Nov 16, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston College Eagles running back Andre Williams (44) breaks the tackle of North Carolina State Wolfpack safety Josh Stanley (24) to run for a touchdown during the fourth quarter at Alumni Stadium. Boston College Eagles won 38-21. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Boston College is riding a three game hot streak right now. To be more accurate, they’re riding Andre Williams to a three game hot streak. To understand just how dominant the senior running back has been, let’s just take a gander at a couple stats that should, at the very least, give you goosebumps.
Over the past four weeks, Williams has accounted for a gaudy 53% or better of Boston College’ total offensive yardage. His high point came last week against N.C. State, where he was, and you’re reading this correctly, 71.6% of the Eagles offensive yardage. He’s got 972 yards over the last four weeks, which is 66% of the total yardage amassed by every single running back on the Terrapins roster — combined.
Williams is in God Mode right now; he’s the human form of a GameShark and is using the best cheat codes. He’s Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, only this is real. While Williams hasn’t faced the stiffest competition over the past few weeks, that detracts very little from the overall reality that he could go up against anyone right now and still throw up big numbers.
So how do you stop him?
Understanding Why Andre Williams Is Beasting
If you’ve watched Boston College, then you know full-well that their offensive line is probably their biggest asset. They have done a complete 180, going from one of the worst offensive lines in the country last year to easily one of the best. That worst to first transformation is a direct result of their biggest offseason acquisition: Steve Addazio.
Maryland fans are plenty familiar with Addazio; for the last two seasons, he was the head coach at Temple. The same Temple team that caught Maryland off guard in 2011 to beat them 38-7 in Byrd. That game, as we may all recall, saw Bernard Pierce rush for 149 yards and 5 touchdowns. Sound like a familiar stat line?
Addazio isn’t a running backs coach (even if his backs get fed plenty), he’s an offensive line coach. From his playing days on the offensive line at Central Connecticut State, to his National Championship with Florida during the Urban Meyer years as the offensive line coach, Addazio understands how to get production: harden up the front line.
It’s no surprise, then, that in his first season at BC, Andre Williams is having a monstrous year. He’s more or less the same running back, but the difference is in the holes he has to run through. Last year, they were Lilliputian; now they’re as wide as an F-350. That’s Addazio, those are his schemes. Simple, predictable, plays, followed by post-snap offensive line movement and blocking that neuters defenses that aren’t creative or super-athletic. With two seniors and three juniors on the line, they understand blocking by now, and do it incredibly well.
That’s why Andre Williams is so good this year, and it’s why their running game is so potent.
How They Block
When you watch Boston College, most folks aren’t paying attention to what their offensive line is doing. Even if you watch it, it’s hard to actually see what they do differently. But the first thing they do is keep it simple. Against NC State, Boston College ran the Counter (a run play) so many times you could almost see the frustration through the television screen. Andre Williams to the right. Andre Williams to the left. Shia Lebouf might as well have been on the field because there were holes everywhere (Heyooo!).
The Counter is pretty easy to understand. One player is assigned to kick-out an edge defender (most likely a defensive end), another is designed to seal a linebacker, and the rest block down and away from the play. The backs job is to run between the kick-out and seal blocks.
Simple enough, right? The only thing the offense really needs to do is determine who they’re going to kick out.The double team on the play-side is perhaps the biggest block. Presumably, Boston College will try this against either Whitfield or Andre Monroe. The objective of that double team is to A.) push the defender back behind the center, creating a jam for the backside linebacker to get to the running back and B.) put all the pressure on the play-side defensive end and linebacker to get that running back. With two guys really becoming the only options to stop Williams, a power back who is hard to take down with three, you can see why a gaping hole and two guys makes for 300-yard games.
If that double team pushes past the center, then no matter what you do the hole will be so wide that the run play is going to pick up major chunks of yardage. Provided the linebacker is sealed off correctly, the offense doesn’t stand a chance. Even if the defensive end squeezes successfully, the hole is still large enough to gain yards. If the defensive end decides to “spill” (in this instance, trading responsibilities with the defensive end), there is still enough of an inside hole to gain solid yardage.
In essence, the play Boston College runs the most has an incredibly high success rate because of how flawlessly executed the offensive line blocks. They don’t really have a weak spot on either side, although they more often run Williams to the right.
One last thing. Even though the offensive line will lines up in the same scheme over and over again to block to the right, they’ll often motion the tight end to the left side. Whenever they do that, it usually means they’re going to have Williams cut back and run to the left. The tight end kicks out the defender, giving Williams a jackpot.
Ok, so if it’s almost always going to gain yards…then how do you stop it?
If it wasn’t already obvious to the reader, then it will be now: do not, under any circumstance, let the double team get movement on the defensive tackle. If there’s no technique that will prevent Maryland’s D-tackle from being pushed behind the center, then he’s going to need to go the “If all else fails” route and “cut” to create a big pile before he’s pushed back further. By not negating a bunch of play side defenders by pushing the tackle behind the center, Maryland can do what is necessary to stop all run plays: defend the gaps.
The three gaps can be found below:
In essence, the kick and seal blockers create three lanes, or gaps, to defend. One to the outside of the kick, one in between the kick and seal, and a third as they wall off the defenders which allows the running back to cutback in the event that there’s late pressure in one of the lanes. Andre Williams is such a patient but very strong back that the third gap is often the one you’ll see him rumbling through once the defense shows how they want to defend.
Maryland will want to get linebackers in those holes as soon as possible lest they give up a big run, and those guys are going to need to make tackles. That’s Shawn Petty, that’s Matt Robinson, and that’s Yannick. Those three guys have to do their jobs well against Boston College. Bringing the WILL down is risky, but when done properly it could disrupt the play, at least a little bit. Unfortunately, that’s been a bit of a weak spot for Maryland of late, which doesn’t bode well for this upcoming game.
On the bright side, Maryland does have guys up front who can employ one of the best methods to stopping a power run game: early contact. Maryland has to make early contact with Williams (an arm, shed your block and get him to ‘think’, anything) to stop him from hitting that hole at full speed. A lot of that has to do with defensive alignment to confuse the offensive line, and that comes down to coaching.
But most importantly, the Terps have to realize what Boston College wants to do with a power running game. They want third and short situations with Williams, but Maryland wants to put them in third and long ones with Rettig. Their first play is almost always going to be a run that hopes to gain four yards, so you blitz heavily. Their second play (assuming they gain four yards), will be a second and short, and they’ll probably use play action to get a “big play” and intersperse it with run. On third down, assuming it’s third and short, they’ll run again. Over and over.
Their entire strategy nosedives if Maryland holds them to two yards or fewer on first down. Then the onus is on them for second down yards. Do they run again and risk third and long? Do they pass to pick up some yards to get a third and short (and at the same time take the ball away from their best option)? It’s all up to them. Maryland needs to be aggressive as hell on first down.
Williams is a great back, of that there is no doubt. But he’s also not a receiving threat with a collective zero catches on the season, and he has a quarterback who will rarely give him much help if he’s asked to. Maryland can use that to their advantage by playing smart, strong football.
Those are really the only ways to stop a power running game. Shut it down before it even begins and force the quarterback to throw, and Maryland may stand a chance. Should they fail in that regard, and give up big plays on the ground, they’re in for a long ACC home finale.