Football, Top Story

Despite Defensive Lapses and Special Teams Errors, Eagles Outlast Temple

In many ways, this year’s iteration of Boston College football is more talented than any other group of Eagles that Steve Addazio has coached during his six-year tenure. That said, BC still has its shortcomings—the most glaring of which were perfectly exemplified in the span of 19 seconds amid the first quarter of Saturday’s Parents’ Weekend matchup against Temple.

Out of the shotgun, Ryquell Armstead—who finished with a career-high four rushing scores—received a handoff and burst through both the trenches and the arms of a charging Lukas Denis. With a sea of green in front of him, the 5-foot-11 back zig-zagged his way to the end zone, scoring the Owls’ first touchdown of the afternoon. Moments later, Michael Walker coughed up the rock on the kickoff return, and Temple’s Isaiah Graham-Mobley converted the 20-yard scoop and score.

Poor run defense, missed tackles, and special teams errors were once again hampering the Eagles and, quite frankly, had a lot of people inside Alumni Stadium questioning whether BC was on its way to dropping its second-consecutive game. A missed extra point, Denis’s targeting ejection, and a couple three-and-outs were no vote of confidence.

Luckily for the Eagles, the ball eventually bounced their way. Trailing, 21-13, Anthony Russo’s pass ricocheted off the hands of Freddie Johnson and into the arms of a lurking Hamp Cheevers. The takeaway changed the entire complexion of the game. BC went on to score 18 points in the final four and a half minutes of the second quarter and, despite a number of concerning injuries and defensive inconsistencies, the Eagles never relinquished their halftime lead, defeating Temple, 45-35.

A week removed from his worst career performance as a starter, A.J. Dillon wasted no time fooling around with the Temple (2-3, 1-0 American Athletic) defense. Rather than testing the edge like he did against Purdue, the sophomore running back did what he does best: plow through the trenches. Dillon bullied his way downfield, play after play. The drive was almost for naught, though.

On 3rd-and-10, Anthony Brown tossed a pass into double coverage that was nearly intercepted by Delvon Randall. Rather than kicking a field goal from 39 yards out, Addazio kept his guys on the field. He didn’t even budge after Aaron Monteiro was called for a false state. Fortunately for the sixth-year Eagles (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) coach, Brown came through in the clutch and delivered a 17-yard pass to Kobay White. Soon after, he rolled right—drawing practically the entire defense’s attention—and threw left, locating a wide-open Tommy Sweeney for the game’s first touchdown.

It wasn’t long before the Owls erased the seven-point deficit. In fact, it was two plays into their next drive that Armstead ripped off his 75-yard score. Factor in Temple’s subsequent special teams touchdown—one that marked the program’s fifth-straight game with a non-offensive scoring play this season—and BC suddenly found itself in a hole.  

“There was a 14-point swing right there,” Addazio told reporters following the game. “That made this game what this game was to the bitter end. I think if we didn’t have that, we could have really pulled away with our physicality.”

The way Dillon was running, Addazio might have been right. The Heisman Trophy candidate matched his previous week’s rushing total with less than five minutes to go in the opening frame. Charging downhill, Dillon set the stage for a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Smith—Brown’s 12th of the season, one more than he recorded in 10 starts last year.

The scoring play was good for six, and only six—John Tessitore missed the extra point, a rather common occurrence. Since taking over for Colton Lichtenberg in Week Two, the freshman place kicker has missed a point after attempt in every game he’s played. Addazio had seen enough. From that point forward, kickoff specialist Danny Longman shouldered the field goal duties.

It would take a little while for the Eagles to make up for the special teams folly. Temple, on the other hand, didn’t have much of a wait before it got back on the board. Russo made a couple of pressure-cooked throws, most notably a 20-yard pass to a smothered Ventell Bryant right around the goal line. The very next play, Armstead bounced outside for a 1-yard score.

Soon enough, the Owls’ offense, namely Russo, came back down to earth. The redshirt sophomore was picked off by Cheevers and Taj-Amir Torres on back-to-back possessions. With a chance to shift momentum, BC capitalized. First, an untouched Dillon rumbled 52 yards to the end zone. Then, on the next series, the sophomore squeezed his way past the line of scrimmage, crossed the goal line, and somersaulted into the end zone.

Michael Walker, who racked up 123 return yards on the day, nearly broke loose on the ensuing Temple punt, gifting the Eagles with excellent field position. BC couldn’t string together its third-straight touchdown drive—instead Addazio settled for a 26-yard field goal, the Eagles’ first field goal attempt of the season. Longman drilled the kick right down the middle, handing BC a 31-21 advantage entering intermission.

It appeared as if everything was going the Eagles’ way. That was, until the 14-minute mark of the third quarter. Dillon, who was on pace to rush for well over 200 yards, was wrapped up at the line of scrimmage and tumbled to the ground after Temple defensive tackle Michael Dogbe fell on the running back’s left leg. Alumni Stadium went silent as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year rolled on the turf, holding his left ankle. About a minute later, it looked like Kobay White suffered a strikingly similar injury after hauling in a reception near the sideline. He too limped off the field. To make matters worse, the three-and-out ended with Grant Carlson fumbling the snap and the Owls recovering the loose ball in BC territory.

The Eagles might have been missing their best player, but they still had the other number two on the opposite side of the ball—with a sack fumble, Zach Allen immediately flipped the field. BC made the most of the opportunity, ultimately reaching the end zone on a play that modeled that of the fabled Philly Special. Brown tossed the ball to Travis Levy, who then pitched the rock to a motioning Jeff Smith. Originally a quarterback, the senior dialed up his sixth career touchdown pass, hitting Brown for six.

Russo only completed 44.4 percent of his pass attempts, but, of his 20 completions, several were praiseworthy—including his 30-yard connection with Wright that got the Owls back in the game. Before being mauled by Allen, the underclassman quarterback released a pass down the right sideline. Backpedaling, Wright—who had Will Harris beat—caught the ball before being pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Armstead finished the job, punching the rock in for six.

Without Dillon, BC’s offense wasn’t nearly as explosive. The Eagles’ failure to extend their lead simply provided Temple the chance to march 83 yards downfield for yet another touchdown. Armstead rounded out the 14-play, five-minute drive by galloping into the end zone, cutting the Owls’ deficit to three.

The only one stopping Temple’s offense was Allen, who brought down Russo with one arm to record his second pivotal sack of the afternoon. The hero of the game, though, wasn’t an NFL prospect—it was wide receiver-running back hybrid Ben Glines. The redshirt junior totaled 117 rushing yards in the final two quarters of play and single-handedly fueled the Eagles’ final scoring drive. Glines carried the ball six times on the series and effectively put Temple to bed with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. After the game, Allen called Glines a warrior.

“I really try to pride myself off of being a gritty type of player,” Glines said. “I’ll do the dirty work—I’ll do whatever I can to win games. It’s what I try to create in my football persona.”  

Temple turned the ball over on downs, and BC ran out the clock to improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2009. Still, a bevy of questions surround the program, especially concerning the health of Dillon and White, as well as Smith—who left the game in the fourth quarter after taking an upper-body hit on an incomplete pass.

Over the course of the last three weeks, the Eagles have conceded an average of 445.3 yards per game. Unlike past years, the offense has masked defensive deficiencies. But without even one of the aforementioned playmakers, that unit could also face its own fair share of challenges.

Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor

Photos by Celine Lim, Jess Rivilis, and Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor and Heights Staff

September 29, 2018