All week, Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley has been promising BC fans that the time for the run game to explode is coming.
But against No. 23 Virginia Tech, it was more of an implosion than an explosion.
Over the course of 60 minutes, BC (3-2, 3-1 Atlantic Coast) gave up five turnovers, including three fumbles from three different players. BC shot itself in the foot time after time, and Virginia Tech (3-1, 3-1) ran away with the game, notching a 40-14 win in front of about 1,000 fans in Blacksburg.
“You can’t beat anybody turning the ball over five times,” Hafley said in his post-game press conference. “Turning the ball over five times—some deep in our own territory—with the momentum we had … it’s self inflicted. We have to hold on to the ball.”
Turnovers started showing up in the early minutes of the first half, as the Eagles gave up two fumbles and one interception in the first 30 minutes. Before each of the first two fumbles—both in the first quarter—BC found itself on the cusp of scoring, but a VT attack on the ball and a botched play in the backfield gave the Hokies a break.
Midway through the second quarter, BC gave up its third turnover of the night as Phil Jurkovec tossed an errant pass right to the hands of VT’s Devin Taylor. BC gave up 10 points off of turnovers in the first half, leading to its 10-point deficit heading into the locker room at halftime. The Hokies’ fourth takeaway was another fumble recovery on BC’s 17-yard line, setting up a quick field goal for the Hokies.
And to round out BC’s five turnovers, Jurkovec threw a pass in garbage time intended for Hunter Long, who tipped it to the hands of Brion Murray. As Murray returned it 45 yards up the right side of the field, Jurkovec was the one who had to make the hit.
“A prime example of who he is as a player and a person is the tackle he had on the interception,” Hafley said of Jurkovec. “A lot of guys would have started to jog off the field, [but] he got off of a block and looked like a linebacker out there.”
But regardless of BC’s struggles on offense, the Eagles also ran into a familiar unstoppable foe on the other side of the ball. Hokie running back Khalil Herbert—who ran all over BC last year with Kansas—found a wide-open field all game long and recorded 143 yards and a touchdown. He averaged a staggering 9.1 yards on his 18 carries.
And if Herbert’s dominant running game wasn’t enough, quarterback Hendon Hooker twisted the knife in the Eagles’ wounds with a 164-yard, three-touchdown performance on the ground. He also passed for 111 yards through the air and another touchdown.
“The story of the game was that they ran the ball right through us,” linebacker Max Richardson said after the game. “So if you can’t stop the run, you can’t win.”
Despite all of the Eagles’ struggles, they came out of the gate firing on all cylinders on offense. Though BC has struggled all season to get a run game going, David Bailey opened the game with some strong runs deep into Hokie territory. But as soon as the Eagles entered the red zone, Bailey coughed up the first fumble of the night.
“We were rolling on them,” Jurkovec said about the early parts of the game. “Everything was clicking early—the run game, we were dominating them up front, running the ball. But we just shoot ourselves in the foot with the turnovers.”
It took until the very end of the first quarter for either team to draw first blood, and it came off of BC’s second turnover of the night. The Hokies marched down the field but couldn’t find the end zone, and they settled for a 41-yard field goal from Brian Johnson to open the night’s scoring.
BC responded quickly after the break, firing a bullet to Jaelen Gill from 12 yards out with 10:38 to go in the half. Gill had a breakout night, as the Ohio State transfer saw his first major action on offense. Gill caught six passes for 104 yards and a touchdown to lead the Eagles through the air.
Gill was one of a number of rotation players who saw the spotlight for the Eagles on Saturday. Jehlani Galloway grabbed four receptions for 68 yards, and despite the Eagles’ struggles on the ground, three different running backs had touches on the ball. The Eagles’ depth, Hafley said, is encouraging.
And even with so many turnovers plaguing BC all game long, Jurkovec still threw for a staggering 345 yards and two touchdowns.
His second touchdown pass went to the tight end with the most receptions in the nation, Hunter Long. After the catch, Long absorbed some initial contact, but a great second effort helped him dive just over the goal line for a score. With the touchdown, BC trailed by just three with 7:11 to go in the third quarter.
But Virginia Tech exploded in the later part of the game, recording 23 second-half points to silence the Eagles in Lane Stadium.
“We’re going to learn from this,” Hafley said. “And I can’t wait to get back in practice and get it right. But I’m even more confident now. You guys can all think I’m crazy, but it just shows me the type of group we have. I can’t wait to play again.”
Featured Image by Matt Gentry / The Roanoke Times via ACC Media