Fresh off a narrow victory over Northern Illinois, Boston College (3-1, 0-1 ACC) will head to Durham, N.C. on Saturday to take on a surging Duke University (3-1, 1-0 ACC), which is coming off a 34-20 victory against 20th-ranked (and ACC preseason favorite) Georgia Tech.
After losing most of their team from last year, it was widely speculated that the Blue Devils would take a step back in 2015, but that has not been the case. Led by a strong defense and the steady play of junior signal-caller Thomas Sirk, the Blue Devils lead the charge in the ACC Coastal.
The Blue Devils have grown accustomed to success under the eight-year reign of head coach David Cutcliffe, having just posted back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in program history, i n addition to winning the ACC Coastal in 2013.
The Eagles will again alternate between Troy Flutie and Jeff Smith at quarterback, as neither stood out last week against Northern Illinois. While both showed flashes of brilliance against the Huskies—Flutie with his arm and Smith with his legs—the positives were tempered by many negatives that each committed over the course of the contest.
Judging by comments from BC head coach Steve Addazio on his radio show Monday evening, even if one quarterback was to have clearly outperformed the other, it is likely that both would still split time against Duke. “We have to play [both Flutie and Smith], because where would we be if we only played one of them and then that guy got hurt?” Addazio said. “In that case, we would be starting from scratch all over again.”
Regardless of which quarterbacks play Saturday, it is imperative that BC generate some plays in the passing game to relieve some of the burden on a running back corps that will operate without the services of leading rusher Jonathan Hilliman, who suffered a broken foot against NIU. Hilliman was in the middle of his best game of the season when he suffered the injury, and now the pressure is on the rest of the Eagles’ banged up ball-carriers to keep the BC run game afloat against Duke.
Going into the 2015 season, many believed running back was the Eagles’ deepest position—that is no longer the case. Marcus Outlow is nursing a hurt shoulder, Tyler Rouse banged up his head in the win over the Huskies, and Myles Willis is suffering from both a bum shoulder and the lingering effects of mono.
Addazio has said on many occasions that, for the Eagles to win, they need to rush for 220-230 yards, play good defense, and avoid turnovers. If the Eagles are going to achieve that rushing total against Duke, it’s going to take a gutsy performance from the beleaguered unit. “It’s [part of] the game.” Outlow said after practice on Tuesday. “We just need to make sure that we’re ready to go and get this win.”
Addazio maintains that, to win on the road, you must “pack your defense.” That has never rang more true for BC.
The Eagles sport the top defense in the country, and it isn’t close. BC’s defense yields only 118 yards per game, 86 yards fewer than No. 2 team, Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines. The Eagles are not only successful for their health, but also for the heightened play of their secondary. In 2014, the Eagles’ defense finished 11th nationally—fourth in rushing yards allowed per game, but a pedestrian 49th in passing yards allowed per game.
The deficiencies in the pass defense have been corrected, and the Eagles’ pass defense is now ranked first nationally, having surrendered only one touchdown through the air (against Florida State) and allowed only 288 passing yards combined in the first four games of the season.
BC’s pass defense is actually ranked higher than its run defense, though to complain about that would be grasping at straws: the Eagles are second nationally, trailing only Boise State.
What’s responsible for the marked improvement in BC’s pass defense? Standout junior defensive back John Johnson cited heightened team chemistry as the main factor in the secondary’s growth. “I think it’s just the brotherhood that we have,” Johnson said. “We hang out more outside of football, and it’s [making a difference] on the field.”
The Eagles’ secondary will face possibly their stiffest test so far on Saturday when they are matched up against the Blue Devils’ pass offense led by the strong-armed junior Thomas Sirk, who has passed for 868 yards this year and has thrown for six touchdowns versus three interceptions. Sirk has completed 66 percent of his passes—28th-best in the nation—while also leading the Blue Devils in rushing with 267 yards (an impressive five yards per carry) and a pair of touchdowns.
The Eagles open as a 6.5-point underdog in the days leading up to Saturday’s contest, and feature an offense riddled with question marks as a result of losing their starting quarterback, running back, and center over the span of 14 days. With a ferocious front seven and an improving secondary, however, the Eagles should be able to stick around in Durham.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor