BC Eagles go back to basics

NEWTON, Mass. -- If not now, when? It's a question the BC Eagles are likely asking themselves.

They know what they have to do: Run the ball and stop the run.

“Those are recipes for success,” Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani said. “Running the ball is always a recipe for success. And stopping the ball on defense is a recipe. Those are cardinal, fundamental rules. Those are two fundamentals that every team wants to do.

“Run the ball, control the clock, throw when you want to, open it up when you want to. If you can’t stop the run, you can’t stop anything.”

Running the ball and stopping the run have also been the Eagles’ calling card -- when times are good. When the Eagles were competing for an ACC title, their defense was brutal to run against and their offensive line was brutally efficient in opening holes for the running game.

In recent seasons, those things haven’t been true. Which brings us back to that question.

If Boston College can’t run the ball on Army, when will it be able to? And if Boston College can’t stop the run against Army, when will it get its next win?

The Black Knights (0-4) have struggled mightily to stop the run, giving up an average of 242.5 yards a game so far this season. That ranks 118th in the country.

“I think we’ve had opportunities against every team we’ve played,” guard Ian White said of the running game. “I feel like Army’s defense kind of puts them in a little bit of a bind in the run game. They struggle size-wise, and so they’re gonna try to move around a lot, which can open up some seams. If we can block the right guys, we’ll be in good shape.”

The O-line has fared well in pass protection so far this season, but White said the line knows it needs to up its game in run blocking. They’ve gotten reminders recently from former Eagles turned NFL linemen Matt Tennant and Marc Colombo.

“These guys want us to be great, they’re behind us 100 percent,” White said. “This is O-line U to them, and I feel like we haven’t lived up to that yet and we’ve gotta get there.”

The Eagles (1-3) have struggled mightily to run the ball consistently, averaging just 2.73 yards a carry and 84.5 yards a game. The latter figure is 120th nationally. Correspondingly, they have become a passing team. Quarterback Chase Rettig has thrown the ball 40 or more times in three of the Eagles' four games this season.

Prior to this season, Rettig had only two games with more than 40 attempts. Part of that can be chalked up to the recently turned 21-year-old’s maturation and the system of new offensive coordinator Doug Martin. But a large part of it is that the Eagles just haven’t proven they can be effective on the ground.

“Obviously we’re pretty good at throwing the football, but there’s gonna be a game where you’re gonna need to run the football,” Rettig said, citing bad weather as an example. “There’s gonna be one of those kinds of games. The running game’s just as important as the passing game.”

Against a team like Army, being able to run the ball takes on even more importance. The Black Knights are second in the country with 367.5 yards a game on the ground. They chew up both yardage and time on the clock.

“Obviously they’re gonna have a lot of time of possession,” Rettig said. “We’re gonna have less opportunities to have a chance to go score, so we’re gonna have to make sure we capitalize on our opportunities. I think that’s a big thing going into the week, just sustaining drives and no three-and-outs.”

And while the offense wants to stay on the field after third down, the defense knows it needs to do the opposite.

“We have to make it a point to get off the field on third downs,” defensive back Sean Sylvia said.

Sylvia said the Eagles want to hold the Black Knights to 2 yards a carry on first and second down to force them into an uncomfortable position, having to throw for first downs. The defense’s goal, ultimately, is to hold up its end of the bargain with an offense that’s improved greatly from last season.

“They’ve proven they can score points, we need them on the field as much as possible,” Sylvia said. “That’s how we’re gonna be successful, I think in this game and the rest of the way.”

Considering the opponent, the Eagles are expecting precision Saturday.

“They’re gonna be prepared, they’re gonna know what weaknesses we have and they’re gonna attack them,” Sylvia said. “And they’re not gonna mess up, they’re gonna be a good operation. If [the coaches] tell them to line up two yards outside the hash, they’re gonna be there.”

So it falls to the Eagles to be as disciplined as possible, not to overpursue on the unconventional triple-option offense Army runs and to tackle well in the open field.

Though Army’s record suggests BC should have a chance to go into Michie Stadium and get a win, the Eagles know they can’t look at it that way. Their own record is nothing to write home about, the only win coming against FCS Maine.

But with two more road games looming after this week, at No. 3 Florida State and at Georgia Tech, BC must capitalize on whatever opportunities present themselves this weekend.

If not now, when?

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.