Season in Review: 2018 Football

Lightning struck, and what had once felt like a monumental season for Boston College football turned into yet another seven-win campaign—the Eagles’ fifth in the past six years. There’s no doubt that the cancellation of the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl and BC’s three-game losing streak to cap the regular season put a damper on the team’s early-season success, but it’s important to remember the milestones that the Eagles reached in the first 10 weeks of the season. After all, BC featured its highest scoring offense since 1993, cracked the AP Poll for the first time in 10 years, made its first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff rankings, hosted College GameDay with ACC title aspirations, and boasted 13 All-ACC selections—the second most of any team in the conference.

Every game of the year was jam packed with twists and turns, and Wednesday’s bowl—which culminated in the NCAA’s first-ever postseason weather cancellation—was no exception. Although ultimately disappointing, the 2018 season provided BC students, fans, and alumni with more excitement than any other 12 or 13-game slate the school has seen in the past nine or so years—and while that might not show up on paper, it certainly counts for something.  

Best Moment: Second-Half Comeback in Blacksburg Locks Up College GameDay

It was a tall task for the Eagles to follow up their Red Bandana Game victory over Miami with a road trip to Lane Stadium—the same place BC was handed a 49-point shutout just two years prior, the program’s worst loss since 1950. In the win over the Hurricanes, in front of a raucous Alumni Stadium, BC blitzed Miami’s vaunted defense—at the time, a unit that ranked second in the nation, only allowing 237 yards per game—with a handful of gadget plays. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler pulled out all the tricks in his bag to catch the Hurricanes off guard, in turn producing a 209-yard first quarter. The Eagles never let go of their lead and shut out Miami in the back half of play, making their Week 10 matchup with the Hokies all the more important.

bc football

Throughout the first half of play, the Eagles’ defense looked out of sorts. Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis—filling in for the injured Josh Jackson—tore apart BC’s secondary with a number of screen and slant passes. The Hokies upped the ante in the second quarter, outgaining their Atlantic Division counterpart, 151-20. Unfortunately for head coach Justin Fuente, the offensive showcase was only good for seven points, and VTech entered the break with a slim 14-7 lead. At halftime, BC flipped the switch, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, the Eagles conceded just 147 yards in the final two frames—not only that, but Jim Reid’s unit also gifted Anthony Brown and Co. with great field position, thanks to a string of three-and-outs and a timely Brandon Sebastian interception.

The Eagles’ offense made the most of their opportunities, reaching the end zone on three separate occasions. Travis Levy—who replaced a hobbling A.J. Dillon—rushed for 76 yards and a pair of scores, separated by a 22-yard Korab Idrizi touchdown reception. Colton Lichtenberg iced the game with a 28-yard field goal, and BC walked off the field winners of a 31-21 affair, marking the first time since 2007 that the Eagles had defeated both Miami and VTech—Coastal Division stalwarts—in the same season. The victory bumped BC up seven spots in the AP Poll to No. 17 and secured the program’s first College GameDay appearance since 2009. Quite simply, the Eagles’ double-digit win in Blacksburg, Va. was the peak of the 2018 campaign.  

Worst Moment: Addazio Punts the Game Away in Tallahassee

In his six years as head coach, Steve Addazio has often been scrutinized for his game management decisions. Perhaps nothing will be worse than the Eagles’ 3-0 loss to Wake Forest back in 2015, when he called for a run play at the one-yard line with 19 seconds remaining, ultimately resulting in a failed second-effort rushing attempt and Jeff Smith spike that hit the turf after time had already expired—but a cautious fourth-down decision amid BC’s Week 12 defeat to Florida State is certainly a close second.

With three minutes and 18 seconds remaining in Doak Campbell Stadium, Dillon was swarmed by a host of Seminole defenders at the FSU 40-yard line, stopping the sophomore running back a yard short of the first-down marker. Clinging to a 21-16 lead, Addazio looked left and right, contemplating whether or not to go for it on fourth down.  

