To say that the Eagles entered the 2020 football season with a few questions would be quite the understatement.
Head coach Steve Addazio was fired after another season hovering around .500, and replaced by Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.
Three-year starter Anthony Brown opted to transfer to Oregon, leaving a hole at QB.
AJ Dillon, BC’s all-time leading rusher who seemed to single-handedly carry the offense at times, was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say that BC has come out looking better than many have expected. The concerns brought about by a tumultuous offseason have been alleviated and the Eagles are playing exciting football.
In our COVID-shortened season, we have reached the halfway point of the year, and the Eagles currently sit at a 4-2 record ahead of a huge matchup with Clemson in Death Valley. Both losses came against ranked opponents (UNC and Virginia Tech), with the wins coming against Duke, Texas State, Pitt, and Georgia Tech.
With the team heading into the second half of the season, it’s a good time to look back at how the first six games have fared to see what's been good and what hasn’t.
It’d be impossible to talk about the first six games without mentioning Phil Jurkovec.
The transfer from Notre Dame has emerged as an offensive stud and has put up stellar numbers, making it hard to believe that the starting position was ever in question. Through six games, Jurkovec has thrown for 1,671 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, to go along with 109 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns.
He currently ranks 3rd in the ACC in total offensive yards per game, and has really helped solidify what could have easily been a disastrous offense. It’s a small sample size, but you have to be excited about how Jurkovec has played so far, and even more so when you remember that he’s only played six games as a starter in an offense he will only get more comfortable with.
However, Jurkovec is certainly not the only one responsible for BC’s offensive success. Namely, the dynamic duo of Hunter Long and Zay Flowers have been elite weapons for Jurkovec and are putting up excellent numbers.
After opening up the season by absolutely shredding the Blue Devils, Flowers has accumulated 473 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns on the year, including an 162 yard, 3 touchdown effort against Pitt to help BC squeak out a win against the Panthers. The Sophomore from Florida makes up for his relatively small stature with his blistering speed, becoming an invaluable part of Jeff Hafley’s offense.
The other piece of this two-headed monster is tight end Hunter Long, who is too big to cover and too fast to outrun. Hunter has emerged as one of Jurkovec’s favorite targets, accumulating 455 receiving yards which is most by a tight end not just in the ACC, but in the entire nation.
Flowers and Long, who rank 4th and 5th in receiving yards in the ACC respectively, are critical to the success of Jurkovec and the offense as a whole. In order for the Eagles to continue playing at the level they have been, these two are going to have to continue being the dominant receiving threats they have been so far.
While there’s certainly a lot to be excited about, I’m sure coach Hafley is aware of some areas his team can improve, and I think that the two areas in most dire need of work reared their ugly heads in BC’s two losses.
For one, penalties have been killer in some games for the Eagles. Against UNC (who won after a failed two-point try by BC that would’ve tied the game), the Eagles had 12 penalties for 110 yards, and gave the Tarheels free first downs on multiple occasions.
The Eagles played well enough to weather that storm and stay in it until the very end, but this is certainly not a formula for success and they can’t afford to make these mistakes if they expect to win against top 25 teams.
The other issue that showed itself in the game against Virginia Tech, where the Eagles were, to put it bluntly, thrashed by the Hokies. In that game, David Bailey led the team with a mere 41 rushing yards. So far, the Eagles are averaging less than 50 yards per game on the ground.
It has been quite the surprise to see such low numbers, considering the fact that the Eagle’s boast one of the best offensive lines in the country starring Tyler Vrabel and Ben Petrula. Even more puzzling is the fact that running back David Bailey, AJ Dillon’s successor, is certainly no scrub.
On the other end of the ball, BC’s run defense has been hovering around the middle of the pack. In both their losses, the Eagles let up an average of 263 yards on the ground, and the lack of answers for opposing run games proved to be a deciding factor.
Adding a run game to an already dynamic offense would take pressure off receivers, adding a run defense to an already excellent pass defense would force more turnovers and keep the offense on the field, and dialing it down on the penalties speaks for itself.
They’re minor issues, but Jeff Hafley is looking to get the Eagles playing like a top 25 team, and they will have to be addressed in order to make sure that happens.
Looking back on the 2019 Eagles seems like you’re watching an entirely different team. Hafley has instituted a new culture that you don’t have to be a member of the team to understand. The Eagles are playing at a high level of football and with a lot of energy, and aside from some minor hiccups along the way, they have looked like a legitimate team that can hold its own with the best of them.
Best of all, this team will only improve from here as the players continue to mesh and get better, and the team is certainly not playing like a squad that’s in the midst of a rebuild. So far, BC has surprised many experts around the country, many of which expected BC to be a bottomfeeder of the ACC as Hafley got acclimated to his new surroundings.
If the Eagles can keep this momentum going into the coming weeks, I don’t think anyone is going to be disappointed at how this season turns out. The first test of the second half of the year is going to be a tough one in Death Valley, but whatever the outcome may be, you have to be excited about the next few weeks and the future of football on the Heights.
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