Spread: Boston College -13.5
How to Watch / Listen: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on ACC RSN (Fox Sports South in Louisville), 840 AM
Last Time: An unexpected shootout happened last year between Louisville and Boston College. Louisville jumped to an early 21-7 lead in the second quarter, but Boston College turned it around and delivered a gem of a performance.
The Eagles scored 28 unanswered points, relying on an offense that had a lot of success with rollout passes and AJ Dillon. Many will point to this game as AJ Dillon’s coming out party, as the true freshman had 39 carries, 272 yards, four touchdowns and a highlight-reel stiff arm.
The Cards tied it at 42-42 after Lamar Jackson scored a 41-yard rushing touchdown. Jackson finished with 512 total yards (332 passing, 180 rushing) and five touchdowns, but a fumble on Louisville’s last drive gave Boston College the final drive of the game. The Eagles took advantage of a short field and kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired to seal a 45-42 upset of Louisville.
Louisville leads the all-time series 6-4.
The State of the Boston College Eagles
After entering 2017 on the hot seat (and the seat becoming white hot after a 2-4 start that season), head coach Steve Addazio cooled it off with a strong finish. Led by a strong running game (headed by AJ Dillon), the Eagles closed out last season winning five of their last six regular season games. Their 7-5 season earned them a bid in the Pinstripe Bowl, losing to Iowa in the closing minutes.
Entering tomorrow’s game, Boston College is 4-2. Their losses are a 30-13 upset at Purdue, and a 28-23 loss at NC State last week. The Eagles have notable wins at Wake Forest, and at home vs. Temple.
Key Players: RB AJ Dillon, TE Tommy Sweeney, DE Zach Allen, S Lukas Denis
As mentioned, the head of the entire Boston College team centers around star running back AJ Dillon. The then-freshman ended last year with 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns, earning All-ACC First Team honors. He was voted as the Preseason Player of the Year in the ACC, and so far he’s lived up to his billing. Dillon has 652 yards and six touchdowns in five games, averaging 6.15 yards per carry.
What many take away from watching Dillon’s tape is that he is an exceptional athlete, despite standing at six foot and 245 pounds. He can kick his runs into third gear once he gets into the second level, and has deft quickness. He hasn’t shown a lot of versatility in receiving (only four catches this season), but he doesn’t need to be when he is such a force in the backfield.
However, Dillon is currently a game-time decision due to an ankle injury. He missed last week’s game at NC State, but Boston College has a capable backup in junior Ben Glines. Glines offers a little more versatility, but his overall running style is similar to Dillon’s. Glines has 39 carries for 210 yards in his last two games, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in that span. If Dillon somehow can’t go, I’d expect Boston College to be in comfortable hands with Glines.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Boston College’s season is how potent they have been on offense. The Eagles average almost 40 points per game, and part of that is due to Anthony Brown’s growth as a quarterback. Other than a really bad performance at Purdue, he has limited his turnovers and expanded his offense’s potential with a stout intermediate passing game. His top target is undoubtedly tight end Tommy Sweeney, one of the best in the conference and maybe the country. He’ll give Louisville’s linebackers and secondary a lot of fits on Saturday.
On defense, the Eagles are a mixed bag. They rank very highly in a lot of key categories (T-17th in tackles for loss, 15th in sacks and fourth in interceptions), but have had a lot of issues stopping offenses otherwise. They rank 78th in passing defense (232.5 yards per game), and 84th in rushing defense (175.5 yards per game).
If Boston College makes a defensive play, look for defensive end Zach Allen and safety Lukas Denis to be those guys. Both are projected first round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Allen is a huge defensive end (6’5″, 285 pounds), and certainly plays like it. He had 100 tackles last year as a defensive lineman, which is rare at any level of football. He’s got a strong bull-rush at the point of attack, and has the versatility to line up at multiple spots on the line. Allen leads the team with eight tackles for loss, and has 3.5 sacks on the year.
Denis is a ball-hawking safety that can play centerfield very well. He had seven interceptions last year, but so far has one in 2018. He and Will Harris are a solid safety tandem, and I’d expect them to look to take away some of Louisville’s big passes.
- Anthony Brown v. Louisville Defense
Until it is proven on the field, I’m operating under the assumption that AJ Dillon (or Glines) will have another solid outing against Louisville. The Cardinals defensive line continues to struggle at getting any sort of stops, ranking 117th in tackles for loss (22) and 116th in sacks (six). Adding in the fact that Louisville is 118th in rushing defense (231 yards per game), and Boston College is running for 222 yards per game, and all indicators really point towards that happening.
Where Louisville can make up for it, though, is forcing Anthony Brown into mistakes. Brown can take care of the ball, but he is still erratic in accuracy (56.4%) and he’s had a couple of close calls on interceptions. If Louisville’s secondary can reel in a couple of interceptions or force some turnovers, that would give their offense something to work with. If not, then Brown could see a clean pocket and be able to deliver big throws to Tommy Sweeney, as well as receivers Kobay White (15 receptions, 258 yards, three touchdowns) and Jeff Smith (13 receptions, 239 yards, three touchdowns).
- Jawon Pass v. Boston College Defense
Despite the blowout loss last weekend, Jawon Pass is coming off his best performance this season. The quarterback finished 23-of-35 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, and has continued to build momentum in recent weeks to re-solidify himself as the starter.
Compounded by the first point, this is a game that will be decided by quarterback play for both teams. The Eagles defense has pedestrian numbers in yards allowed (78th in passing defense, 84th in rushing defense). They’ve also allowed 80 plays of 10+ yards, and 29 plays of 20+ yards. NC State repeatedly gashed them through the air last week with Ryan Finley delivering darts all over the field. Jawon Pass should have an opportunity for big pass plays against an Eagles defense that allowed 34 points against Wake Forest, and 35 points at home against Temple.
- Louisville Offensive Line v. Boston College Defensive Line
But of course, that is also really dependent on how Louisville’s offensive line performs. They will be going against an Eagles defense that ranks 15th in sacks, and has a pair of stout defensive ends in Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen. What Louisville cannot allow is for the Eagles to have some “plus plays” (ex: tackles for loss, sacks and forced turnovers) that could make up for any big play they would allow.
Louisville’s offensive line is going to shoulder most of the burden, and try to keep their unit from falling behind the chains. If they can keep Pass upright and maintain their blocks, the offense has the potential to turn in a stout performance again. If they don’t, then it could be a long day once again.
One key stat to keep in mind is the turnover margin. Boston College enters tomorrow’s game ranked tenth in the FBS (+7), whereas Louisville is 129th (-10).