Last Saturday, for the first time all season, Boston College’s defense gave up more than 14 points in a game. In fact, the Eagles (3-4, 0-4 ACC) gave up 34 points total to College Football Playoff contender Clemson in a game where the score line of 34-17 looks far closer than it actually was. After BC took an early lead, the Tigers returned the favor and never looked back. Such a decisive, albeit expected, loss was marked with only one positive: Alex Howell, punter, was named the Ray Guy Punter of The Week. It is small victory in a season where BC fans will be looking for any glimmer of light.
This week, the Eagles move on to the great state of Kentucky to face Louisville (2-4, 1-2 ACC), who began the season with hopes of at least competing in the ACC Atlantic Division. Those hopes were quickly derailed with three season opening losses to Auburn, Houston, and Clemson. Three weeks later they would lose again, this time to Florida State. Granted, those four teams who have beaten Louisville so far this season have a combined record of 18-2, and three of those four are currently undefeated. Louisville might not be as good as the experts would have predicted, but they are by no means bad.
“What would be nice for Jeff Smith is if we had a lesser defense come in that he could gain a little confidence from,” head coach Steve Addazio said after Clemson. Unfortunately for both Smith and Addazio, the trial by fire will continue for the young offense. The Cardinals boast a lot of talent on the defensive side. While they struggled at times earlier this year—the Cardinals gave up over 400 yards rushing in their first two games—they are still a dangerous unit. Currently ranked 32nd nationally in defensive yards allowed, Louisville’s defense is giving up just over 350 total yards per game, so Smith and company will have to continue to claw for every yard.
The Cardinals’ defensive line boasts the big talent, anchored by junior Devonte Fields, Texas Christian transfer and former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and senior Sheldon Rankins. Both will most likely play on Sundays in the not too distant future. Senior James Burgess, a member of the preseason All-ACC team, has been a force against the run from the middle linebacker spot.
BC will have to dominate the line of scrimmage against a physical front. Smith was 7-22 passing last week at Clemson, and it seems clear the road to victory does not lie through his arm. Rather, it will lie on both his legs and the stable of running backs. Expect to see Addazio split carries between his three primary backs: Tyler Rouse, Marcus Outlow, and Myles Willis, who just returned from injury. Addazio welcomed Willis back with a team-high 18 carries last week. “[Willis] is a veteran guy now,” he said. “He is one of those few guys who have been through a lot of those heated contests now … I think that sparked us a little bit on offense.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles face the potent combination of true freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson and junior wide receiver James Quick. Jackson, like Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Florida State’s Everett Golson is another dual threat quarterback with a cannon for an arm. He has completed 54 percent of his passes and gained over 400 yards on the ground. Quick torched the Florida State secondary last week for 130 yards and three touchdowns. True to his name, Quick will keep a BC defense that gave up 420 yard in the air last week very busy. His excellent speed combined with a penchant for recognizing busted coverage means that defensive backs will need to hit him hard off the line of scrimmage and then stay disciplined. Addazio last week said that big plays against Clemson came when receivers got behind the defense. Quick poses an even bigger threat.
Like all games, it will come down to the trenches, and on defense the Eagles look to have a clear advantage. Of the five offensive line positions, three of Louisville’s linemen are true or redshirt freshmen, and only center, Tobijah Hughley, is an upperclassman. The Eagles’ front seven should find experience on their side and be disruptive all game. Even taking into account containment and spy assignments, the BC defense should create pressure against a Louisville team who has given up 22 sacks in six games, ranked 124 out of 128 teams.
Seventeen will be the magic number if the Eagles want to win. If BC’s defense plays to their usual level (read: not last week at Clemson), the offense will not need to put up a ton of points. But once Louisville gets to 20 points or higher, BC will be unable to keep up. Its offense, even with a healthy Jonathan Hilliman and Darius Wade, is not built for shootouts.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor