When the Boston College Eagles started training camp in August, it became evident that defense would carry this team where it wanted to go. The defensive line had older players with skill, experience, and knowledge, and the linebackers were fast, physical, and tough. Even with a young, inexperienced secondary, expectations rose with each report coming out of camp.
Four games into 2015, it's suffice to say BC's lived up to the billing.
The Eagle defense once again dominated an opponent, holding the Northern Illinois Huskies to just 153 yards offense as BC defeated the MAC powerhouse, 17-14. The win got BC back on the winning track after the Eagles lost last week, improving their record to 3-1. NIU, meanwhile, fell to 2-2.
Quarterback Drew Hare, who threw for 2,300 yards with a 9:1 touchdown-to-INT ratio a year ago, was flummoxed for a second straight week. After going 14-31 for 80 yards and two picks last week against Ohio State, BC held him to just 81 yards on 11-25 passing with another interception. Running back Joel Bouagnon, who earlier in the year trucked 152 yards on UNLV and added 78 yards last week against Ohio State, was held to 56 yards from scrimmage against the Eagles.
Despite that showing, however, it's likely much of the focus will fall on the Boston College offense. One week after they failed to hit 200 yards against Florida State, the Eagles went for 326 yards against an NIU defense that chased Cardale Jones from the Ohio State game a week ago. They managed 234 yards on the ground and held the ball for almost 40 minutes worth of game time.
But the work-in-progress offense struggled at times to move the ball. Playing two quarterbacks with both redshirt freshman Troy Flutie and true freshman Jeff Smith, BC completed only five passes the entire game on 14 attempts for 92 yards.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Eagles scored first with about nine minutes remaining in the second. Taking over on their own 32, the Eagles marched over midfield in five plays thanks in part to 12 yards rushing by sophomore running back Jon Hilliman. After three more runs where he picked up nearly 20 yards, BC found themselves with a 1st-and-10 at the NIU 27. That's when Troy Flutie rolled out to his right on play action and found Charlie Callinan wide open behind the defense. He lofted a pass into the waiting arms of his receiver, putting BC up 7-0.
NIU would travel nine yards on their next drive and be forced to punt, giving the Eagles a prime opportunity to start pulling away. On 3rd-and-6, Flutie hit Sherman Alston on a slant for a 30 yard gain down to the NIU 22. But on the next play, he threw an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Shawun Lurry. Lurry took off and brought the run back inside the BC five yard line, and Bouagnon scored from two yards out three plays later.
Tied at 7-7, the Eagles started to run a two-minute drill. On 2nd-and-12, Flutie hit Bobby Swigert for 12, then hit him again to get into plus territory with a six yard gain. After an incompletion set up 3rd-and-4, BC called a timeout with seven seconds remaining in the half.
But there would be no Flutie heroics for a 48-yard pass to the end zone as time expired. Steve Addazio made the call to go for a run up the middle, calling Tyler Rouse's number, and the half ended at 7-7.
NIU received the ball to start the second half, but the third play of their initial drive was picked off as John Johnson ball-hawked a Drew Hare pass to give BC back the ball. But after a BC three-and-out, the Huskies drove 51 yards in 11 plays to penetrate deep onto the opponent's side of the field. Hare connected twice with Tommylee Lewis, then ran for 16 yards himself. On 3rd-and-16, Hare threw one up for Desroy Maxwell, but Ty Schwab ran over him, resulting in a pass interference call. Bouagnon ran for nine subsequent yards, giving NIU a 3rd-and-1 at the BC 12. It set up a 29 yard field goal attempt that Christian Hagan shanked wide right, keeping the 7-7 score intact.
On the ensuing drive, BC worked a 12-play drive worth over six minutes of game time. Hilliman for 50 yards alone, culminating in a 21-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles back in the lead, 14-7. With time running low in the fourth, they then put together an 11-play drive worth another 4:23 of game clock, moving 58 yards from their own 35 to the NIU seven yard line. A Colton Lichtenberg 25-yard field goal put BC in front by 10, but the Huskies responded immediately with an 86-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Aregeros Turner, pulling back within three. After a BC punt set up the NIU offense for a chance to win it, Hare stalled at midfield and turned it over on downs, giving the Eagles their third victory of the year.
Flutie finished 5-11 for 92 yards with a touchdown and a pick on the day, while Jeff Smith went 0-2. Jon Hilliman went for 119 yards on the ground on 24 carries, averaging five yards per run and scoring a touchdown. Smith had 56 yards on nine carries, including a long of 20. Only one Eagle receiver - Swigert - had more than one catch.
For NIU, Tommylee Lewis finished with 42 yards on six catches. The two punters, Jacob Ambrose for NIU and Alex Howell for BC, combined for 16 punts and over 600 yards of kicking. One of Ambrose's seven punts on the day was blocked by BC special teams.