The Boston College Eagles enter the second half of the 2021 season with a 4-2 record. With two losses in a row, the Eagles are going through the most difficult part of their schedule. They are now entering a short period of games against struggling opponents, providing BC with fortuitous opportunities to get their season back on track. This week, they are back on the road to meet the Louisville Cardinals. The Cardinals have also suffered two straight losses; however, they came by four points combined to Wake Forest and Virginia. Let’s see how Boston College can take Louisville down.
Beat the center
Frankly, Boston College couldn’t be playing Louisville at a better time. In the last two games, the Eagles offense stuttered and struggled to move the ball and score points consistently. Admittedly, it was arguably against the two best defenses in the conference, but it remains a concern. As a result, British Columbia catches the Cardinals at a good time in the season. In terms of total defense, Louisville ranks 115th in yards (449.3 YPG) and 90th in points (29.3 PPG). The Cardinals are appalling when it comes to passing defense, allowing 298.8 yards per game (124th), the worst among the Power Five teams. Although they are better against the run, the difference is not so encouraging, as Louisville is ranked 71st and allowing 150.5 yards per game; they also rank 89th in yards per carry allowed (4.47).
Even with the Cardinals struggling to limit the passing game, I think this is a golden opportunity for the Eagles to revive their running game. British Columbia had to give up the running game earlier than they would have liked against NC State because of the game that snowballed them. Still, in the second half, after racking up 100 yards in the first half, the Eagles only ran the ball six times and barely got any positive yards. The Eagles offense flourished when they were able to run the ball and use it to prepare for the passing game.
Managing the ball well is very important this week for the Eagles for several reasons. As mentioned earlier, an effective rush attack helps ensure that the game passes are more effective. In addition, it also allows BC to control the clock while keeping the offense on schedule. If BC can execute the ball consistently and efficiently, he can dictate the tempo and momentum of defense play. Plus, he keeps Louisville’s explosive attack off the field and allows the BC defense to rest between practices. In addition, it should also help prevent turnovers; none of BC’s running backs have fumbled this season.
Some fans might also like this strategy just because it takes the ball out of Dennis Grosel’s hands. Grosel has struggled in the last two games, but I maintain that the responsibility for the previous two losses does not lie solely with him. Against Clemson, the noise of the crowd led to too many penalties, which kept BC’s offense going in difficult ground and distance situations; I will clarify that the interceptions were largely, if not all, his fault. Grosel’s receivers last week repeatedly let him down by dropping and not making contested catches. Regardless of these issues, stronger running play helps Grosel by opening larger windows for play passes while putting him in easier play situations.
As for how BC should execute the ball, I would recommend more indoor runs, maybe even more Man-Gap patterns. In general, the defense of Louisville is undersized; none of their defensive linemen weigh more than 300 pounds, their top player, Yasir Abdullah, is a 235 outside linebacker on ball, and one of their off-ball inside linebackers, Jack Fagot, is basically a safety (6 ‘0 “, 195 lbs). The Cardinals have a somewhat awesome 3-4 defense, but with BC’s powerful and experienced offensive line, Boston College should be able to dominate the line of scrimmage. the ball, especially in the heart of the Louisville defense, will help the Eagles play complementary football and help them return to the winning column.
Last year, Boston College did a good job confusing and limiting Malik Cunningham as a passer. However, despite a fine and decisive fumble, Cunningham dominated the Eagles on the ground, rushing for 134 yards on 12 carries, with 73 of them coming on designed runs and picking up nine first downs. So far this season, the Eagles haven’t faced a common quarterback threat like Mobile. But I think they are well equipped to handle it this year.
A significant portion of Boston College’s offseason improved the way this defense played against faster offenses and moving quarterbacks. With Isaiah McDuffie, Max Richardson and John Lamot, British Columbia has taken several steps to improve the athleticism of its linebackers. Their current starters, Isaiah Graham-Mobley and Kam Arnold move very quickly from sideline to sideline; Jaiden Woodbey’s addition to safety should also help against moving quarterbacks.
One of the keys to BC’s victory over Colgate and Temple was keeping their mobile QBs in their pocket. Obviously, Malik Cunningham is a different beast than an FCS QB and a true Group-Five freshman QB. But the general point is still relevant today. Against these teams, it was more important for the BC defense line to maintain their passing rush lanes rather than hitting the quarterback as quickly as possible. BC had to slow down his passing stroke and slowly narrow the pocket instead of entering it quickly. This leads to two critical results. First, it helps prevent Cunningham from getting out of the pocket and using his legs. While BC has the second tier defenders to stop him, he’s still an explosive and slippery player.
Second, it forces Cunningham to stand in the pocket and throw the soccer ball. He’s not Lamar Jackson, but he’s probably even more dangerous as a runner. That being said, he’s been doing really well as a passer recently. Cunningham hasn’t returned the ball since the Cardinals won in Week 4 against Florida State. He hasn’t even committed a turnover-worthy game since that game, according to Pro Football Focus.
But the longer Cunningham has to stay in the pocket, the more likely he is to panic and make a mistake. Also, if BC can slowly collapse the pocket around Cunningham as he reads the pitch, by the time he wants to escape the pocket and scramble, he might not have room. But if BC takes the start and tries to get to Cunningham quickly, he can evade the passing throwers, get out of the pocket, and beat the defense with his arm or legs.
This strategy should also help British Columbia to start generating sales again. Receivers from Cunningham and Louisville have been productive this season. But the receivers are very inexperienced. Conversely, BC high school is full of veteran players; Additionally, Jeff Hafley and Tem Lukabu have rolled out more complex cover schedules and rotations this year to confuse quarterbacks. We’ve seen this happen against Temple and Missouri, as the Temple QB was frequently forced to check, throw, or scramble; against Missouri, with Connor Bazelak having a decent day, he had to wait a long time to read the defense, and he threw two crucial interceptions. If BC can win the revenue battle, the score on the scoreboard should follow.
As evidenced by the previous game, there are times under Jeff Hafley where Boston College let the games slip away. You can think of the Virginia Tech game last year or the NC State game this year. Even a game like Clemson from last year, where they had a big lead and slowly let it go. This week against Louisville, Hafley needs to make sure his team are focused on the task at hand and ready to make mistakes and stay in the fight.
Coaching football is extremely difficult, and there are very few people who do it and even fewer who do it successfully. Even the most successful coaches have bad days or the occasional bad season. Therefore, some of my criticisms may ring hollow as I have never coached a football team and probably never will, let alone at the college football level.
Still, I think Hafley may need to adjust his approach to coach this team. When I say adjust, I mean literally; there is no need for a complete overhaul. But this week, with the way the season is going, I think he could try pushing different buttons. If you watch any of BC’s football hype videos, Hafley’s post is still pretty consistent week to week. I don’t mean to say the post is getting stale because I don’t believe it. But Hafley struggled on the road during his short tenure as coach, going 4-5 as an away team. Therefore, it might be time to change some things at this crucial time of the season.
Inevitably, there will be a time in the game this week when the Eagles face adversity, a time when the momentum shifts. At that point, Hafley obviously has to tell his guys that he believes in them. But maybe he also needs to face himself a bit, lighting a proverbial fire. In great times, he has to tell them not to blink. This game could indicate how the rest of the season will go, and for the Eagles to be victorious they must fight through times of adversity and resume the fight against the Cardinals.