Throughout the game, BC was 3-of-5 in such situations and had attempted to move the chains on fourth down at the same exact location—the Seminoles’ 40—twice before. Still, Addazio let the clock run out prior to using a timeout to stop play with two minutes and 52 seconds left in regulation. After 30 more seconds of deliberation, Addazio rolled out the offense in a singleback set for 4th-and-1—it wasn’t out there to pick up the first down, though. Brown was tasked with drawing FSU—then, the second-most penalized team in the country—offsides, but the hard count didn’t fool the Seminoles. So, BC took the delay of game penalty, and Grant Carlson booted the ball away to Deondre Francois and FSU.

Three plays later, Tamorrion Terry beat Sebastian over the top for a 74-yard touchdown, leaving the Eagles—without a timeout or a placekicker that had attempted more than one 40-plus yarder all year—one minute and 41 seconds to drive downfield and put three points on the board. Three-straight incompletions and a collapsed pocket on fourth down spelled doom for BC, spurring a week’s worth of controversy surrounding Addazio’s job status and the Eagles’ sudden downward spiral.

Offensive MVP: Anthony Brown

Entering the season, Dillon was clearly a Heisman Trophy candidate, as evidenced by his ACC Preseason Player of the Year selection. But when he suffered an ankle injury in the second half of BC’s Week Five victory over Temple, everything changed. While the 6-foot, 245-pound back—who missed both the North Carolina State and Louisville games—was still effective upon returning, he looked far from himself until the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl. Brown, however, was a constant in the Eagles’ offense, with the obvious exception being BC’s Nov. 10 College GameDay-featured game against No. 2 Clemson, where he was sidelined with an internal body injury on the Eagles’ first drive of the night.  

Coming into the year, there were questions surrounding the redshirt sophomore’s health, considering that he was returning from a torn ACL—an injury that compounded a number of shoulder scares throughout the 2017 season. Yet, the moment that Brown stepped on the field on Sept. 1 to play Massachusetts, it was clear that he was back and better than ever. Through three weeks of play, the Cliffwood, N.J. native led the nation with a 240.2 passer rating and ranked second in the country in yards per pass attempt (13.0). As expected, Brown couldn’t keep pace once the schedule’s difficulty ramped up, but he still finished the year with 20 passing touchdowns—the most in a single season by a BC quarterback since Matt Ryan in 2007—and improved in every statistical category. Eclipsing the 250-yard mark four times and throwing three or more touchdowns on three separate occasions, the redshirt sophomore, at times, looked like the most dominant player on the field, even with Dillon at his hip.

Defensive MVP: Zach Allen

Rush the passer, stuff the run, defend the pass, force turnovers, block field goals? Zach Allen does it all. The senior defensive end, who many have pegged as a first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, only helped his stock during his final year on the Heights. From start to finish, Allen was the face of BC’s defense. After finishing the 2017 season as one of two defensive linemen in the country to rack up 100 or more tackles, Allen lived up to heightened expectations this fall. Following the Eagles’ Baystate blowout victories over UMass and Holy Cross, the senior strung together six-straight games with five or more tackles, as well as 4.5 sacks during that two-month span. Whether it was batting down passes in the trenches or wrapping up a running back behind the line of scrimmage, Allen showcased the ability to swing momentum and change the complexion of a game.

bc football

Perhaps there is no better example than his fourth quarter sack against Temple. The Owls, only trailing by three with six minutes and 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter, were driving yet again and facing a 2nd-and-9 from their own 38-yard line. As soon as Anthony Russo snapped the ball out of the shotgun, Allen burst off the line and beat his man, forcing the Temple quarterback to step up in the pocket. But all it took was one arm for Allen to throw a wrench in the play and, in effect, the Owls’ comeback. The senior used his arm to wrestle Russo to ground for a loss of seven yards. Ultimately, Temple had to punt, BC scored on the ensuing possession, and the Eagles held on for the win. Plays like that separated Allen from the rest of the pack. When all was said and done, he finished the season with 61 tackles—15 of which were for loss—a career-high 6.5 sacks, one interception, seven passes defended, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a pair of blocked kicks, earning Second Team All-ACC honors in the process. 

