Boston College coach Jeff Hafley never seemed concerned after the Eagles' lopsided loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago. The scoreboard may have been ugly and the Hokies may have rushed at will, but the loss was as much a function of the Eagles' self-inflicted wounds as the Hokies' effectiveness.
The Eagles responded Saturday with a convincing win over Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were coming off their own demoralizing loss (73-7 to No. 1 Clemson). Even though the Eagles came into the game with the second-best pass attack in the Atlantic Coast Conference, they flipped the game plan against Tech and committed to the ground game, rushing for a season-high 264 yards. Running back David Bailey had his most productive day of the season with 83 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec flashed his mobility with 94 rushing yards on seven carries.
At 4-2, the Eagles are both a success and still a work in progress in their first season under Hafley. Now they’re staring down the same Clemson team that decimated the team they just beat. As it is almost every year, BC’s matchup with Clemson will be their most daunting task of the season.
Here are some game-week observations.
▪ The Eagles clean up problem areas quickly: Yes, Jurkovec is hitting the downfield targets he was missing earlier in the season. And yes, the tackling issues that led to long runs for Virginia Tech were drilled out of existence by the time they faced Georgia Tech. But one play exemplified how quickly BC is learning from its mistakes.
Two weeks ago against the Hokies, the Eagles lined up for what was supposed to be a relatively simple handoff from Jurkovec to Bailey in the backfield. Tight end Hunter Long was supposed to come in motion and set a block to spring Bailey up the middle. None of that actually happened. Instead, Long ran into Jurkovec, blowing up the play on the spot. Jurkovec made things worse by trying to salvage it, flicking the ball for a fumble. It was a mess that Jurkovec called inexcusable after the game.
In the second quarter against Georgia Tech, the Eagles called the same play. This time, it went off without a hitch and Bailey broke loose for an 11-yard gain.
“I don’t think we could simulate the one we did at Virginia Tech where we fumbled if we try to 10 times,” Hafley said. “It was just a fluke play. We run it all the time. We executed at a pretty high level.”
▪ Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie fuel the defense: When McDuffie was out last season, the one person who probably missed him the most was Richardson. The two linebackers are the glue that binds the defense together. They wreak havoc and play with an aggression that Hafley wants to see.
They combined for 12 tackles against Georgia Tech. Last year, Richardson finished third in the ACC with 108 tackles. This season, he’s third in the conference, averaging 9.7 per game. One spot ahead of him is McDuffie at 9.8.
▪ The offensive line got a shot of confidence: Even though the Eagles returned four linemen from a year ago, they had to adjust to new roles. Zion Johnson moved from left guard to left tackle. Ben Petrula moved from right tackle to right guard, Tyler Vrabel moved from left tackle to right tackle, and redshirt freshman Christian Mahogany stepped in at left guard.
Two weeks after giving up six sacks against Pitt, the Eagles bounced back against Georgia Tech. “I mean, we rushed the ball for 264 yards and allowed zero sacks in pass protection,” Hafley said. “You want to talk about a step in the right direction.”
▪ Aaron Boumerhi’s quiet consistency: Hitting a game-winning 36-yard field goal against Texas State was validation for Boumerhi after he underwent offseason hip surgery and doing his recovery work during the quarantine. He’s 7 for 9 on the season after drilling two kicks against Georgia Tech, including a season-long 41-yarder.
He also made good on all six of his point-after attempts, making him 16 for 16 on the year. He’s been valuable as the Eagles look to cash in more in the red zone. In 26 trips inside the 20 this season, the Eagles have scored 22 times, but they’ve had to kicked field goals on nine of them.cq
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.