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Weekly Kickoff: Mr. Jurkovec’s Wild Ride

Louisville v Boston College Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Phil Jurkovec gave us the full experience of the true Duality of (College Football) Man on Saturday - another reminder of just how wacky and topsy-turvy this sport can be, and how even when you think you have a team’s fate figured out, things can change in a hurry.

In the second quarter, he wound up on No Context College Football, a social media roundup of all the wacky, bizarre, only-in-college-football moments that happen each week, for his fumble in the second quarter:

With the game over and won, Jurkovec and the Eagles can probably look back on this play and laugh, despite the fact that it drew some national derision.

At the time, of course, it was no laughing matter; coming off of disaster games at Virginia Tech and Florida State, the heat was growing on BC’s senior quarterback, to the point where Jeff Hafley was answering questions about his starting job during the week’s press conferences. This mental mistake only turned the heat up further - especially on the heels of a wacky interception back in the first quarter, but was not on Jurk but also was a momentum killer:

These two plays, which turned an otherwise really strong first half into a 23-21 halftime deficit for the Eagles, couldn’t help but make you feel like things were snowballing even further for BC — they had managed to find their game a bit offensively, but seemed poised to shoot themselves in the foot enough times to throw the game away.

But here’s the thing about that first half... other than those two plays (a big ‘other than,’ mind you), Jurkovec was putting together maybe his best performance in two years.

As of halftime Jurk engineered three touchdown drives, including two passing TDs - with a few of the exciting explosive plays to Zay Flowers that fans have been salivating about for the past two years.

In the second half, we got all the positives of a confident, accurate Jurkovec without the first half turnovers, and the end result was an impressive line: 18-for-21; 304 yards; 3 touchdowns. Jurk also ran for 41 yards of gains, though his final rushing number was -15 thanks to the incredibly goofy fumble, which counts as a negative rushing play.

And most importantly, beyond those numbers? A win in ACC play, and a shot in the arm of confidence for Jurkovec and the Eagles, who desperately needed it.

It wasn’t always perfect or pretty, but it was an improved offensive performance all around, even by the further-depleted offensive line. Alex Broome and Pat Garwo were able to combine for 149 rushing yards, outdoing the entire team’s combined total of 115 at FSU; 61 at VT; and 77 vs. Rutgers.

It’s a bit unfortunate in one sense that Clemson is next on deck for the Eagles, as it would be nice to see if the offense could put together another solid all-around performance against a peer-ish team to build on this momentum; Clemson has a way of zapping the confidence even of teams that have it going on all cylinders.

But in another sense, the Eagles have a great opportunity this coming weekend to play a game where there will be no expectations. If the offensive line and running game can continue showing some signs of growth, Jurkovec can display accuracy and arm strength like he did Saturday, and Zay Flowers just keeps doing what he’s been doing, fans will probably be pretty pleased on Saturday regardless of the final score.

Other things on my mind this week aside from Jurkovec’s strong performance:

  • The penalties were bad, except maybe for one?: In addition to the aforementioned turnovers which gifted Louisville multiple scores in the first half, BC also seemed determine to beat themselves with bad penalties throughout the game.

They took 13 penalties for 83 yards, compared to 6—70 for Louisville. But that doesn’t quite tell the full story - the Eagles actually took the first 11 penalties of the game.

Some of them were pretty aggravating, too: an offside right on the opening kickoff. Jumping the gun on what looked like a nice defensive stop on the goal line early in the first quarter, giving Malik Cunningham an extra down to work with en route to a TD. A false start on BC’s final drive before halftime, hurting chances of putting points on the board to close out the second quarter. A third down DPI on Louisville’s first drive of the second half, extending another Cardinal possession.

But there was one penalty that didn’t bother me as much. On another third down play, Louisville looked to be stopped short, but picked up a first down after Jaylen Blackwell took a targeting penalty (certainly a penalty, 100%; the targeting was a little harsh as Blackwell was committed to the hit before Cunningham was sliding, but no problem with trying to take those hits out of the game for player safety).

After that penalty call, Jeff Hafley seemed to rip in to the officials and picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty; this added an additional 15 yards to Louisville’s play, which was not great given the circumstances.

But here’s the thing: after that call, the penalties went from 11-0 BC, to 6-2 Louisville the rest of the way. It sure seems like Hafley ripping in to the officials after the 11-0 gap led to some changes on 50-50 calls down the stretch.

To be clear, I didn’t really have many qualms with the penalty calls against BC, but the refs are only human, and we know in any sport ‘working the refs’ is done for a reason - when done effectively and in a timely way, it works. It looks like Hafley managed to both fire up the team and work the refs a bit with this penalty, and he deserves some credit for something like that looked like it could be disastrous at the time.

  • Zay Flowers; rinse, repeat: What can you even say about Zay Flowers at this point? To call him the best BC receiver in a generation is probably an understatement. He’s not just a great BC player - he’s one of the best receivers in all of college football. Figuring out how to get the ball in his hands as often as possible has to be the primary charge of the offensive coaching staff the rest of the way. He will be playing on Sundays next year, and as a Patriots fan, I have to hope he somehow lands in Foxboro, because he’s the kind of explosive player that team has lacked, just as BC has in previous years:
  • Do you take the optimistic or pessimistic take on some of the messiness?: On the one hand, BC had some more sloppy plays - the turnovers, the penalties - and still won. You can make a case that BC was a slightly cleaner performance away from actually winning the game going away, rather than hanging on by a thread. On the other hand, mistakes and miscues nearly cost BC a winnable game at home. Does this make you more or less optimistic going in to the next few games?

To me, I have to take the optimistic take: it’s not good to see mistakes, but I’m much less worried about things that can be cleaned up than I am by broader structural/system problems like the inability to run the ball that we saw in previous ACC games.

  • Another great crowd: For years, we’ve seen plenty of message board/social media/blog griping about student support for BC sports, but the students’ turnout and support for BC football has been absolutely unimpeachable in recent years. The student section was packed again, loud throughout the game, and brought great energy especially as BC was fighting for the win in the final minutes. I’m delighted for the students that they got to see the W, and truly do not care about anyone bellyaching that students going on to the field after the game is lame or whatever. Let them have fun; they deserve it, as do the players for overcoming the challenges of recent weeks and winning a game.
  • Sports are fun!(?): A bit of a dumb hot take here, but having fun watching that game was yet another reminder of why this can be enjoyable. Sure, the best BC can probably hope to accomplish this year, if they play at their best, is another trip to a mid-tier bowl game. But for those three hours, who cared? It was all about being swept up in the moment of a fantastically entertaining college football game. Every game matters. Let’s have some more fun on Saturday, shall we?