On this rainy Saturday afternoon, the Boston College Eagles hosted the Louisville Cardinals in Alumni Stadium with both teams looking for their first ACC win of the season. BC entered the game at 1-3, a disastrous start after high expectations in the offseason in large part due to their depleted and inexperienced offensive line. Louisville has fared a bit better, entering the game 2-2 with wins over UCF and USF, but losses in both of their ACC contests against Syracuse and Florida State. After a hard-fought, back-and-forth contest, Boston College edged out Louisville for a 34-33 win.
The offenses got started early in this one. Louisville opened up the game by gashing BC’s defense for a touchdown, then were followed up by some big plays from the Eagles’ offense. BC’s Phil Jurkovec tossed it 50-yards to Jaelen Gill before getting picked off on the next play. Not to worry, though, as a big couple plays from Pat Garwo III and Zay Flowers set BC up for an easy 1-yard TD score to tie it up on their next possession, 7-7. After a Louisville FG (thanks to a Phil Jurkovec strip sack), the Eagles’ offense kept up the intensity with a 57-yard bomb to Zay Flowers for a TD, taking their first lead of 14-10 midway through the 2nd quarter.
Phil Jurkovec and his mistakes came back to bite BC again by the end of the first half after he flung up a pass that turned into a lateral and live ball, recovered by Louisville. The Cardinals and Cunningham quickly turned it into a TD. But the Eagles and Alex Broome broke out for a big run to the endzone, continuing the shootout and giving BC back a 21-16 lead. A quick ensuing UL drive put the Cardinals back up 23-21 before the end of the first half. A very back and forth contest from the jump.
The big plays continued for BC in the second half. After UL kicked a long FG to make it 26-21, Phil Jurkovec passed to a wide-open Zay Flowers who took it 69 yards to the house and gave BC back a 28-26 lead. Not to be outdone, Malik Cunningham methodically worked his way down the field and threw a dime to Higgins-Bruce twice in a row, the 2nd one in the endzone to make it 33-28 Cardinals.
The offenses struggled to put much together nearing the end of the game, with BC finally getting a FG on the board to make it 33-31 with under 8 minutes to go. Louisville, now without Malik Cunningham who went down with injury, couldn’t drive too far and failed on a 4th down conversion at BC’s 40-yard line. Down 2 points, Phil Jurkovec ran the ball 30+ yards himself downfield and led his team to 1st and goal. But the offense ran into a wall and settled for a FG to give them a 34-33 lead with less than 2 minutes remaining. The Louisville offense couldn’t complete a single pass on their ensuing drive and BC would go on to seal their victory with a few kneeldowns, giving Louisville only 1 second with which they threw an interception.
Big Play Zay is real and he is the lifeblood of Boston College’s offense. A 69-yard TD from a wide open route, a crazy run around to the 1-yard line, a 57-yard TD grab in double-coverage, he can do it all. Big plays are also the theme of this BC offense generally. Alex Broome took it to the house on a 40-yard run, Jaelen Gill hauled in a 50-yarder, Pat Garwo had plenty of big runs, and that’s just a few samples. The BC OL isn’t good enough right now to hold up consistently for full drives, but they have improved to a level where Jurkovec can take shots downfield with a clean pocket, Eagles receivers can make magic happen, and Eagles RBs can find the occasional big hole. It’s not consistent, but it’s a lot better than what we saw in the first few weeks.
Improvement from the offensive line. Despite losing Finn Dirstine this week and dealing with multiple other injuries, the OL is providing cleaner pockets for Jurkovec and better blocks for the RBs. There are still way too many breaks in the line that can kill drives or force turnovers, namely from LT Jack Conley, but there also has been a larger number of opportunities for big plays to offset those big losses. The next key for BC will be creating more positive plays than negative ones.
This is a competitive defense at the ACC level. Largely thanks to Donovan Ezeiruaku, the BC DL had multiple stops up front of a Louisville team that excels in its rushing game. If the offense can get them more rest on the sideline and give them less short fields, this defense can start holding teams to less than 30 points per game. They weren’t amazing, giving up sustained TD drives to UL a few times this afternoon, but largely did a fine job. Things are on the way to come together a bit more for BC if they keep this pace of improvement.
The offensive playcalling and execution at the end of the game was rough. BC had Louisville on the ropes. 2 minutes left, 1st and goal at the 10. But a delay of game penalty (with 3 timeouts remaining) and sending Pat Garwo up the middle twice left the Eagles to settle for a FG when a TD would’ve been huge. It ended up not mattering, but it does give one concerns.