We were all pretty sure coming into the season that the future of Boston College Football under Jeff Hafley was going to look very different from life under Steve Addazio. But the extent to which that was true in game one of the Hafley Era was a breath of fresh air. After a (very) up and down first half that ended with the Eagles spending almost an entire quarter backed up against their own end zone, everything clicked in the second half as both the offense and defense rolled to a convincing 26-6 win over the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, NC.
The Eagles got off to the best possible start. Last year’s much-maligned BC defense showed up to play, stopping the Blue Devils for a three-and-out to start the game and promptly putting the ball in new QB Phil Jurkovec’s hands. It looked as though the offense was in mid-season form as the Eagles drove 81 yards down the field in 10 plays to go up 7-0.
The defense put up a second straight three-and-out, but that was the end of the season-opening high as Duke started to flip the script from there. Jurkovec took a deep shot on the next drive that functioned as a punt, and the Blue Devils put together a big drive of their own for a score, punctuated by a 49 yard touchdown run by Mataeo Durant. Because this is 2020, BC’s opponent actually missed the PAT, keeping BC in the lead by a slim 7-6 score.
From there, the rest of the first half wasn’t great at all. The Eagles tried to ride their big boy offensive line to grind out yards on the ground, but it wasn’t happening, and BC’s last 4 drives of the half ended in three punts and a turnover on downs.
Defensively, it was a mixed bag. After Duke’s touchdown, the Eagles gave up plenty of yards, but forced two big turnovers deep in their own territory to keep the Blue Devils off the scoreboard for the rest of the half, sending the teams into the locker room with the Eagles inexplicably holding a 7-6 lead despite doing next to nothing with the football after their opening drive.
But halftime brought out just about everything BC fans have been screaming for under the last couple regimes. Most notably, a complete change in game plan. Duke figured they were getting the Eagles of 2019 for the whole game, and started stacking the box against the BC run game for the bulk of the first half, and Hafley & Co. totally pulled the rug out from underneath them. Jurkovec started going through the air with short, medium, and long plays all over the place, bolstered by plenty of bootlegs when it became clear that the OL was still working out some rust.
Jurkovec’s second half was a revelation. After starting 6/11 for 90 yards with one interception, the transfer exploded to go 11/12 for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns over the final two quarters, finishing with a cool 300 yards through the air and a 74% completion percentage. There were big plays all over the place, with Zay Flowers breaking a man’s ankles and Hunter Long hauling in a few huge receptions as the big offensive highlights.
But the biggest surprise of all must surely be the defense. After struggling in 2019, fans weren’t too high on the unit. But there was reason for optimism. The unit returned a lot of experience, brought in two big time transfers, and the new head coach is one of the most respected young defensive minds in the college game. That mix sure seemed to work out well for the Eagles, as they shut the Blue Devils out over the final three quarters and forced a whopping five turnovers, including this beauty from Josh Deberry:
Backed up near his own end zone, Chase Brice rifles a pass to WR Damon Philyaw-Johnson.— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) September 19, 2020
Philyaw-Johnson makes the catch, but BC's Josh DeBerry rips the ball out of Philyaw-Johnson's hands before he hits the turf, resulting in an Eagles fumble recovery.
That's Duke's 3rd TO. pic.twitter.com/uDk0lDezxq
To finish the game off with just the best possible vibes, the Eagles absolutely iced this one late. BC killed clock so quickly in the fourth quarter that it was almost a surprise the game was over. Of the final 13:28 of the game, the Eagles had possession for 12:10 of it, and Duke’s one possession was promptly snuffed out with an interception.
And so that was that. Once BC got their feet under them (let’s not forget that Duke opened the year with a game against #10 Notre Dame, and the Eagles haven’t even seen the field yet), the Eagles dominated. It’s just one game, but BC fans have to be feeling pretty good about the season going forward.