We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re having fun talking with Niraj Patel, the lead football writer over at BC Interruption, SBN’s blog for the Boston College Eagles. We chatted about Ted Lasso, indie bands, and duh, the game.
TN: FSU and Boston College didn’t play last season, so it’s nice to see y’all again. Let’s play catch-up. How did BC’s 2020 season go and what were the thoughts and feelings surrounding the program going into this season?
BCI: Pleasure to see you guys too. I really missed this one. 2020 was a good year [wait] for the Eagles football team. It was the first year for Coach Jeff Hafley and it kicked off the era of good feelings. BC was in a huge malaise from the last guy. Attendance was plummeting, the product on field wasn’t up to snuff, and the coach was repeating the same platitudes and coachspeak. It ran its course and then some. Hafley brought in much needed energy. The team finished above .500 and went 5-5 in conference. They played the top teams really well too. They were also one of the first to reject the bowl bid and elected to go home — which I felt was really well handled given how they handled all of the restrictions. Heading into this year, the hopes were sky high. BC was a popular dark horse pick for the crown, and in hindsight rightfully so. An elite quarterback with a plethora of great weapons made us fans feel a bit too confident. Many, if not all, expected to surpass the seven-win ceiling that had proven insurmountable for the previous regime. The over on seven wins was hammered, to say the least.
TN: After stints in Pittsburgh, the NFL, and other places, head coach Jeff Hafley is in his second season in Chestnut Hill. His coaching record stands at 12-9 (7-9 ACC). It’s by no means an easy thing to guide a program through Covid, plus the Eagles also have a transition class on their roster due to firing Steve Addazio following the 2019 season. For FSU, their two transition classes have been difficult to manage. How do you feel about Hafley at this point, and has the transition class been damaging to the roster at all?
BCI: It’s been an unbelievably smooth transition. It’s honestly impressive how quickly he has turned it around. One, yes, it was remarkable how he navigated Covid. The team I think ended with just one case and it was late in the game. They didn’t end up losing many big names at all, and he brought in the right guys to fill in the gaps. Most notably of course, he brought in quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The rest of the team has bought in to what Hafley’s preaching and credit to him for bringing out the best in the pieces that were already here. You have to credit him and his staff for letting Zay Flowers blossom into the maybe first-round receiver he is today. The Hafley staff jumped right into recruiting and successfully won recruiting battles for top local guys and are already miles ahead for the upcoming classes. I could go on. We love Hafley and pray for him not to leave every time. (I personally believe he’ll be sticking around for quite some time).
TN: BC QB Phil Jurkovec lit up Georgia Tech last week, throwing for 310 yards at an absurd 15.5 yards per attempt rate for two TDs while adding 70 yards rushing and another three scores. What are Jurkovec’s strengths and weaknesses as a passer? Are there any particular pass concepts BC likes to run with him under center, or any kind of stats that can tell us more about the Eagles’ offense?
BCI: Jurkovec has been described as your favorite indie band’s favorite indie band heading into the season when looking at NFL quarterback prospects. He can honestly do it all. He seemed less mobile last season, but since his injury - and what seems to have been a more concerted effort heading into the year — he’s lost a few pounds and has been showing off his wheels. He’s a great downfield passer that is a perfect fit for this vertical passing team, and he’s really tough to take down. The way he can extend plays has drawn comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger. I’d say he can sometimes force things instead of taking the simple check down. It’s really easy to get eager with the downfield threats that exist and wait that extra second to let them get open, but it has led to interceptions in the past. Sometimes, that quick rhythm throw just needs to be there. I was hoping to see the improvement in that area this season, but the injury of course derailed that (along with our ACC chances (sad face). The guy injured his throwing hand, so you can’t judge each toss just yet. But boy, did it look immaculate as ever last weekend.
As for the rest of the offense, I’ll have to base it off last year for the passing offense. Flowers is the first one to mention. The All-ACC receiver had nearly 900 yards last season, good for second in the conference and top-20 nationally. The offense as a whole averaged 294 yards passing per game. The team brought back 20 starters, including all five offensive lineman, including the All-American Zion Johnson. On the ground this year, Pat Garwo leads the way and has had back to back 100 yard days. He has over 900 yards rushing and averaging 5.4 a carry. This will only improve with defenses having to worry about the downfield passing.
