Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Spread: Louisville -6, O/U 57 (Bovada)
Three turnovers doomed Louisville in a 34-27 loss to Boston College. The Eagles scored its first ten points off lost fumbles by the Cardinals, and an interception thwarted Louisville’s potential game-tying drive. David Bailey (53 rushing yards) and Dennis Grosel (4/7, 44 yards) each had two touchdowns. Louisville was led by Malik Cunningham’s 429 total yards (296 pass / 133 rush), along with Dez Fitzpatrick’s career-high 182 receiving yards.
Louisville leads the all-time series 7-6. Boston College has won three of the last four in the series, dating back to 2017.
2021 Boston College Eagles at a Glance
After starting the season 4-0 with notable wins over Missouri and Temple, Boston College has dropped its last two to Clemson (19-13) and NC State (33-7). The Eagles head into Saturday’s contest with a 4-2 record, but 0-2 in ACC play.
Boston College Offense Breakdown
The Boston College offense took a huge hit when quarterback Phil Jurkovec was sidelined with a season-ending injury in early September. Jurkovec was projected to be one of the best quarterbacks in a loaded ACC, and possibly the most talented quarterback that BC has had since Matt Ryan.
Dennis Grosel, however, has had plenty of experience against Louisville. He played in the 2019 game and completed 9-of-24 passes for 111 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-39 loss to the Cardinals, and again in the 2020 win over Louisville (both times off the bench). He’s been up-and-down with accuracy this season, completing under 60% of his passes in all but one start this season. He can move around in the pocket and buy time with an elite offensive line protecting him, but the accuracy has remained a weakness so far.
Boston College’s passing game is once again spearheaded by Zay Flowers. Flowers is a dynamic receiver that can make plays at any level and play slot or outside, but due to the inconsistency surrounding their passing game, hasn’t had much of a chance to showcase that. Without Jurkovec in the starting lineup, Flowers has had 16 receptions for 217 yards in a four-game stretch (13 of those receptions in a two-game stretch against Missouri and Clemson). He has, however, averaged 15.9 yards per reception against Louisville in his career, so naturally he will be one to watch given Louisville’s struggles with containing the intermediate passing game in recent games.
Trae Barry has filled in nicely for Hunter Long this season, as he’s second on the team in receptions and yards while also tied for the team lead in touchdowns. Much like Flowers, though, his ability to showcase his talent has been limited by an inconsistent passing game in recent weeks.
Boston College’s running game has looked a lot better than last year with a strong offensive line, along with the emergence of Pat Garwo III. Garwo is averaging over six yards per carry and has already surpassed David Bailey’s team-high 503 yards from last season. He’s a balanced runner with great vision to get to the second level and cut back on runs, which could be challenging for Louisville.
The offensive line has a lot of veterans in the group and a majority of them are either really talented or have very promising futures. Alec Lindstrom is likely heading towards another all-conference season at center, he’s been a mainstay on the Boston College offensive line since 2019. Ben Petrula is a two-time All-ACC selection at right tackle with over 50 starts to his credit; he and left tackle Tyler Vrabel (over 30 career starts, two-time All-ACC honorable mention) have been very effective at sealing off the edges for Boston College. Even if Louisville brings a more aggressive defensive scheme to the table on Saturday, Boston College’s line is going to present a significant challenge.
Players to Watch: QB Dennis Grosel (59% completion, 982 passing yards, five TDs, five INTs); WR Zay Flowers (25 rec., 352 yards, two TDs); TE Trae Berry (16 receptions, 255 yards, three TDs)
Boston College Defense Breakdown
Boston College heads into Saturday with a defense that is 35th in total yards per game (328.8 YPG), 41st against the rush, and 38th against the pass. But the defense has shown struggles against teams with competent to good passing games, giving up over 250 passing yards to Missouri and NC State in two of the last three games.
They have done a decent job mainly at stopping the run, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry. However, Boston College is currently ranked last in the ACC in tackles for loss (23), and second-worst among Power Five schools in that category. Against a Louisville offensive line that is 11th in TFLs allowed (25) and 19th in sacks allowed (eight), this is a plus matchup for the Cardinals on paper.
The linebackers and secondary do have some solid players, though. Isaiah Graham-Mobley leads the team with 38 total tackles, he can move around and do a little bit of everything solidly. Vinny DePalma (19 tackles) has the team lead with two forced fumbles, with Kam Arnold (28 tackles) having a forced fumble as well.
Brandon Sebastian and Jahmin Muse headline a veteran group in the secondary that can make plays. Sebastian is tied for the team lead in interceptions this year, while Muse led the team last year in that category. Josh DeBerry is also tied with Sebastian for the team lead in interceptions this year, and also second on the team in tackles (29) with a team-high three tackles for loss.
Players to Watch: DB Brandon Sebastian (11 tackles, two PBUs, two INTs); DB Josh DeBerry (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, INT); LB Isaiah Graham-Mobley (38 tackles)
Keys to the Game
- What adjustments has Louisville’s defense made coming off bye week?
Easily the most frustrating aspect of Louisville’s 3-3 season has been the defense, and most of the criticism has centered around Louisville’s frequent use of a three-man rush in huge situations. There are other issues that have caused Louisville’s defensive woes such as tackling and third-down defense, but the frequent three-man rush has been a talking point for a while.
For this game, a huge chunk of the focus for everyone is going to be how this defense plays after a bye week. It’ll be interesting to see if Louisville can rush not just four guys, but utilize blitz packages more. Louisville’s typically been at its best when it has mixed up blitz packages, albeit the defense itself has still had struggles. If they can get pressure on Grosel and commit to bringing pressure more often, the possibility for a few turnovers is there.
- Will Louisville’s running game balance out the offense?
I am also looking at the offense to possibly make tweaks coming off the bye week. The offense has generally been good in the last three games, but I am curious to see if they are going to utilize Hassan Hall more. Louisville’s running game was at its best in the second half against Virginia with Hall taking the majority of the carries, with the speedy back hitting gaps and going for big plays. If Louisville can get a full game’s worth of that to complement Cunningham’s improved play, the offense is going to be even better in the second half of the season. This especially carries weight since they will be facing five top-35 defenses in the next six games (Boston College 35th; NC State 12th; Clemson 24th; Syracuse 20th; Kentucky 31st).
- Can Louisville continue to stretch the field vertically?
Even though Boston College is top-35 nationally in total defense, it has some issues with stopping the passing game. In their last three games, the Eagles have allowed over seven yards per attempt, including 10.5 in the blowout loss to NC State last week.
With Louisville being very solid in utilizing its intermediate and deep passing game, combined with its theorized plus-matchup on the line, this could be a game where Malik Cunningham can stretch the field once again and test the Boston College secondary. Not only is Boston College last in the ACC in TFLs, it is also last in sacks (eight). Outside of the Temple and Colgate games, Boston College has had just two sacks in the remaining four games. A clean pocket should allow Cunningham enough time to find something downfield, similar to how Louisville beat Boston College in 2019.