By the numbers: Balancing BC's offense

Darius Wade is taking over as Boston College's starting quarterback as a sophomore. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Here is the bad news for Boston College: Over the past two seasons, only two other Power 5 programs have relied on their ground game as a bigger part of their offense, and as this season approaches, the offensive line tasked with paving those running lanes is still a major question mark.

"We’re improving every day, we’re not where we’re need to be," BC offensive line coach Justin Frye said. "The starting five, we’ll probably go into game week figuring that out. It’s open competition daily."

It’s a tough position for a program that has relied heavily on its offensive line over the past two seasons. Since Steve Addazio took over the program, BC's line has cleared more yards before contact per non-sack rush than Alabama’s. Duplicating that success this season, however, appears to be a tall task.

But perhaps the job of this season’s line won’t be quite so difficult thanks to a new quarterback at the helm.

When we talked with tailback Jonathan Hilliman this spring, he expressed some optimism that new quarterback Darius Wade could have a big impact on the ground game by opening things up down the field.

"Darius' arm should open up a lot of running lanes for us," Hilliman said. "It should be a productive year running the ball."

The wild card here is Wade, who has just eight pass attempts to his credit. He can run, but opening up the passing game -- Tyler Murphy was 10th in the ACC in completion percentage and 11th in attempts per game last season -- could be a boon for Hilliman and the running backs.

Hilliman excelled in numerous areas as a freshman last season, but BC’s running backs also converted just 31.4 percent of their third-down runs and were 56th in the Power 5 in percentage of runs gaining at least 5 yards. Without a true passing threat, the BC backs were often put in a no-win situation.

Last season, 43.4 percent of Boston College's first-down runs came against an eight-man front. Only Wisconsin faced eight defenders in the box more often on first down among Power 5 schools. As a result, Hilliman averaged just 3.75 yards per carry on first down -- 101st out of 118 Power 5 runners with at least 75 attempts. His 93 rushes against an eight-man front were the fourth-most among Power 5 backs.

Meanwhile, Boston College passed just 18.7 percent of the time on first down last season -- the lowest rate by any Power 5 school except Georgia Tech.

If that dynamic is going to shift this season, however, Frye isn’t prepping his line for a major change.

"If we’ve got to run the ball and there’s nine guys in the box, we’re going to find a way to run the ball," he said. "It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. We’ve got to make sure we can handle what’s presented to us and do it at a high, high level."

Still, a bit more diversity might force defenses to adjust and reduce the burden on an offensive line that figures to be a work in progress throughout the season.

Hilliman must make some progress in Year 2 as well. Among the 15 tailbacks with at least 50 carries against eight-man fronts last season, Hilliman averaged the second-fewest yards-per-carry (3.6) and carries resulting in a loss or no gain (23.7 percent).

The real success of Addazio’s tenure at BC, however, is that he’s managed to develop talent on the fly and adjust his game plan to fit his players’ strengths. Those strengths have changed some in 2015, but he’s as likely as any coach to make the right adjustments. So there is room to tweak things enough to ensure Hilliman and a talented tailback corps have some room to run, even if the core philosophy stays the same.

"You’re not going to walk into a football program where the head coach is Steve Addazio and not be seen through the eyes of the offensive line," Frye said. "It’s got to be tough, physical, fundamentally sound. The culture is here. That’s the starting point."