Well, the preseason is over.
After three weeks of offering a huge caveat on all observations about BC football, good or bad, the Eagles now head in to an honest-to-goodness measuring stick game.
How much of a measuring stick?
Vegas had this game opening as a pick ‘em, though now it appears to have settled on Missouri as a two-point favorite. BC and Missouri are #45 and #48, respectively, in the Sagarin rankings.
Boston College and Missouri is about as evenly matched a game as you could have hoped for heading in to the ACC season - two teams sometimes overlooked among the bigger names in their conference, but looking to carve out a good season for themselves.
A few storylines on my mind as we start the countdown to Saturday:
-We started to see on Saturday against Temple how important the link between the running game and the defense will be for this team particularly now that Phil Jurkovec is down with his injury.
As prolific as the offense was at times last season, a defensive front seven that struggled also didn’t get much time to rest, as BC was limited in its ability to run the ball, averaging just 101.7 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry. The Eagles were able to win some shootouts, but they also lost a few in that fashion (with the Virginia game, in which Grosel set the BC passing record, standing out).
On Saturday, in the first half, BC chewed up the clock and controlled the game on the ground. They racked up a 10 play, 66 yard, 7:59 touchdown drive to extend their lead to 14-0 in the first quarter.
Later in the half, even though they eventually had to punt, they put together a 7 play drive that took 3:30 off the clock toward the end of the second quarter.
The defense clearly benefitted from BC’s ability to control the time of possession battle, going out there fresh and repeatedly stuffing Temple — to the tune of four three-and-outs in five Temple drives in the half.
In the second half, the story was a little different, as BC went three-and-out on its own first three drives, and just generally was unable to establish the run as well as they could in the first half.
The defense clearly showed a bit more wear, as in two of Temple’s first drives of the half, they controlled the ball for 11 plays and nearly six minutes. BC eventually showed steel on third- and fourth-down defense to ensure Temple’s two long drives only resulted in a total of three points, but it was clear that Temple was in control of possession.
Temple also had another 11 play drive in the final four minutes of the game that once again ended with a turnover on towns. All’s well that ends well, but losing the time of possession 19-11 in a half is not likely to end well against a better opponent.
Jeff Hafley reminded the assembled press that it was Grosel’s first start this year and he’ll continue to grow into the role, and that’s certainly true - we know he can throw the ball and help BC have a potent passing attack because we’ve seen him do it - but ultimately, nobody is expecting the “throw game” (as Daz would say) to be exactly what we hoped it would be before the season. That means that the running game and the defense (especially the front seven) - two parts of BC’s game that were areas of concern last year - will have to lift one another in order for BC to succeed this season.
-Another element of BC’s offense that will likely be further emphasized now without Jurkovec’s NFL-caliber arm is different kinds of trick plays and ways of getting the ball into the hands of BC’s talented playmakers like Zay Flowers.
One of BC’s best offensive plays on Saturday was a 47-yard “running” play by Flowers, which featured Flowers shifting before the snap and putting himself in position to benefit from a little misdirection and scamper up the sideline for a long gain, and a very real chance at a touchdown:
Dennis Grosel slings a backwards pass to Zay Flowers, who takes it along the sideline all the way down to the Temple 7-yard line. Great block by WR CJ Lewis to help pave the way. Flowers might have had the TD had he not slowed down for a cutback. pic.twitter.com/q2AV1UPuKE— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) September 18, 2021
With the bevy of weapons BC has at its disposal on offense, including a trio of running backs that are all contributing thus far, expect BC to try to find ways to get them touches and use their skills. While we always talk about keeping the playbook vanilla in early non-conference games, that won’t be the case in a game against a tough team like Missouri - so figure on seeing more plays like this.
-Missouri has already had a ‘measuring stick’ game this year, losing a close, 35-28 contest at Kentucky in week 2. They bounced back with a 59-28 win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, though they surely will be looking for a more impressive win to add to their resume this week.
Much like BC, Missouri had a new coaching staff settling in during the chaos COVID and ultimately found some success, going 5-5 in the gauntlet of the SEC.
Connor Bazelak, the Tigers’ sophomore QB, has shown staying power, having a decent season last year as a freshman (67.3% completions, 237 yards per game, 7 TD, 6 INT). So far this season he’s thrown for 9 TD and 1 interception, while keeping his 67.3% completion rate.
The Tigers struggled a bit defensively last season, giving up 32 points per game - a trend that repeated itself in their biggest game this year, against Kentucky - so BC will hope they’ll be able to rev up the offense the way they did in the first two games this season.
Over the course of this week we’ll check in more on Missouri football, take a look at the keys to the game, and begin the countdown to a big home game that will shape the perception of BC football going in to the ACC slate.