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 is that Maine might offer a kind of reset. You have two weeks to do some experiments, shake off the bad vibes 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 revealed that they discovered later in the week, that LT Ozzy Trapilo wouldn’t be able to travel tonight. Hafley expressed hope that Trapilo will be able to play next week against Maine. He stated that he will be learning more about the injury to RT Kevin Cline 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 sport: It’s a dead horse, but the key to determining if BC can salvage this season is if BC can provide at least some short-yardage outlet to keep drives moving on time.
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 was mentioned 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.”
— BC HC Jeff Hafley
Note: BC is last in FBS with two games with 16.5 rush yard/g
— Andy Backstrom (@andybackstrom) September 11, 2022
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 appears a lot less mobile than he did two-years ago, which makes this weapon less potent.
Making these adjustments is key to any type of turnaround.
Continue the strong defensive performances After the Rutgers game, it was hard not to feel bad about the fact that the defense had been great for 50 minutes due to how badly they were mauled on their final drive. However, after two games, we can feel quite good about that drive not being an aberration.
After two weeks, the Eagles rank #42 in the country in total defensive yards. But, even more impressively, they are #8 in passing defense, allowing only 125 yards per game.
BC allowed 27 points Saturday, which included a gift of touchdowns that came off turnovers and a long-running play that was not completed. They were otherwise strong.
In 2015, the Eagles had a historically poor offense and a historically strong defense. The question was: could the defense answer the bell over-and-over again despite being gassed and being on the field so frequently and being asked to come up with big so many times?
The answer so far is yes. But will they be able sustain it throughout the entire season? To win some games, BC’s offense needs to be serviceable.
Long term is the biggest topic of conversation in comments on social media. The bubble of excitement about Hafley elevating BC above its 6-6 status and into solid contender status is now pretty much gone. This leaves you with a lot of questions about how the program is doing 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. It would be a terrible thing to bail on this project, regardless of how this season turns out.
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.
Now, the long-term question is: What kind of assistants and coordinators do Hafley need? Does the current staff meet the criteria?
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. These guys, unlike Hafley’s, are not new to these roles. 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 quit after becoming the hot coordinator in the market and never got the job done as a head coach.
Time will tell which category Hafley falls in to here, but we’re going to find out.
Long-term, you should also be watching out for 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. You should start to see the results in year 3, so we can expect to see younger players move up as they gain more experience.
Will BC be able to continue their recruiting momentum if they have a difficult year on the field? So far, BC’s Class of 2023 is ranked #44 by Rivals; finishing around there would continue to be progress. If the Eagles fail, can recruits be continued 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.