Boston College football hasn’t skipped a beat—at least on paper. After closing out last season 5-2, the Eagles have posted an identical record in their first seven games of the 2018 campaign, at one point cracking the AP Poll for the first time in a decade.
The offense is even more explosive than the one that racked up 40 or more points against three ACC opponents last season. BC is currently averaging 39.6 points per game, the 15th-most in the FBS. Before A.J. Dillon went down with a left ankle injury, he was first in the ACC and third in the nation in rushing. Anthony Brown returned from his season-ending ACL injury looking better than ever and, at the moment, stands atop the conference leaderboard with 14 touchdown passes—the most by an Eagles quarterback in a single season since Chase Rettig back in 2013. As a whole, BC is logging 447.6 yards per game and has eclipsed the 500-yard mark on three separate occasions. To put that in perspective, the Eagles only topped 400 yards once in their first six games last season.
On the other side of the ball, though, BC has taken a step back. Losing Isaac Yiadom and Kamrin Moore to the NFL ended up leaving a bigger hole in the Eagles’ secondary than one might have expected. Although BC has recorded 11 interceptions this season—the eighth-most in the country—it’s allowing an average of 227.1 yards through the air, 35.5 more than the year before and 69th in the country. Not to mention that the Eagles’ rushing defense—once the staple of the program—is conceding 160.3 yards per game on the ground, good for just 70th in the FBS.
BC’s inability to get off the field on defense and convert third downs on offense has cost head coach Steve Addazio and Co. quite a few points and a pair of games that otherwise might have padded the Eagles’ bowl resume. BC can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes down the stretch: Unlike last season, the Eagles’ schedule is backloaded. With three-straight Top 25-caliber opponents—Miami, Virginia Tech, and Clemson—on tap, BC’s first-half success could very well go to waste if it doesn’t play to its maximum potential.
Record: 5-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast
AP High: 23
Offensive MVP: A.J. Dillon
Through five weeks of play, Dillon was listed as PFF College’s top running back in the Heisman Trophy race, and reasonably so. The sophomore, who sat out a combined three quarters in the opening two games of the season, had totaled 652 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Dillon silenced critics in Week One by hauling in both his first catch and receiving touchdown on the same play. Even though he had his worst performance as a starter against Purdue, averaging a mere 3.1 yards per carry, he bounced back against Temple with what have might have been the second-best outing of his career, had he not injured his ankle.
Defensive MVP: Zach Allen
Although BC’s defense has its flaws, it’s loaded with star power, headlined by defensive end Zach Allen. A potential first-round draft pick, the senior has already tallied 36 tackles this season, 11 of which have come behind the line of scrimmage. He’s quick off the line and has a knack for stopping the run. That’s not to say he can’t bring down the quarterback too. Allen has recorded 4.5 sacks this year—0.5 more than his 2017 total. At 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, he is deceptively athletic. Having logged one interception, three passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery, he certainly has the numbers to show for it. Quite simply, Allen is a game-changer: If it wasn’t for his fourth-quarter sack of Anthony Russo against Temple, the Eagles’ Week Five matchup and season could have looked completely different.
Rookie of the Year: David Bailey
Last year, BC’s roster was loaded with freshman, many of whom were making an immediate impact on the field. In fact, the Eagles’ leading passer, rusher, and receiver were all first-year players. Of the freshman to see the field in 2018, though, running back David Bailey has impressed the most. Despite only playing in three games, the workhorse has compiled the fifth-most yards of total offense among the Eagles’ playmakers. The Ridgely, Md. native has rushed for 216 yards on 44 carries this season—the bulk of which came in BC’s 38-20 victory over Louisville. With Dillon out for the second-straight week, Bailey entered the game in the second quarter and rushed the ball 28 times for 112 yards and a score, sparking an Eagles scoring drive that put the Atlantic Division contest out of reach.
Comeback Player of the Year: Anthony Brown
You never know how a quarterback is going to respond to a season-ending injury, especially a torn ACL. But Brown has looked like a changed quarterback—and for the better. The redshirt sophomore stormed out of the gates, setting and resetting his career highs for both passing yards and touchdowns over the course of the opening three weeks of play, effectively torching the likes of Massachusetts, Holy Cross, and Wake Forest. Entering Week Four, Brown led the nation in passer efficiency. Soon enough, he—along with the rest of the team—came back down to earth at Purdue. Brown threw four interceptions, including three on successive possessions. Since then, however, he has responded by tossing four touchdowns, all while completing 56.3 percent of his passes and avoiding another pick. Brown certainly isn’t perfect, but his accuracy and confidence have definitely improved.
Best Moment: Outlasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem Shootout
Following back-to-back Bay State blowouts, the Eagles traveled to Wake Forest to play the Demon Deacons just before Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas. Coming into the Thursday night matchup, the road team had emerged victorious in each of the teams’ previous four meetings. The trend continued in Winston-Salem, N.C., as BC poured on six touchdowns, en route to its third-straight 40-plus point performance. Dillon rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown, opening up the play-action game for Brown, who—as a result—put up career numbers. When all was said and done, the redshirt sophomore gunslinger finished with five touchdowns and 304 yards to his name. All of his touchdown passes spanned 25 yards or more, and every single Eagles drive lasted three and a half minutes or less. Running an up-tempo offense of its own, Wake Forest traded punches with BC up until the final frame—that’s when the Eagles away, effectively snagging the No. 23 national ranking in the process.
Worst Moment: Boilermaker Beatdown
Despite the fact that Purdue has completely turned its season around, winning four-straight games—the last of which was a 29-point blowout victory over then-No. 2 Ohio State—BC’s Week Three loss to the Boilermakers still looks just as ugly on paper. After guiding the Eagles to a touchdown on their first drive of the game, Brown reverted back to his inconsistent freshman-year self, ultimately throwing an interception on three successive second-half possessions. The Cliffwood, N.J. native’s struggles were partially rooted in Dillon’s inefficiency on the ground. For the first time since he took over as the lead back, the 6-foot, 245-pound workhorse had a hard time finding any room to run. Dillon carried the ball 19 times for just 59 yards, rendering BC’s rushing attack relatively obsolete. On the other side of the ball, missed tackles haunted an Eagles secondary that conceded 296 yards through the air. When the fourth quarter rolled around, the game was already over, and it was clear that BC’s six-day stay in the AP Poll was coming to an abrupt end.
Biggest Surprise: Volatile Special Teams
During the first half of last season, the Eagles’ special teams kept them competitive. Even though BC only averaged 16.3 points per game over the course of the opening six weeks of play, the trio of Maximilian Schulze-Geisthovel, Mike Knoll, and Colton Lichtenberg dictated the third phase of the game. A former BC men’s soccer forward, Schulze-Geisthovel was practically a guaranteed touchback. Knoll, who led the FBS in punts placed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line through the first week of October, flipped the field at will and was even named an ESPN Midseason All-American. And while Lichtenberg has had an up-and-down college career, he drilled his first six field goal attempts of the 2017 campaign. But this fall, BC’s special teams took a turn for the worse.
Amid the first five weeks of the year, the Eagles 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. Since then, the unit has flipped the script. Each of the past two games, Travis Levy has tracked down a blocked punt in the opposing end zone for six, Lichtenberg—back from injury—has drilled a field goal, and BC has blocked either a field goal or an extra point. Although imperfect, Ricky Brown’s unit is clearly capable. That said, there’s still no telling how it’s going to perform week in and week out.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor
Photos by Taylor Perison and Michael Conroy / Heights Staff and AP Photo