When he was the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, current Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley faced his fair share of giants. In last year’s College Football Playoff, he and his team took on then-No. 3 Clemson. Just three weeks prior, the Buckeyes had faced then-No. 8 Wisconsin, and before that, then-No. 13 Michigan.
But Hafley never previously faced the strength of schedule that he and the Eagles have over the last three weeks.
On Oct. 31, the Eagles took on No. 1 Clemson. After an unranked matchup with Syracuse last week, BC now faces No. 2 Notre Dame, which knocked off Clemson a week ago.
“When do you ever get a chance in a span of three weeks to play the No. 1 team in the country and then the No. 2 team in the country?” Hafley asked in his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’ve certainly never done that while I was in college football.”
What sets Clemson and Notre Dame apart from their competition, Hafley said, isn’t their talent—though talent is in no short supply. Instead, it’s quality coaching that makes the most difference.
“There are a lot of teams that have really good players, but just like Clemson, they’re a team that has really good players, and they’re very well coached,” Hafley said of Notre Dame. “They have three good schemes: offense, defense, and special teams. Their fundamentals and technique are really sound, which is why [Notre Dame] won the game, and which is why they’re the No. 2 team in the country.”
Regardless of the Eagles’ opponents’ ranking, or the fact that BC has remained unranked all season, Hafley and his squad are tuning out the noise. The last time Notre Dame beat a No. 1 team, the Fighting Irish lost to BC the very next week. But that was back in 1993, and almost three decades later, Hafley said he is focusing on what he can control.
“We can’t get caught up in all that,” Hafley said. “We’re playing a really good football team, we had a really good practice today, and the guys have great energy, and they’re excited. But if we don’t stay the course, or we start trying to do too much, or we get overexcited too early, we’re not going to play well.”
Not only is Saturday’s matchup the 26th iteration of the Holy War rivalry, but it marks BC’s seventh Red Bandanna Game, honoring Welles Crowther, BC ’99, who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks after saving as many as 18 people from the collapse of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The Eagles will don their special red bandanna uniforms and play in Crowther’s honor.
“This isn’t just about wearing the colors, or wearing a different uniform, putting on a bandanna,” Hafley said. “It’s what it represents—representing the ultimate sacrifice—and that’s a special moment. [Crowther] made the ultimate sacrifice—the guy gave up his life for other people that he doesn’t even know. … It’s an honor for me just to be part of something that’s so special, truthfully.”
Quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who transferred to BC from Notre Dame last January, will face the added pressure of competing against his former team. Even so, Hafley said Jurkovec’s progression has been admirable, and he’s well equipped to compete against some of the nation’s best.
Jurkovec, who has played in only eight games and is the leading passer in the ACC, has displayed his prowess both on the ground and through the air, and Hafley said he’s developing into a quarterback who could compete in the NFL. Jurkovec sits comfortably in the pocket, allowing him to cycle through two or three reads, firing a checkdown pass to Hunter Long or David Bailey if he needs to.
“You’re basically taking a rookie, and [Jurkovev has] thrown for more yards than anybody in the ACC,” Hafley said. “It’s exceptional. … There’s just a confidence building. There’s leadership building. Even more importantly, he’s such a phenomenal kid, who’s going to develop into a big-time leader.”
If BC is going to take down Notre Dame on Saturday, it’ll take more than just Jurkovec in the pocket—Hafley said all three phases will have to be firing on all cylinders.
“This team needs to focus on 2020, everything they’ve been through, it’s the next game,” Hafley said. “It’s the No. 2 in the country, and we’ve got to go line up, we’ve got to do our best.”
Correction (11/11/2020, 2:25 AM): This article has been updated to correctly reflect the year that Welles Crowther graduated from BC and the number of lives he saved on Sept. 11, 2001.
Featured Image by Dennis Nett / The Syracuse Post-Standard via ACC Media