Boston College football may have won its fourth game of the season on Saturday, but it also lost both its leading rusher and top receiver to injuries in a 23-minute span during the back half of play.
At the start of the third quarter, running back A.J. Dillon was wrapped up at the line of scrimmage and tumbled to the ground after Temple defensive tackle Michael Dogbe toppled onto the sophomore’s left leg, triggering an apparent ankle injury. Then, midway through the final frame, a scrambling Anthony Brown lasered a pass downfield to Jeff Smith, with three Owl defenders in close proximity. As soon as the ball was deflected by William Kwenkeu, fellow Temple linebacker Sam Franklin laid out Smith. The blindsided senior hit the ground and swallowed the turf before propping himself up and immediately retreating to the sideline with what looked like an upper-body injury. Neither returned to the game, and as of Monday, there’s no guarantee either will start this weekend against No. 23 North Carolina State.
“I think we’re physically beat up a little bit right now,” head coach Steve Addazio said during his weekly press conference. “I’m not going to get into the injury thing. I don’t have anything to get into other than the fact that I hope everybody is ready to go. But that game—[there] certainly was a price to pay for that game.”
BC ran 100 plays—its most in a single matchup since it adopted the up-tempo offense at the very end of the 2016 season—and it needed every one of them to stave off a late Owls comeback. At times, the Eagles’ defense looked lost. It didn’t help that Lukas Denis, the team’s proverbial center fielder, was ejected from the game for targeting in the second quarter. BC couldn’t seem to stop Temple’s rushing attack, namely Ryquell Armstead.
The senior running back rumbled past the Eagles for 171 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, at one point ripping off a 75-yard score. When all was said and done, the Eagles conceded more than 190 yards on the ground for the third time this season. BC currently clocks in at 81st in the country in rushing defense—an improvement from last year but a far cry from the Eagles’ No. 8 ranking back in 2016. Addazio thinks it all goes back to tackling, somewhat of a lost art in today’s college football.
“No one really tackles anymore,” the sixth-year Eagles coach said. “It’s like anything else. You want to be good at something, you gotta do it.”
Addazio mentioned that, due to the risk of injuries, his players often tag off during 7-on-7s. He stressed that, throughout the week, he’ll be sure to increase the number of tackling drills in attempt to shore up the Eagles’ run defense. Addazio also noted that the defense’s struggles can be partially attributed to having to practice against an Eagles’ offense that hardly mirrors that of most teams. Whereas BC often has two or more tight ends on the field at once, a great deal of the ACC runs spread offenses. Tackling is hardly BC’s most glaring weakness, though. Ever since the start of the year, the Eagles’ special teams unit has been handing out free points.
So far this season, BC has had three blocked punts returned for touchdowns, three botched snaps while in punt formation, four missed extra points, a muffed punt, and a fumble on a kickoff return that gifted the opposition with a scoop and score touchdown.
“It’s making me sick to my stomach really, to be honest with you,” Addazio said. “It’s going to have to come to a screeching halt here.”
John Tessitore missed an extra point for the fourth-straight game on Saturday and was replaced thereafter by classmate Danny Longman. The kickoff specialist drilled all three of his point after attempts and even converted the Eagles’ first field goal of the season—albeit a 26-yard chip-shot.
Addazio told reporters that he expects starting placekicker Colton Lichtenberg to return this week. That said, he admitted that he hasn’t seen the senior attempt a field goal in close to a month. Ideally, Addazio wants to preserve Tessitore’s redshirt. But regardless of Lichtenberg’s health, Longman will continue to shoulder the kickoff duties, as it was the hard striking of the ball that caused Lichtenberg’s injury in the first place.
Above all else, Dillon’s injury is the biggest cause for concern. After all, the 6-foot, 245-pound back is the life of the Eagles’ offense. Before the sophomore went down against Temple, he was on pace to rush for well over for 200 yards—at the time, an incredibly encouraging performance for Eagles fans, considering that he was coming off his least productive outing as a starter: a 19-carry, 59-yard game at Purdue.
In the event that the Heisman Trophy candidate doesn’t play at N.C. State this weekend, Addazio said that David Bailey—Dillon’s mentee—will be available to carry some of the workload. The freshman, who hasn’t seen the field since Week Two, has 16 rushing attempts, 104 yards, and a touchdown to his name this season. BC will need all the help it can get against the Wolfpack, a team that ranks 19th and 13th in the nation in run and scoring defense, respectively.
N.C. State sent seven players to the NFL Draft last season, including its entire defensive line, and defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable already has his unit playing better than ever before. Granted, the Wolfpack has only played James Madison, Georgia State, Marshall, and Virginia this season, but 15.3 points and 104.3 rushing yards allowed per game are impressive numbers nonetheless. Perhaps even more threatening, given BC’s frequent breakdowns in man coverage, is the N.C. State offense.
Ryan Finley was the only ACC quarterback listed inside the top 10 of ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s preseason position rankings, and for good reason. The fifth-year senior has impressed NFL scouts the past few years and is on his way to his best statistical season yet. In four weeks of play, Finley has recorded 1,313 yards through the air and a 8-1 touchdown to interception ratio, all while completing 68.6 percent of his passes.
“That’s what you’re hoping right?” Addazio said. “When your quarterback is one of those elite guys, it usually makes all the difference in the world.”
If BC is to knock off the Wolfpack, it’ll have to clean up the missed tackles and keep Finley in check—especially if injuries play a pivotal role in the outcome of the game, like they did in last year’s matchup between the two Atlantic Division foes.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor