Spread: Louisville -4
Kickoff: 12:30 ET, Fox Sports Ohio, ACC Network Xtra
Many will argue that this was the last competitive game Louisville football had in 2018. Despite trailing 14-0 early in the first quarter, Louisville would score 20 unanswered points to take a 20-14 lead with 9:37 left in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, Boston College would go on a 24-0 run from there to take a 38-20 win over the Cardinals. David Bailey and Ben Glines carried the running game in lieu of A.J. Dillon’s absence, each rushing for over 100 yards and scoring a touchdown. The Eagles also took the lead on a blocked punt in the second quarter, and nearly doubled the Cardinals in total yardage (430-217).
Louisville leads the all-time series 6-5.
Meet the 2019 Boston College Eagles:
The 2018 Boston College squad spent the season flirting with occasional top 25 appearances. The Eagles did make one appearance in mid-September, but were promptly blown out by Purdue to throw them right back out of it. They would lose at N.C. State two weeks after, but three straight wins against Louisville, Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech put them back in it.
Three straight losses, however, put the Eagles back out of it to close the regular season. It has sort of snowballed for them since mid-November. The Eagles didn’t even get a chance to play their bowl game due to inclement weather, and Boston College already has two losses to Wake Forest and Kansas. The Kansas loss is particularly damning because it was the first Power Five road win for the Jayhawks since 2008.
Entering Saturday’s game, Boston College is 3-2 with a 1-1 conference record.
Key Offensive Players: RB A.J. Dillon, WR Kobay White
If you’ve watched Boston College football since Louisville joined the ACC, their identity immediately jumps at you. They will run the ball, run it some more, and try to shut you down with smashmouth defense.
At the head of the team this year is once again A.J. Dillon, who returns as one of the best running backs in the country. You might think of Dillon as a power back after having seen him throw one of the nastiest stiff arms this decade, but his speed should be the most impressive thing on film. At six-foot and 250 pounds, Dillon reminds me of Michael Bush in that both have/had tremendous athleticism and speed for their size. He has great vision to hit gaps that can appear on the opposite side of the field, and he has been getting used more frequently in the passing game.
Despite dealing with injuries throughout 2018, Dillon still managed to tally over 1100 yards and ten touchdowns. He did miss last year’s game against Louisville with that injury, but that didn’t stop both David Bailey and Ben Glines from running for over 100 yards each against the Cardinals. But make no mistake about it, the best version of Boston College is when Dillon can get his normal 20-25 touches per game.
The Eagles have built an identity around their strong running backs, but new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian is looking to bring their passing game up to speed. So far, early returns suggest that quarterback Anthony Brown has improved from his first two years as BC’s starter. The three-year starter has raised his yards per attempt from 5.3 and 7.4 in 2017 and 2018, to 8.1 entering Saturday’s game. Brown has also upped his accuracy to 58% and has an 8/2 TD/INT ratio through five games.
A big part of that is the multiple playmakers that Brown and the BC offense has at wide receiver. Kobay White returns for another season, and he is once again among the team leaders in receiving (11 catches, 166 yards, one touchdown). Both he and freshman Zay Flowers (nine catches, 161 yards, two touchdowns) give the Eagles a chance to stretch the field vertically, which is a blessing given that the team had to replace star tight end Tommy Sweeney in the offseason.
Key Defensive Players: LB Max Richardson, DB Mike Palmer
The 2019 Eagles needed to find new playmakers on defense after losing a ton on that side of the ball the last two seasons. Boston College was able to get steady production from Wyatt Ray and Zach Allen after losing Harold Landry to the NFL Draft the year prior, and they did get a steady supply of turnovers with guys like Hamp Cheevers in the secondary.
So far, Boston College is still looking for answers in the front seven. The Eagles currently have five sacks on the season (tied for 113th in the FBS), and among Power Five teams, only Rutgers and Arizona are worse. Their 2.5% sack rate puts them 125th in the FBS, according to Football Outsiders. The defensive line grades out fine in advanced analytics for run defense, but missed tackles have resulted in Boston College allowing 183 rushing yards per game (102nd in the FBS).
