The last two times Boston College football has taken on North Carolina State, Steve Addazio’s Eagles have had some troubles getting their offense going. In 2017—albeit a game in which Anthony Brown left in the second quarter with a torn right ACL—BC managed just two scores and struggled to finish in the red zone, resulting in a 17-14 loss. Then, last season, the Eagles were outgained by 215 yards without AJ Dillon, and even an inspired second half saw them drop a 28-23 decision.
Those losses came against teams that were ranked 58th and 66th in total defense (28th and 29th in rushing defense), respectively. This year, BC welcomes in an even more imposing N.C. State (4-2, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) defense. The Wolfpack enter Saturday’s Homecoming matchup holding opponents to just 66.7 rushing yards per game—good for fifth in the country as a part of the 29th-best total defense—and will aim to subdue an Eagles (3-3, 1-2) offense that will have backup Dennis Grosel leading the way after Brown’s season-ending injury.
“[They’re] really stout up front, really physical, really tough to run the ball on them,” Addazio said. “I think they have got some really athletic guys in the back end and really impressed by their linebackers, very physical linebackers that run downhill, make a lot of plays.
“I think they’re outstanding on defense and obviously their stats show you that. So they have done a great job there.”
The Wolfpack is fresh off an eight-sack performance in a 16-10 win over Syracuse—one in which the Orange were held to 41 yards on 37 rushing attempts, a woeful 1.1 yards per attempt that doomed its offense. While N.C. State did allow Syracuse’s Tommy DeVito to complete 29-of-39 passes for 300 yards, the Orange was just 5-of-16 on third down and DeVito was sacked on the final play of the game.
The defense, which is allowing just 19.7 points per game, has handled adversity well thus far. The Wolfpack lost starting cornerback Chris Ingram to an injury against the Orange, joining teammates Nick McCloud and Taiyon Palmer in a depleted secondary. N.C. State is giving up almost 260 yards per game through the air, good for 97th, so the pressure will be on Grosel and the Eagles’ passing attack to perform—yards on the ground will likely be hard-earned.
Addazio isn’t worried about the state of his offense, though.
“We’re firing at a very high level offensively right now and my expectation is we’re going to maintain that,” he said. “I’m not trying to downplay the loss of your quarterback, okay, we all know how important the quarterback is to everything at every level of football for every team. But we have got a really good offense and we expect to go out and perform at a high level.”
Grosel completed 9-of-24 passes for 111 yards in relief of Brown against Louisville, throwing three touchdowns against one interception as the Eagles managed to almost escape Kentucky with a win before falling, 41-39. Five of his completions came on one impressive drive to end the first half, but he showed the expected signs of inexperience and struggled at points against the Cardinals. Louisville’s secondary has allowed similar yardage as the Wolfpack’s, so it’s fortunate for the Eagles that they had a bye week to get Grosel fully prepared for the coming week.
It’ll be a big test for the offensive line, as N.C. State has an threatening front seven. Nose tackle Larrell Murchison stands 6-foot-3, 291 pounds and is second in the ACC in tackles for loss (8) while also boasting seven sacks. He’s flanked by lineman Xavier Lyas, who has four sacks, while linebacker Louis Acceus has also been quite the force, totaling 36 tackles, six for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
“They have big, strong, thick, powerful defensive linemen. They’re hard to move,” Addazio said. “That usually is what equates to stopping the run. That’s what they have, 320-pounders, and they’re good. And I think they have got an outstanding set of linebackers that run to the ball really well.”
A physical, closely contested matchup would be par for the course in this conference bout. In the last three meetings, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less, and only one team has managed to clear three touchdowns during that time. There’s a reason the Wolfpack is marked as a slim three-point favorite while ESPN’s FPI has the Eagles pegged as 50.7 percent favorites.
Featured Image by Mark Wallheiser / AP Photo