Breakout Player: Hamp Cheevers

For the second year in a row, BC’s breakout player has emerged from the secondary (last year’s being Lukas Denis). Given the position group’s strength, it could’ve been anticipated. The Eagles have sent four defensive backs to the NFL in the past three years and could very well see two more drafted this April. This time around, it was Hamp Cheevers who made a name for himself at the corner spot. Luckily for the junior, he was well prepared for the spotlight after replacing Kamrin Moore for the final two and a half games of the 2017 season. Entering the year, one of the biggest questions surrounding Reid’s defense was BC’s cornerbacks. Losing both Moore and Isaac Yiadom to the pros certainly hurt, but Cheevers softened the blow. Standing at 5-foot-10, the shifty defensive back more than held his own on the outside, often covering taller wideouts.

Cheevers read quarterbacks’ eyes at will and jumped a number of routes. That talented combination, alongside simply being in the right place at the right time, set the stage for his seven interceptions, tied with Syracuse’s Andre Cisco for the most in the nation. Like Denis, who picked off seven passes last year, Cheevers turned into an offensive threat when he got the ball in his hands. Although he was stopped in his tracks more times than not, he still recorded three 20-plus yard returns, including an 81-yard pick-six in the Eagles’ Week Two rout of Holy Cross. Cheevers was more than just a ballhawk, though—he was a shutdown corner. All year, he allowed a mere 35 receptions on 74 targets for 433 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. When targeted, the junior conceded a 40.0 passer rating, the second-lowest among ACC cornerbacks. Playing in 92 percent of BC’s defensive snaps, Cheevers—at least, to some degree—created an island on his side of the field.   

Play of the Year: Michael Walker’s 74-Yard Punt Return Touchdown Vs. Clemson

Michael Walker, who was named a Second-Team Walter Camp All-American earlier this month and finished the season with most combined kick return yards in the country for the second-consecutive year, ranks among the top three return specialists in kick/punt return yardage in program history—but he’ll probably be remembered for one play more than anything else.

bc football

With six and a half minutes remaining in the first quarter of the Eagles’ Nov. 10 matchup with Clemson—a College GameDay-featured affair that was arguably BC Athletics’ biggest event of the decade—Tigers punter Will Spiers drifted right and kicked a rugby punt in the direction of Walker. Before it could reach the senior, it bounced off Clemson wide receiver T.J. Chase. Rather than letting the ball roll past his own 25-yard line, Walker surprised Clemson’s gunners by fielding the punt and immediately making a beeline for the edge, all while shedding a leg tackle. Once the Naples, Fla. native reached the outside, he sprinted down the sideline, juking past Dexter Lawrence and following his blockers to the end zone with his hoodie bobbing in the wind. With a 7-3 lead in hand, Walker galloped toward the BC student section, and Alumni Stadium erupted in jubilation. For a few minutes, Eagles fans forgot that Brown was out with an internal body injury—for a few minutes, there was the belief that BC could actually upset the No. 2 team in the country and contend for an ACC Championship.

What’s Next?

The Eagles are losing 10 All-ACC selections to graduation, several of whom will likely find a home in the NFL. Fortunately for BC, it has one of its most talented recruiting classes in recent memory (ranked 55th in the nation by 247Sports) set to fill out the roster, headlined by four-star quarterback Sam Johnson and running back Patrick Garwo. The blue chips are on offense, but Addazio also reeled in 12 defensive recruits and addressed the depleted position groups, namely defensive line and defensive back. As far as the schedule is concerned, BC is primed for an unorthodox slate of games, starting with Richmond and Les Miles’ Kansas. Traveling to South Bend to square off against Notre Dame—one of the four programs to make this year’s CFP—will be no easy task. But with a game at Rutgers the week prior, the Eagles might have some momentum on their side entering the Holy War.

The ACC schedule has not been released, but BC is penciled in to play Florida State, N.C. State, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest at home. On the road, the Eagles will face Clemson, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse—in that group alone lies a potential national champion, a Syracuse team coming off its best season since 2001, and the reigning Coastal Division champions. The ACC was uncharacteristically average in 2018. Outside of Clemson, no team made a legitimate case for the College Football Playoff. But that’s not the norm. Odds are, the conference will be back to full strength next year, and BC will have to run the gauntlet, ready or not.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

Photos by Bradley Smart and Keith Carroll / Heights Editors

December 30, 2018