Going in to this season, the storyline and expectation around Boston College football is that the Eagles would have one of their best offenses in years, but the defense was a bit more of a question mark.
When Phil Jurkovec went down with a season-ending injury, it forced the offense to pivot - which it did admirably against Missouri, but had a much harder time against Clemson.
The other thing Jurkovec’s injury did was put more of a spotlight on the defense, as BC became much less likely to win run-and-gun shootouts.
So far, they’ve largely delivered above preseason expectations, with coach Jeff Hafley and defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu getting improvement out of the unit as the season has gone on, and successfully instilling a ‘bend but don’t break’-type scheme that has been, for the most part, very successful, with the exception of a bizarre day at UMass.
Let’s take a look at the numbers so far:
Colgate: 0 points allowed, 189 yards (84 passing/105 rushing)
UMass: 28 points allowed, 335 yards (214 passing/121 rushing)
Temple: 3 points allowed, 245 yards (161 passing/84 rushing)
Missouri: 34 points allowed, 391 yards (303 passing/88 rushing)
Clemson: 19 points allowed, 438 yards (207 passing/231 rushing)
Any way you slice it, these are solid numbers. It’s early, and the schedules are wildly unbalanced and BC’s hasn’t been great, but ultimately, on the scoreboard, BC’s scoring defense is 4th in the ACC (16.8 points allowed per game), as is their defense in terms of total yardage (319.6 yards per game).
The Eagles have also picked off their opponents 6 times, including one for a pick-6 - putting BC among the top four in the ACC in that category as well.
Andy Backstrom highlighted this stat which backs up, anecdotally, how it feels watching the Eagles - they will give up yards, but absolutely are able to find another level defensively when it’s time to lock things down:
Through five games, BC is tied for 7th nationally in 3rd Down defense. The Eagles are allowing opponents to convert just 27.6% of the time.— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) October 5, 2021
Last year, the Eagles ranked 65th in the FBS in opponent 3rd Down conversion% (40.4%).
While Clemson’s offense has been bad this season, long-time fans surely feared that DJ Uiagalelei could continue a trend of BC struggling against dual-threat quarterbacks, but really, it didn’t happen - BC was mostly able to prevent big plays, and wihle Clemson racked up some yardage, the defense was able to hold firm and only allow one touchdown - coming on the very first drive of the game, and locking it down after that.
Some revelations for BC on defense this year:
- Linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley has been a big reason for BC’s early defensive success, leading BC with 36 tackles and 23 solo tackles, 5th in the ACC.
- As our pal Will predicted in his preseason roundtable, Brandon Sebastian has become a key piece of BC’s secondary, with two picks including the game-sealer in OT against Missouri, and some serious lock down defense and great coverage over the course of the Clemson game.
Where the Eagles have struggled is in getting pressure to the quarterback, and that will be an area to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. BC has just 7 sacks on the season, tied with NC State for dead last in the ACC on that count. By comparison, Wake Forest and Syracuse lead the league with 21 and 20 sacks. The front 7 was the concern area for fans going in to the season, and while they’ve done well defending against the run, they’ve struggled at getting to the QB - in fact, the Eagles have just 9 hits on the quarterback all year overall, with Cam Horsley leading the team with 2.
That said, what BC is doing has been pretty effective at limiting opposing scoring and, even in the case of the Missouri game, doing enough to put the offense in position to win the game. You’d like to see a little more pressure on the QB, but if BC can continue to get great third down defense, clamp down in their own territory and turn potential touchdown drives in to field goals, and score the occasional interception, you won’t be worried about yardage figures - and the D will surely be doing more than enough if the offense starts to look more like it did against Mizzou than it did against Clemson.