The 2021 Boston College football season has certainly not gone to form. Much was expected of the Eagles this season and whether you thought that meant finally breaking the 7 win barrier or based on a relatively weak ACC and non conference schedule, grabbing double digit wins for the first time since 2011, 2021 was going to be a fun and exciting time.
Obviously, that hasn’t happened and even though pre-season predictions had the Eagles dropping the Clemson, NC State and Louisville games before finishing with a flurry, losing to Syracuse and more importantly, looking as bad as they look now in doing so, wasn’t the plan.
For the most part, fans have been understanding of Jeff Hafley and his staff, but there have been at least a handful of Dazzler and Spaz comparisons, which are only bound to grow as the season winds down.
In transparency, I was and am a believer in Jeff Hafley.
Here’s why then, the fan base needs to Keep the Faith.
The Great Communicator
Hafley speaks “college football player 2021”. They get him and he gets them. It’s not just speaking about getting to the league, it’s about an approach that resonates in a way that quite frankly I don’t think ever existed at BC until now. He’s not the authoritarian that Tom Coughlin or even Tom O’Brien was. He’s not the career assistant trying to be the guy that Spaz or Daz were and he’s not the old guy trying to be cool the way Jags was...he gets it. This as much as anything leads to the next part.
In really his first year to be able to recruit a full class, Hafley has BC as a fringe top 25 class by ESPN, 25th by 24/7 Sports and 19th by Rivals after finishing in the low 30s in year one. Chances are they fall slightly, but even finishing mid 30s blows away anything done by Steve Addazio where the Eagles were near constantly in the 50s or 60s. You can’t build bricks without straw, even if you can keep players around for five years and Hafley is doing that at a level we haven’t seen since Tom O’Brien, when not coincidentally, the Eagles had the best period of sustained success in program history.
BC entered this season ranked 9th in overall talent per 24/7 Sports. Just two seasons ago, they were 13th. The bricks are being built and laid into place.
Of course, this can come off looking like an excuse, but it’s nearly impossible to underestimate the impact that injuries have had on this team. It’s not just the most obvious in Phil Jurkovec, but it’s also Tyler Vrabel and how much of a drop off there is from Vrabel to Jack Conley whose just been abused in pass blocking. It’s the inconsistent availability of CJ Lewis, Kobay White and most recently (at least for one game), Trae Barry. It’s an already mediocre defense, really thin in the front seven, losing Chibueze Onwuka prior to the season starting and then rotating through lost bodies at LB (IGM) and in the secondary (Deon Jones, Brandon Sebastian).
For the Eagles to reach their maximum potential this year, they needed to remain essentially injury free, particularly to their starters and that clearly hasn’t happened.
The buzz around Hafley has quieted over the last few weeks, but he still remains extremely well respected and as one Clemson writer mentioned a few weeks ago, “would Clemson be better off losing to BC this year, as it might get Hafley out of here faster”.
As with any person in any position, it’s more than fair though to question a few things.
Can Hafley handle being a head coach?
This is something that only time will tell. It is a far different role to sit in the big chair as opposed to being the first Lieutenant. Hafley certainly has the demeanor, the communication skills, the ability to recruit, etc to be successful, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.
Can Hafley make big decisions?
2020 didn’t bring many of these big decision challenges. Not much was expected and although in all honesty, not much was delivered, there was a cleansing of the air that was very much needed. 2021 was designed around having Phil Jurkovec as your QB and the ability to throw it all over the yard to the best group of receivers this program may have ever seen. The run game would come off those throws.
The Eagles have been exposed through injuries and lack of depth and for the first time there is indecision around the play at QB and the offensive scheme in general.
In my opinion, Emmett Morehead should have started at Syracuse and let the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately, he got dinged up and you most likely would have gone back to Grosel anyway, but the decision seemed uncertain when certainty was needed.
There is also the question with the future of Frank Cignetti as OC. I am sure he is a quality coach, but the scheme was designed around an NFL level QB and based on throwing the ball. If you watch NFL games, they are generally not QB friendly systems and at least for the moment, beyond what the current QB room can support. It’s also called out an offensive line that is thinner than expected and has been very much exposed with Tyler Vrabel out and inconsistent play of Alec Lindstrom and may well not be able to do what Michigan or Michigan State is doing this year in dominating on the ground with the absence of a serviceable QB.
How does Hafley adjust in the last four games to spark an offense that is last in the Power 5 in points per game in conference year to date?
Overall though, this program is on solid footing and is still looking up and to the right and Jeff Hafley is a huge reason why. His next step, to win.