The Tigers successfully completed their toughest back-to-back of the season by beating Wake Forest and NC State. It seemed like Boston College would provide one of the easiest ACC games of the season, but a 34-33 win over Louisville may have changed that outlook. The Tigers play in Chestnut Hill at 7:30pm on ABC and we welcome Curran Schestag from BC Interruption onto the blog to discuss it from every angle.
Ryan: Boston College started the season extremely poorly with losses to bad Rutgers and Virginia Tech teams. After a win over Maine, they went to Tallahassee and got blown out. At that point, I think most ACC fans started to think of Boston College as an easy win. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they crept up and beat Louisville. It looks like QB Phil Jurkovec and WR Zay Flowers finally got rolling and Louisville couldn’t stop them. How did they turn things around and beat the Cardinals and what does it mean for the rest-of-season outlook?
Curran: For those who have been following Boston College football this season, my answer will come as no surprise: it was the improved O-line play that led to BC’s success against Louisville. Phil Jurkovec was afforded a semi-clean pocket far more frequently than we’ve seen through the first four weeks, while running backs Alex Broome and Pat Garwo finally had some space to work with. The results speak for themselves: BC produced 13 chunk-yardage plays, as Jurkovec threw for 304 yards – 151 of them to Zay Flowers – along with 145 rushing yards. It was this explosive nature of the offense that many BC fans were hoping to see far more frequently this season, and with this week’s improved O-line play everything seemed to open up. BC has some very good teams left on their schedule in Notre Dame, NC State, and Clemson, so 6 wins is still probably the ceiling for this Eagles team. If the O-line can continue to improve, though, this team will be far more watchable.
Ryan: Phil Jurkovec was expected to be one of the best QBs in the ACC this season, and while last week was great, he is still just 7th in passing yards and has a 10-6 TD-to-INT ratio. Clemson fans know full well how difficult it can be to parse apart which part of an offense is killing the passing game. That said, are the pre-Louisville offensive woes simply due to poor offensive line play or is there more to the story? Has Jurkovec himself struggled? Who has the QB advantage with Jurkovec going up against a resurgent DJ Uiagalelei?
Curran: While a lot of Jurkovec’s struggles can be attributed to the terrible O-line, there’s no question that Jurkovec himself has to shoulder some of the blame. His decision-making, in particular, needs to be questioned. Of those 6 INTs you mentioned, several have come forcing a throw into double coverage, especially when targeting Zay Flowers. Even against Louisville, Jurkovec’s poor decision-making cost the team. He lost two fumbles, one of which he inexplicably threw backwards as he was being brought down for a sack.
On top of his decision-making, his deep ball accuracy has been uncharacteristically off-target, as he’s missed open receivers downfield multiple times this season. He finally seemed to click on his accuracy against Louisville, with throws of 69, 57, and 50 yards this week. These issues are definitely compounded by the disastrous O-line, which largely explains the stagnant offense pre-Louisville.
As for Jurkovec vs. DJ Uiagalelei, I simply have not seen enough improvement from either the O-line or Jurkovec himself to say that BC has the QB advantage. Jurkovec does not have the ability to carry this team without a functional O-line (not many do) regardless of his own shortcomings, so for that reason I have to go with DJ Uiagalelei.
Ryan: Jeff Hafley puts forward an extremely affable persona that, despite my Red Sox-fueled anti-Boston bias, makes me want to see BC have some success. Is he still highly thought of despite the rough start to this season?
Curran: BC came into this season with a lot of hype; with Jurkovec healthy, several returning skill-position players such as Pat Garwo and Zay Flowers, and a up-and-coming defense, many felt that Jeff Hafley could do what Steve Addazio never could and break the 7-win plateau. That clearly will not happen this season, and fans are clearly frustrated. Despite Hafley saying all the right things, many feel that this BC job is simply too much for him as a first-time head coach. The win against Louisville was critical in quieting these critics.
It must be said, however, that BC knew what they were walking into with a first-time head coach. This BC team definitely bears marks of coaching inexperience, from the disastrous inexperience of the O-line to the entire team’s lack of discipline. Nevertheless, declaring Hafley a failure so early into his first-ever head coaching position would be a major mistake, and most fans recognize this. He must be given time to learn on the job and truly turn this program around.
Ryan: ACC fans know about Jurkovec and Zay Flowers, but how has BC’s defense been this season? Hafley was a defensive backs guy, has he put his stamp on the defense yet?
Curran: BC’s defense, while far from perfect, has by far been the most effective unit on the team. While score lines may not reflect their level of play, the offense has done them 0 favors. Many games – Virginia Tech, FSU, and Louisville among them – have seen the offense turn over the ball on their own 30 or 40-yard line, hamstringing the defense and wearing them out. Nevertheless, this defense kept BC in the game against VT, and sealed the win against Louisville with an electric stand on 4th down. Sophomore DE Donovan Ezeiruaku has taken a step forward this season with 2 sacks and flashes of good run defense, CB Elijah Jones – despite some struggles – has an interception and 7 PD, while seniors Jaiden Woodey and Josh DeBerry lead the unit. While the unit definitely has its issues – namely with discipline and stopping the run – it has been far more effective than BC’s offense.
Ryan: What matchup or position group concerns you most heading into this matchup?
Curran: I’ll go with Will Shipley against BC’s front 7. BC’s D-line features a lot of speed, but gives up a ton of size to do so. The result is that it struggles against the run. Guys like the aforementioned Ezeiruaku, DE Marcus Valdez, and LB Kam Arnold will need to step up against Clemson if they want to limit this Clemson offense. If Shipley can be limited, that will go a long way to BC’s chances at pulling off the upset. Limiting the run will also aid BC’s secondary against the resurgent Uiagalalei and Clemson’s passing attack, so this will be one to watch on Saturday.
Ryan: What is the biggest X-factor that Boston College needs to break their way to pull off the upset on Saturday?
Curran: It begins and ends with Boston College’s O-line. If BC can manage to continue the progress it showed against Louisville and provide Jurkovec with some protection and BC’s rushing attack with some holes, this BC offense has proven it can be explosive. If Pat Garwo and Alex Broome find some room, all of a sudden Jurkovec can find Zay Flowers and Jaden Williams and create some magic. There’s no doubt it’s a long shot, but when you have a guy as explosive as Flowers this BC offense can create points out of nothing. All eyes will be on BC’s O-line come Saturday.
Thank you to Curran for joining us. We hope you enjoyed the conversation. Please keep it going in the comments below and be sure to checkout for my answers to Curran’s questions over on BC Interruption.