The Boston College football team lost a huge chunk of its production from last year. No, not Andre Williams. The Eagles’ defensive front will look much different than it did last year with the graduation of seniors Kaleb Ramsey, Kasim Edebali, Steele Devitto, and Kevin Pierre-Louis. In the annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Football game, however, some new players did their best to assuage any fears BC fans may have had about the high turnover.
Leading the charge was linebacker Sean Duggan, who led the defense with eight tackles, including one for a loss. Duggan was all over the field, taking on numerous responsibilities for the Eagles. On several plays, defensive coordinator Don Brown sent Duggan on a linebacker blitz. Duggan timed his run almost perfectly nearly every time. On one occasion, Duggan bowled over the offensive line, then introduced himself to running back Tyler Rouse. On the next play, Duggan was able to shed his blocker and make another play to take down Rouse.
BC’s offense was determined to spread the field, often sending Rouse, Myles Willis, and Dave Dudeck out wide. Duggan was asked to cover them 1-on-1, and he was consistently able to keep the smaller, faster players in front of him. The only thing Duggan wasn’t able to do on the day was join BC’s sack party. The defensive line took some early steps to fight off perceptions of a lack of depth, as a host of players stepped up to make plays for BC. Kevin Kavalec led the way with three sacks and five total tackles, but he wasn’t alone in having a solid game for the Eagles. Defensive end Malachi Moore also contributed with five tackles, and Nick Lifka also had a solid game defensively, picking up a sack. With senior defensive lineman Mehdi Abdesmad sidelined for the game along with the absence of highly touted freshman Harold Landry, others could showcase their talents. Josh Keyes looked like a starting-caliber linebacker and a potent pass-rusher, especially when he had a blind-side sack of Tyler Murphy late in the first half. The defensive line may not end up having any standouts like Edebali or KPL, but the spring game showcased the fact that BC does have a number of serviceable players on the defensive front. As the game went on, the defensive line began dominating the offense, which head coach Steve Addazio attributed to a number of factors.
“We will have a good front,” Addazio said. “The problem today was that we have eight offensive linemen here so some guys are taking play after play, and you just wear down. It gets sloppy because of that.”
The biggest defensive weakness for the Eagles last year were the defensive backs that let up nearly 270 yards per game and allowed 26 passing touchdowns. Time and again, opponents burned BC deep. With Al Louis-Jean leaving to turn professional, the secondary for the Eagles looks dangerously thin. On Saturday, it had its ups and downs. John Johnson led all defensive backs with five tackles, and both Manny Asprilla and Dominique Williams both seem poised to bring some veteran leadership to the group.
The offense was very depleted at the wide receiver position. Charlie Callinan led the wide receivers with seven catches for 98 yards, so while it was an encouraging sign of improved play from the DBs, the competition was very inexperienced and unfamiliar with each other.
There were some areas of concern for the defense. First was a lack of turnovers forced. Several times, defensive backs had a pass slip right through their hands. Other times, the defensive backs were caught giving too much cushion to the wide receivers, resulting in an inability to get a jump and make a play on the ball. Quarterbacks Darius Wade and James Walsh consistently overthrew their receivers, but the defense was unable to capitalize.
The defense also gave up big plays. In the first half, Tyler Rouse scampered for a 41-yard touchdown run, on which no defender came close to touching him. The offensive line opened up a shipping lane right through the heart of the defense, and Rouse delivered. The offense didn’t look to take many shots down the field, but on one of the few occasions it did, it delivered with a long completion to Callinan, who found a soft spot in the zone.
The most encouraging aspect of the defense’s performance was its performance against the read-option. Murphy, Wade, and Walsh all ran the read-option offense, with Willis, Rouse, and Dudeck their backfield companions. The defense kept a potentially potent offense under wraps for the most part. Whenever the backs tried to bounce it outside, the defense did an excellent job keeping its respective lanes, while sliding toward the sideline, not leaving any holes for the smaller backs to shoot through. Defenders that got into the backfield reacted well to whatever looks were thrown at them from the quarterbacks.
The defensive line showed great ability to get pressure on the offense while not over-pursuing, an attribute that could be very helpful next year when facing offenses featuring Heisman-winner Jameis Winston and other mobile quarterbacks. It was an impressive and encouraging performance for a unit that made great strides from 2012 to 2013. Although the defense lost several starters and key players, the spring game gave BC fans at least a glimpse at some possible replacements and gave them hope that the future isn’t quite as bleak as some may have thought.