.

“These guys want us to be great,” said junior guard Ian White. “They’re behind us 100 percent. They want us to be a great O-line and that means fixing the running game and getting it going. This is O-line U to them, and I feel like we haven’t lived up to that and we have to get there again.

“It really hits us that we haven’t yet. The pass protection we’ve improved a lot, but it’s that run game that makes an O-line a great O-line, and that really bothers all of us, I think. So we’re trying to do everything we can to get it fixed.”

The identity of BC football has largely been of a team that runs the ball and stops the run. But a quarter of the way through the season, the Eagles have been inconsistent at both. The Eagles have the worst rushing attack in the Atlantic Coast Conference and are third-worst against the run.

Offensively, it’s undermined a passing attack that’s averaging an ACC-best 330 yards per game. Defensively, teams have controlled the clock and eaten up huge chunks of yards on the ground. The Eagles are 1-3 going into Saturday’s game at Army, and in the three losses they’ve been dominated on the ground, 710-172.

To get back on track after losing consecutive games, they’ll have to re-establish the two things that they’ve always leaned on.

“Those are recipes for success,” said BC coach Frank Spaziani. “Running the ball is always a recipe for success and stopping the run on defense is a recipe. Those are cardinal, fundamental rules. Those are two fundamentals that every team wants to do. If you run the ball, you control the clock, throw when you want to open it up, and do whatever you want to do on offense. If you can’t stop the run, you can’t stop anything.”

The running game has been a season-long question mark. After missing the first game with a foot injury, Rolandan Finch, the Eagles’ top rusher last year, fell out of the depth chart last week. Tahj Kimble sat out last week with a leg injury. Andre Williams carried the load and ripped off the longest run of the season, a 30-yard burst in the first quarter. But each of them have been mildly effective, and issues with ball protection have added to the lack of production.

“Obviously, we’ve been working on our running game a lot more so we can have more success,” said quarterback Chase Rettig. “But that’s me, that’s the offensive line, that’s running backs, that’s guys blocking down field, that’s everyone in that picture. There’s just a lot of things that go into it.

“Obviously, we’re pretty good at throwing the football, but there’s going to be a game where you’re going to need to run the football. We’re going to play a game in a couple months where it’s going to be snowing or it’s going to be raining and it’s not going to be a game where you’re going to be [throwing the ball 40 times a game]. So we’re going to need a ground game. The running game’s just as important as our passing game.”

The defense has received similar messages from alums, sophomore safety Sean Sylvia said.

“I get out of a game, 35 texts saying, ‘You guys have got to do this,’ ” he said.

Three rushers have gone for 100 yards against the Eagles, who have given up more big plays then they’ve made, while leaving hanging an offense that’s averaging 27.5 points per game (9.3 more than last season).

“I think we need to start pulling our weight and taking more ownership over stopping people, being more precise,’’ said Sylvia.

“Some people think they’re just going to come into this defense, which has been a top-notch defense year in, year out, and kind of roll out the carpet. But that’s not how it works, and we’ve got to put more work in. We’re preparing harder, we’re working harder.

Sylvia came up with a second-quarter interception in BC’s 45-31 loss last weekend to Clemson that the offense immediately capitalized on with an eight-play, 92-yard drive that gave them the first of back-to-back scoring drives.

They’re the kinds of plays the defense needs to make more often.

“Before Sean Sylvia had made the interception, I told the guys, ‘The offense is doing well, we need to make sure we help these guys out and put them in a position to score,’” junior linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said. “The next play, Sean gets the interception, the offense scores. I told them, ‘We just need to keep doing that, we need to help them out.’

“There’s been a lot of years where the defense has been the strong suit of BC football, and we need to get back to that.”