Linebacker Max Richardson is a guy that stands out on tape when you watch Boston College’s defense. He currently leads the team with 1.5 sacks, 49 tackles and six tackles for loss. He’s got a nose for the football and can disrupt plays with good instincts in stuffing the run. Against a Louisville team that will be running the ball most of the time, he will be a huge difference in how the game ultimately pans out.
Despite the lackluster totals from their defensive line, Boston College remains one of the best in the country at forcing turnovers. The eight interceptions by BC currently ranks third in the FBS through five games, and their +8 margin is tied for second in the country. Five of those came in the first two games against Virginia Tech and Richmond, but they did show the capacity to make plays against better passing teams like Kansas and Wake Forest.
Part of that is also due to the returning starters Boston College has in the secondary. Mehdi El Attrach (one interception, 35 tackles) and Brandon Sebastian (one interception, 22 tackles) come back in the secondary, with Mike Palmer leading the team with two interceptions.
How Will Louisville Front Seven Handle A.J. Dillon?
Louisville’s speed-oriented front seven on defense has faced a lot of quality running backs so far, but likely won’t see any with the combination of size and speed that A.J. Dillon has. Both Dillon and backup David Bailey hover around 240-250 pounds, which is bigger than most of Louisville’s linebackers and even around the size of some Louisville defensive linemen in their 3-4 scheme (ex: starter Amonte Caban is listed at 6’1″, 256 pounds).
Therein lies the biggest question; how will Louisville’s front seven handle the big, stout Boston College running game? They will have to find ways to get creative with their rush and prevent the Dillon/Bailey duo from hitting the gap and falling forward for a few yards. Gang tackling is especially important, and Satterfield made note of that in his Monday press conference.
Will Boston College Push the Ball Downfield Against Louisville?
Boston College’s formula to their last two wins against Louisville has been simple; run the ball effectively, parlay that into a good play-action pass, and be as physical as possible.
In phase two of that gameplan, Boston College’s passing game has been very rudimentary. Boston College killed Louisville repeatedly with the play-action flat concept in 2017, and did so at a less frequent rate last year.
But one area that the Eagles have tried to make strides towards in 2018 is a more vertical passing game. We noted earlier that Anthony Brown has upped his yards per attempt over his three-year career at Boston College, and is at its highest right now with an 8.1 YPA under new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. Brown also having reliable playmakers outside with Kobay White and Zay Flowers also helps to bolster their passing game.
Whether or not Boston College is able to run efficiently at the level they have the last two years against the Cardinals, they should have some opportunities to push it downfield more than they have. Louisville struggled at times in the second half against Western Kentucky, and just came off a game against Florida State where both James Blackman and Alex Hornibrook had their way with the Cardinals secondary multiple times throughout the game. They’re also one of two teams in the FBS without an interception heading into October, which is encouraging for Boston College.
Louisville’s QB Situation
For the third straight game, Louisville’s health at quarterback is going to be the focus of their offense. Jawon Pass is still dealing with a nagging injury, and Malik Cunningham was carted off on the final play at Florida State two weeks ago.
But one encouraging note during Scott Satterfield’s press conference on Monday was that Cunningham was practicing on Sunday. With Pass still dealing with a nagging turf toe injury, that would likely indicate Cunningham will once again start on Saturday.
If Cunningham starts, the big question will be how he builds off his career day against the Seminoles. Cunningham threw for a career-high 286 yards and two touchdowns at Florida State, but also struggled with accuracy issues and trying to make plays happen too often with his feet. Boston College has been susceptible to a big pass play, as evidenced by their last three games (Kansas, Rutgers, Wake Forest). Boston College allowed almost nine yards per attempt to Kansas and Rutgers, with the Jayhawks being able to complete 74% of its passes and most of them being downfield.
That’s where Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick can come in handy. If they get open and hit some big gains against the Eagles defense, it can open up opportunities for the running game and gives Louisville’s offense the potential to pile on points.
One benefit to Cunningham starting is that it elevates the “boom” potential for Louisville’s offense. Due to Cunningham’s ability as a scrambler, their running game has more to work with, and that’s a good thing given Boston College is allowing 183 rushing yards per game (102nd in the FBS). There’s also the possibility with his scrambling that he could avoid pressure against Boston College better than he did against Florida State, and that’s just going off the fact that Boston College only has five sacks so far. That would give him some time to go through his progressions and hit throws more consistently.