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Thursday, October 24, 2013
Eagles want to revive 'O-line U'

By Jack McCluskey

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio has talked a lot in his first season as Boston College head coach about establishing a footprint for the program going forward.

Is it any surprise, then, that one of the largest parts of that footprint -- based on a blue-collar, physical approach -- involves the Eagles who leave the biggest literal footprints in their wake?

For years, BC was known as “O-line U” because it seemed to annually churn out NFL-caliber offensive linemen. The Eagles leaned on their physicality to win games, opening holes for running backs and keeping pass-rushers off their quarterbacks.

Steve Addazio
BC coach Steve Addazio congratulates offensive lineman Jim Cashman after the Eagles scored a TD earlier this season.
That tradition took a hit in recent seasons, as the line started failing to create gaps for backs and to keep the signal-caller upright.

Addazio, a former offensive line coach himself, knows that to have success the Eagles need to re-establish that "O-line U" reputation. And through the first six games of the 2013 season, he’s liked what he’s seen.

“I told you earlier in the season, we’ve got a pretty good offensive line,” he said before the Eagles’ loss to then-No. 3 Clemson. “A lot of people would like to have this offensive line. They’re playing at a high level.”

The BC coach has praised the play of his bookends, left tackle Matt Patchan and right tackle Ian White. He’s referred to the group, fleshed out by left guard Bobby Vardaro, center Andy Gallik and right guard Harris Williams, as “a big-time line.”

“It’s awesome,” White said of the praise from Addazio. “You can’t let it get to your head, though. You can’t be content with what we’ve done so far. We still have a lot of work to do.

“We’ve played pretty well the last six games, but you really can’t let it get to your head.”

Through six games, BC has allowed opponents to sack QB Chase Rettig 13 times, according to cfbstats.com. That’s a marked improvement from last season -- 34 sacks allowed in 12 games.

The Eagles have averaged 172.33 yards rushing a game in 2013, compared with 90.92 yards rushing in 2012. They rank 62nd in rushing average nationally in 2013 after finishing 119th in 2012.

Senior workhorse Andre Williams is leading the ACC in attempts (157), attempts per game (26.17), rushing yards (838) and rushing yards per game (139.67). His rushing average is good for fifth nationally.

His blockers take pride in those numbers.

“All the records and all the yards that we can give him, obviously that’s our goal,” White said. “What he does shows for what we do. Those are our stats. His stats are our stats. The more yards we can get him, the better we feel.”

This weekend’s opponent, North Carolina (1-5, 0-3 ACC), has been generous on the ground this season. The Tar Heels are giving up an ACC-worst 203.17 yards per game in 2013, suggesting the O-line may be able to lead the way for another big day for the Eagles’ senior back on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3).

(Of course, the Eagles haven’t been much better against the run this season, allowing 192.67 yards per game on the ground and ranking second to last in the ACC. Luckily for BC, UNC lost its leading rusher from 2012 to the NFL draft and is also averaging an ACC-low 100.83 rushing yards per game on offense.)

Andre Williams appreciates the work the big boys have done up front.

“They’re an integral part of the running game,” he said. “They’ve just really been coming together as a group and growing. I like what I see out of them. I like what I see out of our captain, Ian. He’s a real leader in the huddle. I think they’re gonna do a great job this second half.”

Gallik said Addazio and the new coaching staff brought a new (old) mindset to Chestnut Hill this season.

“His biggest thing is being physical and tough and outsmarting our opponents, so I think we all just bought into it as an offensive line,” Gallik said. “After hearing about 'O-line U' from back in the day, we want to buy into that same mentality.”

It’s definitely helped that the Eagles have started the same five linemen in each game so far this season, and that the linemen they’re starting are capable of playing the physical style Addazio and line coach Justin Frye prefer.

Harris Williams, a Lynn, Mass., native, and Proctor Academy product, is the smallest of the five at 6-foot-3 and 298 pounds, two pounds lighter than the 6-foot-6 Patchan, four pounds lighter than the 6-foot-3 Gallik and the 6-foot-5 White, and 12 pounds lighter than the 6-foot-5 Vardaro.

“It’s huge,” White, voted a co-captain as a senior this season, said of the continuity. “Everyone being on the same page, everyone seeing the same things, it’s less reaction and more action. It’s just go out and fly around and you’re not wondering what the person next to you is gonna do.”

Through the first six weeks, most of the time the guy next to a BC offensive lineman is mauling the opponent in front of him.

“Week in and week out we want to leave a mark on the team that we played,” Gallik said. “We really want to finish our blocks, play through the whistle and just play hard and physical every single down that we have.”

If they keep that up, this group may just pave the way for the return of the O-line U moniker.

“It’s a start,” White said. “It’s not just gonna come back in one year. You just look at the lines we’ve had here in the past, where four out of the five guys get drafted. Who knows what'll happen with us five.

“It’s not quite where we want it but we’re working there. It’s good to have people saying positive things about the O-line and not the last three years with all the negative.”

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