I’m not sure whether that felt quick or excruciatingly slow, but we’ve now reached the halfway point and the bye week for the 2022 Boston College football season.
Even the most starry-eyed maroon and gold believers among us probably didn’t figure a win was in the cards against Clemson, but between the win against Louisville and some good performances on the defensive side of the ball against the Tigers, is there a case for a little more optimism going in to the back half of the season?
Given the timing of the season, let’s zoom out a bit and look at where things stand for the 2-4 Eagles, piece by piece, looking at both the rest of the season and the bigger picture:
So, what’s to play for for the rest of this season? ESPN’s Football Power Index doesn’t have a very favorable outlook for the Eagles, projecting a total of 1.5 more wins, with BC ending 3-9 or 4-8 in their estimation.
That feels pretty reasonable on paper - but also, sports are weird and football is a game of narrow margins, so the mentality certainly will have to remain that the goal is to somehow end up in a bowl game.
With 2 wins currently, the most likely path there would be piecing together three more wins and then potentially getting in via APR if there aren’t enough 6-win teams to fill all the bowl slots.
How do you get there?
Well, the UConn game is obviously a must win, and probably the only one BC will be favored in the rest of the year.
You’d have to consider the Duke game a must-win in this scenario, too; the Blue Devils are #68 in ESPN’s FPI, lower than a Louisville team that BC beat, and coming off a loss to Georgia Tech this past weekend.
Those two games back to back are games BC absolutely has to win for this season to feel anything remotely better than a dumpster fire, and also would put BC within one win of maybe backing in to a bowl game.
From there, BC would then need a pretty significant upset to pick up that additional win, with #14 Wake, #15 NC State, #18 Syracuse, and Notre Dame on the docket.
The best bet out of those is probably hoping Syracuse comes back down to earth a bit as their schedule strengthens; with BC hosting that game, it could be winnable.
That’s probably your path. It’s rather bleak, but it’s there.
The passing game
Are we feeling a little better about Phil Jurkovec after these past two weeks? Personally, I am - it’s not really his fault that he rarely has time to operate in the pocket, but whenever he does have a little bit of time, he’s doing reasonably well.
BC QB Phil Jurkovec was under pressure for 27 of his 45 dropbacks last night vs. Clemson, according to @PFF.— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) October 9, 2022
Jurkovec under pressure: 8-of-22 (36.4%), 71 yards, 3.2 YPA, 7.1 ADoT
Jurkovec in a clean pocket: 11-of-18 (61.1%), 117 yards, 6.5 YPA, 8.6 ADoT
Clemson obviously is one of the best teams in the country, so you have to hope that in future games, Jurkovec will have a few more opportunities with time to operate, and can continue to make things happen with a pretty decent group of receivers who seem to be showing improvement.
Beyond Jurk, it’s tough to evaluate what we’ve seen out of Morehead as his appearances have been in garbage time - but he certainly still looks raw despite his evident talent, and will need to make a lot of progress before becoming the starter if that’s what’s going to happen in 2023.
The running game
This is one where, again, it feels difficult to really properly assess where the running backs stand given that the offensive line tells the tale of how things are going to go for them.
It was another brutal day of attempting to run the ball for Pat Garwo and the Eagles, with BC rushing for 34 yards on 30 attempts. But might things have gone differently if Broome and Sinkfield were available? The Eagles had a perfectly solid rushing attack against Louisville, and may be able to replicate that against teams that aren’t Clemson if they are able to get healthy.
The offensive line
Again, this was an example of where it was kind of a bummer to follow up on the Louisville game with such a tough assignment against Clemson; the line made some serious progress against the Cardinals, even if it wasn’t perfect, and it’s tough to tell how much of the struggles on Saturday was due to BC’s own deficiencies, vs. Clemson just being Clemson.
Were holding out some hope here that Christian Mahogany will come back this season, which would be a boon for sure to bring his skill and experience back in to the fold. But even with him, we know this is going to be a continued challenge.
