Kickoff: 4:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Spread: Boston College -1, O/U 55.0 (Bovada)
In a back and forth tilt, Louisville and Boston College put on a show at Cardinal Stadium with potent offenses. Both teams combined for over 1,200 total yards and 80 points, including Louisville having a season high 664 yards (428 passing). Javian Hawkins had 172 yards on the ground with a touchdown, while Seth Dawkins (170 yards, TD), Tutu Atwell (110), and Dez Fitzpatrick (108) all had 100+ yards receiving. Blanton Creque’s 41-yard field goal with 1:02 left gave Louisville a thrilling 41-39 win over Boston College, their first conference win since November 2017.
Louisville leads the all-time series 7-5.
Meet the 2020 Boston College Eagles
Despite going 6-6 and reaching a bowl game for the sixth time in seven seasons, Boston College decided to part ways with head coach Steve Addazio at the end of the regular season. Their coaching search led to the hire of Jeff Hafley, whose last stop was the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for Ohio State in 2019.
Boston College enters Saturday’s game with a 5-4 record, alternating losses and wins with a 3-4 stretch in their last seven games.
Offensive Players to Know: QB Phil Jurkovec, WR Zay Flowers, TE Hunter Long
Boston College’s offense had a ton of questions surrounding it heading into the 2020 season. One big one was who would take over as the starting quarterback for the Eagles, after incumbent starter Anthony Brown decided to transfer to Oregon?
The answer came when Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec was granted a waiver, thus clearing him to play this season. Jurkovec came to Boston College after two years of very limited playing time at Notre Dame, and has been one of the top breakout players in the whole conference. He’s completed nearly 60% of his passes with a 17:5 TD-to-INT ratio, but has been all over the place in terms of accuracy. He’s had five games of over 61% completion, but four of his last six have seen him complete under 55%.
Next question, who was going to be the key cog in the offense? This was especially important with Boston College undergoing a radical change in offensive philosophy. The Eagles ran the ball 68% of the time in 2019, and 62% of the time in 2018 and 2017. Boston College was justified in leaning on AJ Dillon and David Bailey as power backs to wear down opposing defenses, but they had built an identity with their smashmouth style under Addazio before those two arrived.
The running game this year hasn’t been as effective as years past. David Bailey only has 450 yards and 3.85 yards per carry, with just one 100-yard game (Syracuse). He’s a straight forward power back that can get the job done between the tackles, and he did have a 100-yard game against Louisville in 2018. Travis Levy is the backup and is a more versatile back in Boston College’s system, able to handle receiving duties and showing some reliability in that department (24 rec., 151 yds in 2020).
With Hafley moving the offense more towards a balanced approach, the passing game has actually provided the most spark. Receiver Zay Flowers is hands down the most notable of Boston College’s group, a dangerous playmaker at all three levels of the field. Flowers spent the offseason working with Antonio Brown (h/t Boston Globe) and has been showing it on the field with his catch radius and versatility. They will use him on deep routes and give him designed plays on jet sweeps a few times in a game, so Louisville will have to key on him almost every play.
With Kobay White missing the 2020 season due to an ACL injury, tight end Hunter Long has had to be the second option for Boston College’s passing game. He leads the team in receptions (47) and had a long touchdown reception last year against the Cardinals. Among all tight ends in the FBS, Long leads the country in receiving yards (560) and receptions.
Defensive Players to Know: DB Brandon Sebastian, LB Max Richardson, LB Isaiah McDuffie
The Eagles mix up their looks with three and four down linemen and bring some blitzes on occasion, but their big strength lies in the back seven of the defense. Their defensive backs can make a ton of plays on the ball, especially cornerback Brandon Sebastian. Sebastian has nine PBUs on the season, tied for first overall in that category with Louisville’s Kei’Trel Clark. Josh DeBerry and Elijah Jones also have five PBUs apiece, and Jahmin Muse leads the team with two interceptions.
Linebackers Isaiah McDuffie and Max Richardson are two of the top three leading tacklers in the conference with 87 and 85, respectively. McDuffie is a pretty well-rounded linebacker that first emerged as a key special teams ace. Now, he is an important piece on the defense. He’ll likely stick to Marshon Ford or Duane Martin in coverage, or join Richardson in containing Louisville’s run game.
Richardson also has eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks (32 career TFLs heading into Saturday), he’ll constantly fly to the ball all game and is very consistent. With Louisville still in flux with their running back situation, I could see Richardson posing a problem for Louisville’s running game.
Points of Emphasis:
- Can Louisville matchup with Zay Flowers and Hunter Long?
It’s very easy to dismiss a team’s standing because of a 3-6 record. But what if I told you that Louisville is number one in the entire ACC in passing yards allowed per game?
That is 100% true. Let me repeat that again: Louisville is currently #1 in the ACC in passing yards allowed per game. They are also #3 in opposing completion percentage, and the only two ahead of them are Clemson and Notre Dame.
It is a rare strength versus strength matchup on Louisville’s defense, and arguably Louisville’s toughest challenge in the passing game since the Miami game two months ago. I think tight end Hunter Long is going to present some matchup problems that Virginia Tech and Miami were able to exploit against Louisville. He could be due for a big day again.
Zay Flowers is going to be a real challenge for Louisville as well. They haven’t had to face a ton of receivers that can take the top off like he can, nor with the versatility that he brings, and especially with a quarterback that has a big arm like Jurkovec. Boston College also has a couple of receivers outside of Flowers in CJ Lewis and Jaelen Gill that can stretch the field, with Lewis averaging 17.3 yards per reception. Louisville will have to play great coverage against Boston College to get off the field, particularly on third downs.
- Can Malik Cunningham rebound with a clean game?
Malik Cunningham has struggled with turnovers as of late, throwing six interceptions and fumbling multiple times in the last three games. A lot of it is forcing throws into really tight windows, while also trying to make a huge play instead of taking what the defense gives.
Facing an opportunistic Boston College secondary, Cunningham has to be mindful of the ball and not force it into open windows. Their secondary has been prone with over seven yards per attempt allowed in four of the last five games, and Louisville definitely has the receivers to exploit that with Tutu Atwell, Braden Smith, and Dez Fitzpatrick. However, it all comes down to whether or not Cunningham can go through progressions, find the open receiver, and stay on the field.
- How much of an impact will Boston College linebackers have?
One trend for Boston College has defined them recently; in their last two wins, the Eagles have had four sacks apiece. But in their last three losses, they have two sacks total. They also allowed over 250 rushing yards to Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in that stretch, but have also had three games of under 106 rushing yards allowed during it.
Louisville’s running game has to achieve some sort of balance against Boston College. They cannot be forced into being one dimensional, or the turnover bug could rear its ugly head once again. It ultimately comes down to whether or not they can keep the linebackers McDuffie and Richardson from wreaking havoc and stopping the zone running game. They are also threats as blitzers as Boston College likes to create different looks and confuse quarterbacks, which Louisville has struggled with passing while under pressure.
The offensive line will have to do its part and not only give Cunningham a clean pocket, but also create lanes for its running back committee and thus have balance in its run and passing game.