Midway through the first quarter of Saturday’s game, Boston College football was up, 14-0, against Louisville, had just forced a Cardinals punt, and looked to be on its way to a comfortable victory. Two-consecutive turnovers and two Louisville touchdowns later, the Eagles suddenly found themselves in a dogfight, battling a Cardinals team that had suddenly seized all the momentum. The afternoon could have gotten a lot worse for BC. Fortunately for the Eagles, they relaxed, overcame their sloppiness, and outscored Louisville, 24-7, down the stretch to move to 4-0 at home on the season. Here are some observations and takeaways from the game.
David Bailey does his best A.J. Dillon impression
Before the season started, when questions still surrounded BC’s running back depth, head coach Steve Addazio reminded everyone not to forget about David Bailey.
“David is another one of those really talented young backs,” he told BCEagles.com. “Watching him right now, he reminds me of where A.J. was at this time a year ago.”
Well, after Dillon was ruled out for a second-straight week, and the Eagles’ running game struggled to find its legs in the first quarter, Bailey finally got a chance to show how accurate Addazio’s observation really was. And after watching him get extended action for the first time, it’s hard not to compare the true freshman to the superstar sophomore.
After Louisville took a 20-14 lead, Bailey began the next BC drive by taking a handoff and bouncing the ball outside, dragging a Louisville defender for two extra yards. The very next play, he got the ball again and bullied his way to six physical yards. These two carries were an excellent example of what the true freshman brings to the team. Much like Dillon, he can use his physical 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame to fight for tough yards up the middle, but also dance outside and showcase breakaway speed if necessary.
Bailey finished the day with 28 carries for 112 yards and a one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and his day could have been even better if a 32-yard touchdown run he broke in the third quarter hadn’t been nullified by a holding penalty. On that run, Bailey broke three tackles, and likely would have scored even without the hold. Dillon should be back carrying the load in two weeks when Miami comes to Alumni Stadium, but it has to be reassuring for BC fans to know that, should he go down with an injury again, the Eagles have another more-than-capable replacement waiting in the wings.
Kudos to the Offensive Line
Of course, any good running performance is also a byproduct of excellent blocking, and BC’s offensive line deserves a lot of credit for paving the way for not one, but two 100-yard rushing performances on Saturday. Ben Glines also reached 100 yards rushing for the second time this season, and it was his 41-yard run in the fourth quarter that really ended Louisville’s chances at winning the game. Watch that rushing play again, however, and it also becomes noticeable that the right side of the offensive line opened a huge hole for Glines to run through. The entire line was physical throughout the game against a fast Louisville defensive line, and helped set the tone and control the trenches from the very first play. They weren’t too shabby in pass protection either, as the Cardinals managed just one sack all game long, and Anthony Brown was rarely under duress. After some struggles earlier in the year against Purdue, one of the Eagles’ most experienced units has once again turned into a force to be reckoned with.
The Special Teams Rollercoaster Continues
Special teams is a talking point in nearly every BC game, and Saturday’s contest was no different, as Ricky Brown’s unit took turns being a problem and a strength for the Eagles. First, just after Louisville recovered a Glines fumble deep in BC territory and capitalized on fourth down with a Malik Cunningham touchdown run, Zach Allen got his hand on the extra point attempt, and Hamp Cheevers scooped the loose ball and nearly returned it the other way for what would have been two points. For once, the Eagles weren’t the ones with extra-point woes.
But just one play later, BC fans were once again left frustrated by special teams, as Michael Walker coughed up the kickoff return by running into the back of his own blocker. Louisville recovered, then turned the good field position into another touchdown. Walker has now fumbled on three returns this season—two kickoffs and one punt—and all three fumbles have turned into opposition touchdowns.
The Eagles would get those seven points back later, as they sent the house on a Cardinals punt and Nolan Borgersen got fingertips on the ball, deflecting it into the end zone where it bounced fortuitously, allowing Travis Levy to recover for BC’s second punt-block touchdown in two weeks. For the second-straight week, the Eagles were on the right side of some game-changing special teams plays, but against stronger opposition, they still can’t afford the negative plays like the Walker fumble. For now, though, special teams isn’t the total liability that it appeared to be early in the season.
Last season, the Eagles were one of the most disciplined teams in the country. They averaged just 3.6 penalties per game, the third-fewest in the country. This season, flags have been more of an issue, as they were once again against Louisville. The most glaring infraction was the Aaron Monteiro hold that nullified Bailey’s 32-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but a pass-interference call on Brandon Sebastian also set Louisville up at the BC three-yard line in the second quarter. Then, later in the period, a false start on Glines stalled an Eagles drive near midfield. No team can be flag-free for an entire game, but BC is now averaging 6.6 penalties per game in 2018, nearly double its average from last year.
BC’s defense has been inconsistent this season, and there’s no better representation of that than the Eagles’ play against the run. They’ve shined against some teams, notably limiting Purdue to 41 carries for 76 yards and struggled against others. Just last week, North Carolina State ran all over the Eagles to the tune of 225 yards on 53 carries.
This week, the defensive line came ready to play, perhaps more motivated after being called “slow” by Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell during the week. The Cardinals had 32 carries for just 47 yards. They found some limited success in the second quarter, utilizing the read-option, but, for the most part, BC played physical and downhill, with multiple tacklers flying to the ball on every play. Allen was debatably the most impressive, laying a big hit on Hassan Hall on an end-around, and later dragging down Jawon Pass on a quarterback keeper with just one arm. The Eagles will need to bring the same ferocity for the remainder of the season if they want to keep up their success against the run.
Being Aggressive on Fourth Down
Perhaps still lacking confidence in the kicking game even with Colton Lichtenberg healthy and ready to resume place-kicking duties, BC went for it on fourth down three times inside Louisville territory, with mixed results. First, Brown missed Levy on a wheel route on 4th-and-5 from the Cardinals’ 27-yard line to turn the ball over on downs, and then Bailey was stuffed on 4th-and-1 from the Cardinals’ five.
Later, though, the Eagles redeemed themselves. With BC ahead, 24-20, in the fourth quarter, Addazio kept the offense on the field on 4th-and-4, rather than attempting a 43-yard field goal. This time it paid off, as Brown found a wide open Levy in the flat for a 20-yard gain that led to David Bailey’s touchdown that put the Eagles up 11. It certainly feels like Addazio has been more aggressive on fourth downs than in years past, something which will have to continue if BC hopes to continue winning with the toughest part of the schedule still to come.
Featured Image by Keith Carroll / Heights Editor