We’re just two weeks in to the Boston College football season, and the mood is gloomy.
A disappointing home loss to Rutgers, followed by a poor offensive outing at Virginia Tech in which many of week 1’s issues seemed to get worse, and now the Eagles are 0-2, and a game against FCS Maine this weekend will provide no salve and answer no questions about whether this team is capable of bouncing back and at least cobbling together a bowl season.
There’s not much use in previewing or breaking down the Maine game; unlike in past seasons when the FCS game was the opener, this is no tune-up and first look; this is merely a delay in our ability to analyze how BC’s offensive line and running game may be able to find some improvement against quality opponents with Florida State looming in two weeks.
The silver lining here is that perhaps Maine can offer a sort of reset: two weeks to try some things about, shake off bad vibes from the start of the season, and refocus. That’s the optimistic take.
For this week’s kickoff I really wanted to look at what’s next here for the team and for the program, both in the short term (this season) and long term. Here’s what’s on my mind:
Pass protection: This is the most captain-obvious statement on the planet but the key to this season really is ultimately whether BC is gong to be able to provide any sort of pass protection to Phil Jurkovec, who may not be looking All-ACC so far but at least has been able to make some things happen with his fleet of capable receivers when he’s had a little bit of time to work with.
What I’ll be looking for this week is any signs that BC may be reconfiguring the offensive line or whether they think their best hope for progression is to keep the depth chart roughly the same as it has been and hope for continued coaching and improvement.
Ozzy Trapilo missed this past week’s game and we’ll have to see if he can be back in for week 3.
RT Kevin Cline also picked up a knock and we’ll be waiting for more information there:
BC HC Jeff Hafley said they found out later in the week that LT Ozzy Trapilo wasn't going to be able to go tonight. Hafley said he hopes Trapilo will be back for next week's game against Maine. He said he'll know more about RT Kevin Cline's injury in the coming days.— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) September 11, 2022
To the extent that BC was hoping to utilize running backs or tight ends more to bolster pass protection this past week, it didn’t help.
Hafley hinted at Sunday’s media availability that BC is talking about doing some different things next game where perhaps the offensive line won’t be “ask[ed] to do so much” schematically. I guess we’ll see if they show their cards on what that might look like against Maine or not.
The running or short-yardage game: Again, dead horse here, but the other key to whether BC can salvage something out of this season is whether or not BC can create at least some sort of short-yardage outlet to keep drives on schedule.
BC is in last place in the FBS in rushing right now, a shocking figure given the optimism around Pat Garwo’s prowess in what he’s shown so far during his time at BC.
Another thing that was hinted at in the quotes EagleAction’s Andy Backstrom gleaned from Hafley’s Sunday press availability is that BC will be looking to find different and creative ways to move the ball on the ground:
"We have to get creative. We have to find ways to run the ball, whether it's on the perimeter, whether it's gap schemes, zone schemes, spreading it out. We have to run the football."— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) September 11, 2022
— BC HC Jeff Hafley
Note: BC is dead last in the FBS through two games with 16.5 rush yards/g
All in all it’s pretty clear that the offensive model that worked fairly well with Jurk at the helm in 2020 is not working here and adjustments need to be made. Jurkovec also looks considerably less mobile than he did two years ago too, which makes that weapon a bit less potent.
Making adjustments in these two facets of the game are ultimately the key to any sort of turnaround.
Continuing the strong defensive performances: After the Rutgers game it was hard to feel good about the fact that the defense was great for 50 minutes because of how badly they got mauled on the final drive. But after two games I think we can feel pretty good about that drive being an aberration.
The Eagles are #42 in the nation after two weeks in total defensive yards, but also more impressively, #8 overall in passing defense, allowing just 125 yards per game so far.
The 27 points BC allowed on Saturday included once again a gift of a touchdown that came off a turnover, as well as one broken long running play. Otherwise they were stout.
In 2015 when the Eagles had a historically bad offense and a historically good defense, the question was, could the defense keep answering the bell over and over and over and over again despite being gassed and being out on the field so often, and being asked to come up big so many times?
So far the answer is yes, but will they be able to sustain it over the whole season? If so, the offense just needs to be serviceable for BC to win some games.
Of course, the bigger topic of conversation in the comments, on social media, etc is around the long term. The bubble of excitement around the possibility of Hafley quickly elevating BC past its 6-6 milieu and into solid contender status is pretty much burst at this point and now you have a lot of questions about the health of the program overall.
As far as the long term conversations go, I think one thing we need to be absolutely clear on is that regardless of what happens this season, even if it’s a 2-10 horrorshow, Jeff Hafley is not going to be fired. BC invested in and extended a first-time head coach and when you’re doing that, you’re investing in a project. No matter how this season goes, it would be a horrible look to bail on that project.
In the initial excitement with the buzz of hiring the hottest new head coach on the market + BC’s strong 2020 season we kind of forgot that any new coach is going to have growing pains and now we have a stronger sense of what those growing pains are.
Unsurprisingly, given Hafley’s history as a defensive coach, this is manifesting itself in some serious weakness on the offensive side of the ball.
The long-term question now becomes what kind of coordinators and assistants does Hafley need to be surrounded by to be at his best, and does the current staff fit the bill.
If things keep up like this, that’s probably where you’ll see hot seat talk and potential for offseason changes, as John McNulty and Dave DeGuglielmo are in their first seasons as offensive coordinator and o-line coach, respectively. Unlike Hafley, these guys are not new to these roles and both have long histories. If they can’t up their performance in the next few weeks, then the heat will be on.
The game management issues we saw a bit in week 1 and from time to time last year concern me a bit less... it’s a lot easier to look like a great game manager when your players are executing, and the best-laid plans will look bad when they’re not. But it’s something to keep an eye on as Hafley’s tenure evolves.
Sometimes first-time head coaches figure it out, like Tom O’Brien, who went 8-14 in his first two years at BC before going on a run that we’d all be frankly happy to repeat at this point. Sometimes it works out like Bob Diaco, who flamed out after being the hot coordinator on the market and just never panned out as a head coach.
Time will tell which category Hafley falls in to here, but we’re going to find out.
The other long term thing to keep an eye on here is recruiting. BC’s recruiting has been solid in the first few years under Hafley and the rankings indicate that the level of talent coming in is higher than it was by far under Daz or Spaz. In year 3, you should start to see the fruits of that, so hopefully we start to see younger players step up this year as they gain more experience.
Additionally, if BC struggles on the field this year, will they be able to keep up their recruiting momentum? So far, BC’s Class of 2023 is ranked #44 by Rivals; finishing around there would continue to be progress. But if the Eagles struggle, will recruits continue to “get in?”
These are all things to keep an eye on as we roll toward a Saturday against Maine that won’t tell us much.