Sports, Football

Notebook: The Hafley Era Opens With Offensive Depth and Defensive Force

The Jeff Hafley Era has officially begun. 

You can tell it has by watching Boston College football players douse their first-year head coach in bright yellow Powerade after a double-digit victory to open the season. The Eagles entered Durham, N.C. as six-point underdogs, and the game wasn’t always pretty, but a combination of some stellar coaching by Hafley and a dominant showing on both sides of the ball puts a tick mark in the “W” column for the first time this year. Here are five takeaways from Hafley’s first victory as a head coach:

Shaking out the nerves

Save for an opening drive touchdown, BC’s first half looked like a bit of an adjustment period. It was about as successful a half as you could’ve expected from a season opener under a first-year head coach, especially against a Duke team that had one extra game to prepare. The Eagles came out strong in the first quarter, opening the scoring and forcing back-to-back three-and-outs, but they stalled for the rest of the first half. As was the case in the opening weekend for many teams, BC had some tackling troubles early on, letting Duke run the offense. The Eagles then struggled to convert on third down, going 3-for-8 in conversion situations in the first half. 

After they came out of the locker room at halftime, however, the Eagles looked like a brand new squad. Though it wasn’t perfect, the offensive performance was much more efficient than in the first half. On defense, BC made its crucial tackles and forced even more turnovers, holding Duke scoreless throughout the half. 

Jurkovec Looks Like a Franchise Quarterback

It wasn’t until BC emerged from the tunnel at noon that Eagles fans knew who would be taking snaps under center. All week, Hafley had kept onlookers in the dark about who would win the quarterback battle, but the title of QB1 eventually went to transfer Phil Jurkovec. Just like the rest of the team, Jurkovec took about 30 minutes of football to settle in. But after sharing some words with Hafley at halftime, as he said during the postgame press conference, he came out firing on all cylinders. Jurkovec looked more comfortable in the pocket, and his passing—which had previously been largely errant—hit the mark almost every time. Jurkovec finished the day with 300 yards, two touchdowns, and a 75 percent completion percentage. If you didn’t know that Saturday was his first collegiate start, you’d think that Jurkovec—at least in the second half—was a franchise quarterback for the Eagles. 

Forcing Turnovers…

Possibly the brightest spot in the BC’s play on Saturday was its defense. Not only did BC hold Duke to a single score, but the Eagles forced an astounding five turnovers, two of which were while Duke was in the red zone. Four of the five times Duke coughed up the ball were a direct result of defensive pressure on Blue Devil QB Chase Brice. First, the pocket collapsed around Brice, and Isaiah McDuffie grabbed an overthrown pass in the center of the field. Then, Marcus Valdez recovered a fumble on BC’s own three-yard line, followed by a Deon Jones fumble recovery on Duke’s five-yard line. The Eagles’ biggest defensive highlight, however, was when Josh DeBerry ripped the ball from David Philyaw-Johnson’s hands as he came down with a catch. 

…But Not Capitalizing

Despite forcing five turnovers—two of which had BC in the red zone—the Eagles only managed to capitalize on two of them. And even though they scored points in those two instances, neither drive found its way to the end zone. Danny Longman lined up for field goals after two of the turnovers, and on the other three, Grant Carlson punted it away. Hafley noted in his postgame press conference that when the team is that close, coming away with anything but a touchdown is a major disappointment. As a result, BC never fully got the momentum to swing its way, allowing Duke to hang in there until the very end of the game. 

Across the Board

Coming into this week, BC fans had no sense of what Hafley’s new-look offense would look like. Without any media presence at training camp, there was no way of anticipating what his scheme, play calling, or even lineup would look like. And it seemed as though Duke was in the dark just as much as the rest of us. Hafley utilized an abundance of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, making it nearly impossible for Duke to have every option covered. Unlike BC’s old run-heavy offense under Addazio, Hafley’s offense flowed through every position on the field. Hunter Long was incredibly active at tight end, Zay Flowers had a career day at wide receiver, and Travis Levy, David Bailey, and Pat Garwo all showed they’re worth their chops at running back. All in all, BC recorded 440 yards of offense, split between seven receivers and four rushers. No one could’ve seen that amount of depth coming. 

Featured Image by Nell Redmond via ACC Media

September 19, 2020