Special teams to me has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year. The offensive line we knew was a potentially challenging situation for BC given all the inexperience. Special teams, I really figured would be pretty solid - Connor Lytton had emerged as a pretty reliable kicker, Danny Longman was doing a fine job last year on kickoffs and generally speaking, BC wasn’t killing themselves every week with special teams fiascos the way they were during much of the Addazio era.
This year has been a giant step back on this front and it’s tough to figure out exactly how it happened. Lytton is now 5-for-10 on the year and missed another kick you’d figure he would hit that could have tied the game early on Saturday.
On kickoffs, BC’s strategy of hitting popups was intentional to try to avoid Will Shipley, but it was still disheartening and a continuation of BC’s inability to get touchbacks, which led to Danny Longman being pulled from kickoff duty against Louisville in favor of freshman Liam Connor.
When you’re struggling on offense, leaving points on the board with the kicking game and handicapping yourself in the field position battle can be terminal - this is something the Eagles really need to figure out if they are going to be able to piece together wins the rest of the year.
This is where we get to be positive - the defense was terrific against Clemson and it’s hard to really fault them for crumbling a bit toward the end of the game after being under unrelenting pressure. It was a nice bounceback after getting torched early at FSU; and even though Louisville put up decent numbers, BC still did pretty well given they were going up against Malik Cunningham.
BC’s defense is now #9 of 14 in terms of yards allowed per game in the ACC, which isn’t great, but when you take into consideration how often they’ve been on the field, it certainly could be a lot worse. They did a pretty decent job getting pressure on Uiagalelei on Saturday, and kept Clemson below their season averages in both rushing and passing offense. They even gave the offense some runway with a first half interception. There’s really not much to complain about in terms of how they did, and it’s fair to feel optimistic about how they will do in the back half of the season.
As we’ve discussed here, even if the bottom falls out and BC ends this season 3-9, Jeff Hafley isn’t going anywhere - but the heat is certainly on John McNulty and Dave DeGuglielmo to show improvement over the rest of this season.
Nothing that I’ve seen in the last few weeks dissuades me from the idea that both should consider their seats warm and be prime candidates for a shakeup should this season continue to go south.
So, this is where I’m starting to get really concerned. Injuries are a fact of life in football, but the new rash of injury news every week is starting to become a major problem. It may well be bad luck, but I’m worried could be the sign of something deeper. Is there something amiss with how BC is handling conditioning or recovery?
Let’s just hope we are in the midst of a spell of bad luck and that we stop seeing new major injuries to starters every week. But if this keeps up it’s something BC probably needs to think long and hard about. No program can overcome this many injuries to key players, but particularly not a program where you are not stacking the bench with 4+ star athletes... we need the guys at the top of our roster to be healthy and performing.
Of course, this is the big question and the big narrative now for the rest of the year - how does this season impact Jeff Hafley’s status and future with BC? How are we feeling about Hafley long-term?
The most encouraging sign to me is that the team clearly is still playing for him, has not given up, and has show improvement in certain areas. Having that buy-in in the locker room is crucial in engineering a turnaround, and reiterates Hafley’s stellar reputation as someone who connects will with his players. He also continues to be doing well on the recruiting trail.
Hafley is in his first head coaching job and is facing major pressure for probably the first time in that role. In terms of how he and the team are handling it, I’m pretty pleased with both the Louisville game and the emotion they played with against Clemson.
However, having emotional buy in only gets you so far - the team needs to show improvement in areas where it has major deficiencies right now - like on the line, and on special teams; Hafley’s recruits need to continue to develop and hopefully start contributing in a bigger way; and BC is going to have to do what they did against Louisville and close out some close games to alleviate concerns about game management.
Hafley still has plenty of runway at BC, but that runway will begin to run out if we don’t see improvement in those areas.
A bye week now should give Hafley and his staff a chance to work on these before the brutal and challenging back half of the schedule begins in two weeks’ time.