Spread: Louisville -14.5, O/U 51 (Bovada)
Kickoff: Noon ET
How to Watch / Listen: ACC Network (TV), 93.9 The Ville (FM)
Louisville took a 28-14 win over Boston College at Cardinal Stadium, on the back of a strong showing from their running game. Both Malik Cunningham and Trevion Cooley had 100-yard games (133 and 112, respectively), with Cunningham scoring three of Louisville’s four touchdowns on the ground. Jalen Mitchell had 67 rushing yards and a touchdown, as the Cardinals rushed for 331 yards on seven yards per carry. The Louisville defense forced three turnovers and held BC to 266 total yards.
Louisville leads the all-time series 8-6, winning five of eight meetings against Boston College since joining the ACC in 2014.
Entering the Game: Boston College
Boston College has stumbled out of the gates to start the 2022 season. The Eagles enter Saturday’s contest with a 1-3 record, their only win coming against Maine. Jeff Hafley enters his third season as head coach of the Eagles, holding a 13-14 record in Chestnut Hill.
Boston College Offense: What to Watch
Phil Jurkovec returned as the starting quarterback for Boston College. He suffered a hand injury that kept him out of multiple games last season, including the Louisville contest. He did manage to return to the field, but struggled in the final four games of the regular season, completing 48.5% of his passes with four touchdowns and interceptions apiece. The numbers have been better so far in 2022 compared to that, as Jurkovec is completing 60.5% of his passes with seven touchdowns. However, he’s struggled with ball security, throwing five interceptions (all coming against FBS competition).
Part of those struggles are misreads on his part, but the offensive line has really struggled through the first month of the season. BC had to replace four starters on the line from last year’s group, their lone returning starter (guard Christian Mahogany) suffered a torn ACL in the summer, and their offensive line coach (Matt Applebaum) left to take the same position with the Miami Dolphins. That’s a lot to lose in one offseason, and BC has definitely felt the effects of it. They currently rank 127th out of 131 FBS schools in sacks allowed (15), and 118th in TFLs allowed (31).
It’s also affected their run game significantly; Pat Garwo was a 1,000 yard rusher last season as pretty much their only back, but this year has only averaged 3.2 yards per carry in four games. Garwo is a strong runner that can get chunks with quality blocking, it just hasn’t materialized yet.
The lack of quality play from the offensive line has also affected Boston College’s ability to maximize its playmakers at wide receivers, possibly the strength of the offense. Zay Flowers is a versatile receiver that can line up outside or inside, and the Eagles want to try and get the ball in his hands as often as possible. He’s averaged almost 16 yards per catch in 2020 and 2021, but so far is just at 11.4 this season. Jaelen Gill (seven catches, 108 yards) is another speedster that can take the top off of defenses, that could be an issue for Louisville if BC is able to buy Jurkovec some time. Louisville will once again have to key on their tight end; Notre Dame transfer George Takacs (16 rec., 166 yards, TD) is a big, reliable target for Jurkovec.
Key Players to Watch: WR Zay Flowers (29 rec., 330 yards, three TDs); QB Phil Jurkovec (60.5% completion, seven TDs, five INTs)
Boston College Defense: What to Watch
Boston College did return most of its starters from last year’s secondary that helped lead the ACC in passing yards allowed per game, but otherwise has struggled to find playmakers to help those guys out.
First and foremost, the Eagles haven’t been successful in creating havoc in recent years. In the prior three seasons, BC has finished 13th (2019), tenth (2020), and 11th (2021) in the ACC in sacks. They have been second-to-last in TFLs forced the last two seasons. Senior defensive end Marcus Valdez returns as the top returning sack man from last season (five), but has logged just one sack this season. BC lost Shitta Sillah to a season-ending shoulder injury, but they have had sophomore EDGE Donovan Ezeiruaku (4.5 TFLs, two sacks, two forced fumbles) occasionally step in to make plays. As a whole, this group does need to get better at generating havoc in order to maximize its potential.
Vinny DePalma and Kam Arnold are a solid 1-2 punch at linebacker, and they’re capable playmakers all around. Kam Arnold does have an interception this season, and he’ll probably be the guy that flies around and does everything needed for BC on Saturday. Jaylen Blackwell (13 tackles, three TFLs, two sacks) has had a solid showing as a true freshman, he could be one to watch in the coming years once DePalma departs.
Now we finally get into what makes Boston College’s defense work; the secondary. Even though Brandon Sebastian departed, they still return solid players like Josh DeBerry, Elijah Jones, and Jaiden Woodbey. DeBerry led the team in TFLs last season (eight) and he’s a guy that isn’t afraid of contact or helping against the run. Woodbey and Elijah Jones are disruptive players that can make plays in coverage. Jones leads the team in pass breakups (five) and matching last season’s total already.
Key Players to Watch: LB Vinny DePalma (32 tackles, 3.0 TFLs), DB Elijah Jones (15 tackles, five PBUs, INT), DB Jaiden Woodbey (26 tackles, three PBUs)
Keys to the Game:
Can Louisville’s front seven stymie the Boston College offense?
This key to the game is almost too obvious. Louisville’s front seven has to set the tone against Boston College and keep Jurkovec from getting the ball to his playmakers. I’d hope for Louisville’s defense to continue dialing up the pressure and forcing Jurkovec to make a quick decision with the ball, whether that’s throwing it away or into coverage.
Something of note that I should point out: Louisville currently is outpacing last year’s totals in both sacks and TFLs, logging 13 and 32 in both categories, respectively (Louisville had 11 sacks and 26 TFLs through its first four games last year). At this point I’d expect Yaya Diaby, Ashton Gillotte and Yasir Abdullah to be their usual playmaking selves, but this is a game where I could see Dorian Jones or Dezmond Tell (or anyone playing nose tackle) to make a big difference. Getting some interior disruption should allow Louisville to shut down the run game and force Boston College to be one-dimensional, something that they have struggled with up to this point.
And to extend on that point, Louisville will need to work on avoiding letting the big plays happen. The boom that Louisville provides in negative plays is almost null-and-void if a team is able to convert lengthy third downs. The next two weeks against Boston College and Virginia should give Louisville a chance to work on that, heading into what’s shaping up to be a tough second half of the regular season.
Will Louisville’s offense continue to exercise its creativity?
Louisville’s Malik Cunningham has had 133 rushing yards in each of his last two games against Boston College, but has completed 58% of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions in that span. Against an Eagles defense that can make plays against the secondary, this is going to be a test for Louisville to gain its footing in the passing game.
My main thing to watch is if Louisville can continue to be dynamic in its playcalling, as it’s shown in the last two games against Florida State and USF. Pop passes, counter runs and pass concepts attacking all three levels of the field were all on display for Louisville, and it’s going to have to continue throughout the season. Maybe Louisville can run more screens or pop passes to get the ball into playmakers’ hands. Guys like Ahmari Huggins-Bruce and Trevion Cooley have already shown that they can make a play if their number is called, so let’s make an effort to get some of these guys more deliberately involved.
Cunningham should still be a key part of the offense, as he can make some throws and a dynamic runner himself. I’d expect to continue to utilize their running game and use everybody at their disposal, as they did last year. Louisville has had 225+ rushing yards in each of its last three games with 5+ yards per carry, this could be a big game for Louisville’s ground attack.