The last time that Boston College football was in Cardinal Stadium, AJ Dillon transformed into the star running back that most know today, rushing for 272 yards and four touchdowns in a season-defining win over Lamar Jackson and Louisville.
“I thought that was a red stamp game for him,” head coach Steve Addazio told reporters during Monday’s weekly presser, per BC Athletics. “He crashed onto the scene as a dominant tailback with some of the runs he had, and the way he flung a couple defenders off—that was a big day down there, for sure for him.”
Dillon’s career day included the Eagles’ most memorable play of his freshman year—a ferocious stiff arm that threw safety Chucky Williams to the ground and paved the way for a 75-yard score—and, of course, opened up BC’s offense. All of a sudden, the Eagles, who averaged 16.3 points through their first six games of 2017, were dynamic. BC won five of its final six regular season matchups, scoring 36 points per contest along the way.
The Eagles will be back in Louisville on Saturday, and while they’re not at risk of a winless ACC slate like they appeared to be two years ago, they certainly could use another breakthrough performance. BC (3-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) has dropped two of its last three games, most recently suffering a 27-24 loss to Wake Forest, where the Eagles missed out on a game-tying field goal opportunity in the fourth quarter after taking a delay of game penalty and then botching the ensuing snap.
But BC’s defeat came down to more than just a special teams gaffe. The Eagles lost the turnover battle, 2-1, and their defense, currently ranked 104th in the nation, allowed the Demon Deacons to convert 17 of their 24 third-down attempts. Addazio knows that BC has to be better on third down, and according to the seventh-year Eagles coach, that’s been a point of focus all year.
“I mean there’s always an emphasis,” Addazio said. “That is standard operating procedure. You’ve gotta get off the field on third down.”
All things considered, BC’s defense took a step in the right direction against Wake Forest. The now-No. 22 Demon Deacons came into the weekend ranked 10th in total offense (533.8 yards per game) and 28th in scoring (38.0 points per game). The Eagles held Jamie Newman and the Demon Deacons to 440 yards and 27 points, often bending but not breaking.
Most notably, BC improved its run defense. With the exception of a 50-yard Newman quarterback draw, Wake Forest gained just 2.77 yards per carry. The Eagles also had newfound success rushing the passer. After entering the day with just three sacks all year—tied for 117th in the country—BC brought down Newman behind the line of scrimmage twice. Linebackers Max Richardson and John Lamot spearheaded the defensive effort.
“I think [John] and Max can make those athletic plays—we’ve seen those on display—and I think, again, like everybody, we’ve got to work on consistency,” Addazio said.
Richardson drove Newman into the ground for a nine-yard sack in the second quarter, and Lamot hit the dual-threat signal caller mid-throw in the final frame, nearly forcing a fumble in the process. The two combined for 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and one quarterback hit. BC’s linebacking corps is easily its best defensive position group, even without Isaiah McDuffie. The junior, who racked up 85 tackles last year, has been sidelined all year while recovering from offseason knee surgery. Five games in, Addazio hasn’t decided if he’ll redshirt McDuffie.
“We’re getting down to the point where, in theory, he still has four to play and still keep his redshirt year, right,” Addazio said. “So, right now at this point we’re just interested in him getting back to 100 percent.”
In other injury news, interior defensive lineman and team captain Tanner Karafa, who left last week’s game in the third quarter, is healthy, according to Addazio. The apparent “injury” was just the result of in-game cramps, Addazio said.
Louisville (2-2, 0-1) on the other hand, is a bit more banged up. Quarterbacks Jawon Pass (foot) and Malik Cunningham (ankle) are both dealing with injuries. Pass began the season as the starter and showed promise against No. 9 Notre Dame, but has missed the last two games. Cunningham, meanwhile, filled in for Pass before sustaining an ankle sprain at Florida State.
Luckily for the Cardinals, their bye week came early. The two quarterbacks have had the past two weeks to heal, and, as of Sunday, the duo was back on the practice field, according to The Courier-Journal. Cunningham is reportedly further along in the recovery process than Pass, and head coach Scott Satterfield is expecting the redshirt sophomore to play against BC, although neither quarterback is a lock for Saturday.
Satterfield will likely make a game-time decision this weekend, whether it be Pass, Cunningham, or freshman Evan Conley—all of whom are dual-threat signal callers who can lead Satterfied’s run-first offense. Addazio, on the other hand, doesn’t have a shred of uncertainty when it comes to the quarterback position.
“High,” Addazio said, when asked where Anthony Brown’s confidence is right now. “Anthony played very, very well in that game … he was 14-of-16 at half, and he finished very, very strong—his overall completion percentage at the end of the day was excellent.”
Before last Saturday’s game against Wake Forest, Brown hadn’t posted better than a 58 percent completion percentage all season. Against the Demon Deacons, the third-year starter went above and beyond that mark, completing 21-of-29 passes (72.4 percent) for 265 yards and two touchdowns. Take away two ill-advised interceptions—his first picks of the season—and Brown only had six incompletions all day.
Another accurate performance from Brown could bode well for BC against a Louisville team that gave up an average of 313.5 yards per game in the air during its last two matchups. But these aren’t the same Cardinals that went 0-8 in ACC play last season.
Coming from Appalachian State, Satterfield brought over Dwayne Ledford (former App. State O-Line Coach, 2012-15) and Bryan Brown (App. State’s 2018 defensive coordinator) to run the offense and defense, respectively, and together they’re already changing the Cardinals’ culture.
“I’m just really, really impressed with what they’ve done down there,” Addazio said. “Their staff has done a fabulous job with their team fundamentally, with their team discipline—I think they’re playing fast, I think they’re playing aggressive. They’ve got quality players all over the field.”
Featured Image by Austin Antony / AP Photo