TN: Jurkovec hurt his wrist back in September and there was speculation he could miss the rest of the season. But despite surgery, he’s back. However, I see the Eagles had a four-game skid (three on the road) vs Clemson, NC State, Louisville, and Syracuse. BC is 3-1 at home but 3-3 on the road. Was the losing streak due to Jurkovec’s injury, being on the road, or something else? How healthy is BC right now?
BCI: The losing streak was almost entirely due to Jurkovec’s injury and I refuse to take any stock in those four games. I will pretend they didn’t exist. And if we win this week, the ACC Atlantic is on the line against Wake the following week. I will raise a banner. Even without Jurkvoec, the opportunity was right there for the Clemson game until a botched snap deep in the red zone in the waning seconds of the game. The other contests saw the Eagles defense keep them in the game only for the offense to flounder. At some point, the levee breaks, and it did for about one quarter each game. The resulting deficit was too much to overcome. Just to take it a step further, coaching and execution was not that good during the skid that didn’t actually happen, remember. There was a distinct lack of adjustments and the offense didn’t go far enough in highlighting what backup quarterback Dennis Grosel could accomplish. I also think he had the yips [gasp I said it @Dr Sharon] to some degree.
BC is banged up, as most teams probably are at this point in the season. The particular concern is on defense, where the team didn’t have too much depth to begin with. Early and off-season injuries led to I believe 10 freshmen on the initial two-deep. They’re also quite talented, but injuries certainly played a role. The secondary has been hit big recently with two safeties, the starting corner, and starting nickel all going down. The safeties are out for the season, but Brandon Sebastian at corner is hopeful to return, while Josh DeBerry is hopeful but slightly less optimistic. The backup corner also went down, so there’s a bit of shuffling going on back there. Luckily, Hafley is a defensive backs guru and so it hasn’t been all that bad yet. Defensive leader and linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley has been hurt for a number of weeks but is hopeful to return this weekend as well. The defensive line needed the most improvement but was hit by the injury bug early inside. Recently, defensive end Shittah Sillah, an all-name candidate, got banged up last week and is likely questionable too. Offensively, BC lost two veteran receivers in Kobay White and CJ Lewis, but luckily tight end Trae Barry and left tackle Tyler Vrabel returned to action against GT.
TN: Ted Lasso references are always appreciated. You wrote in your article on BCI following the GT game that the Eagles haven’t been great at stopping the run, allowing an average of more than 170 rushing yards per game, and are only average at not allowing big plays. FSU’s offense with Jordan Travis is centered around an explosive rushing game that looks to also hit deep explosive pass plays as, like the Yellow Jackets, FSU relies on chunk plays in order to score. Despite the win, BC gave up 30 to GT. How will the Eagles try to slow down FSU’s offense?
BCI: The Eagles have had major struggles with mobile quarterbacks. It’s not a strong defensive line, thus why teams are running all over. They have now played these types of quarterbacks for several weeks in a row however. So, maybe they’re will be more adjustments on that end. Last week the team gave up 21 quick points in the early first half including a kick-off return. They soon locked things up and only allowed nine in the second half. Despite the difficulties in run defense and a severe lack of a pass-rush (although slight uptick last week), the defense has played well overall. They get out on third down (.328) and excel in defensive pass efficiency (115.79), both good for top-20 in the country. The Eagles will look to continue the success in this area and be patient up front to make sure Travis can’t go too wild. They don’t do exotic blitzes or anything but will continue to play their brand.
TN: Give us a score prediction. Last I checked the line had moved and the Eagles were 2 point favorites at home. Do you think Boston College stops FSU’s momentum after their win over Miami?
BCI: Something about my happiness and confidence in now not losing the aforementioned over seven win bet makes me worry. I’ve felt unbelievably good about the last two weeks, but will exercise caution this week. I think Vegas is right with a near toss-up. Hoping it’s a bit cold and for former FSU man Jaiden Lars-Woodbey gets to shine. BC 30 - FSU 28
A big thank you to Niraj for taking the time to chat with us! You can find him on Twitter @niraj_patel7. Click here to read our answers to his questions. Don’t forget to check out BC Interruption for your Eagles coverage needs.