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Notebook: Lockdown Defense, Explosive Run Game Power Eagles to Victory

Last weekend, Boston College football took on UMass Amherst in what should have almost been a practice game. Instead, the Eagles barely escaped Amherst with a win, and lost starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec for the foreseeable future with a wrist injury during the first drive of the game. On Saturday, however, BC bounced back with backup quarterback Dennis Grosel at the helm for a dominant 28–3 win featuring a strong defense and a booming run game. 

BC (3–0) took on Temple (1–2) Saturday for the first time since 2018. The two teams have met 39 times, including 15 games during BC’s time in the Big East. Following Saturday’s game, the Eagles have now beat the Owls a clean 30 times. 

Defense Wins Championships—Or, Early-Season Games

Following BC’s showing last weekend at UMass, penalties and defense became marked concerns for the Eagles. BC allowed the Minutemen to score 28 points while also giving away 99 free yards on 11 penalties. Saturday’s game against Temple, however, left BC fans with the opposite impression. 

The highlight of the game for the Eagles was their unrelenting defensive wall. Although Temple totaled more yards than BC, the Eagles held the Owls to just a field goal. BC allowed the Owls just one fourth down conversion on four attempts, and even more impressively, Temple converted on just three of 14 third downs. 

Though BC did not record any turnovers, the Eagles did at one point force a loose ball that the Owls recovered. BC experienced particular success stopping the Temple run game, a feat the Eagles have struggled with in the past. Temple rushed for just 78 yards on 36 attempts, paling in comparison to BC’s 187 yards on only 35 attempts. 

Temple’s passing attack fared slightly better, with 161 yards coming through the air. The Owls connected with receivers on 17 of 24 attempts and averaged 6.7 yards per pass, over three times more than their 2.2 yards per rush. 

BC’s defense worked to keep Temple from gaining yardage, but also played cleanly enough to avoid giving the Owls free yards. BC’s penalty total was drastically lower than that of last week and returned to the level of Week One against Colgate, as the Eagles committed two infractions for just 25 yards. 

Is the Run Game Here to Stay?

In its first three games of the season, BC has worked hard to develop its run game that was virtually non-existent in 2020. So far, the Eagles have succeeded. Pat Garwo III emerged from the woodwork last week with 160 rushing yards on 15 attempts, establishing himself as BC’s lead running back. Garwo kept up his reputation Saturday, once again leading the pack in rushing.

With 16 carries, Garwo ran for 49 yards and a touchdown with a long of 20 yards. He only averaged 3.1 yards—far fewer than his 10 yards per rush last week—but his performance was enough to set the tone for BC’s ground attack. Alongside Garwo, five other Eagles recorded rushing yards. 

With only two yards fewer than Garwo, Grosel tied with Zay Flowers for the second most rushing yards on the team at 47. Grosel carried the ball five times, once for a touchdown and once for a 19-yard first-down rush. 

Flowers only ran the ball once, but his one run was the longest of the game. A backward pass by Grosel ended up in Flowers’ hands, where it stayed for almost 50 yards as the wide receiver exploded down the sideline until he was forced out just short of the endzone. 

Alec Sinkfield, Travis Levy, and Xavier Coleman all also contributed their fair share to BC’s ground attack, the three combining for 47 yards. Levy also rushed for a touchdown and opened the game with an impressive 67 yard kick return. 

Homeward Bound

Over the offseason, BC added five transfers. Among them, two—linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley and defensive tackle Khris Banks—came from Temple. Mobley and Banks are not, however, the only Eagles with Temple connections. BC running back Garwo has familial ties to the program, as his younger brother Andrew is a freshman cornerback with the Owls this season. 

Graham-Mobley made his presence known immediately in his homecoming game. With just over eight minutes on the clock in the second quarter, Temple quarterback Justin Lynch took the snap on a 4th-and-3. He found a hole in BC’s defensive line and slipped through, making it within a yard of the first down. Luckily for the Eagles, Graham-Mobley caught on early from his spot in the backfield.

Graham-Mobley rushed downhill at Lynch, stopping him in his tracks with a bone-crushing hit just before the first down for a turnover on downs. That drive was Temple’s strongest up to that point, and Graham-Mobley squelched what little momentum might have been salvageable for the Owls out of the gates. 

Banks had a monster day as well, recording 1.5 sacks and five total tackles in his homecoming appearance.

Garwo put on a show in front of his brother, leading BC in yards and carries while rushing for a touchdown.

Gro-ing Pains

In his first game of the season starting at quarterback, Grosel struggled to connect through the air. He completed only five passes in 13 attempts, throwing for 34 yards in total. Grosel also threw BC’s first interception of the season on a deep pass intended for Jaden Williams. 

Grosel’s struggles were not a product of BC’s offensive line. Though there were instances of pass-rushers breaking through and pressuring Grosel, they were the exception. Jurkovec is known for his long release, but compared to Grosel, Jurkovec seems quick. Each time Grosel took a snap, he would lag back in the pocket before either running the ball himself or forcing a throw into coverage. 

Although Grosel’s throws were not perfect, many of BC’s passing woes also came due to receivers dropping passes. At one point, Grosel slightly underthew Flowers, giving him plenty of room to break off and make the catch for a large gain. Instead, the ball slipped through his fingers and landed incomplete. Several other of Grosel’s passes fell incomplete after being touched by receivers, though many of those throws were imperfect as well. 

What Grosel lacked through the air he made up for with his legs. He ran for more yards than he threw for, with 47 yards coming on the ground compared to his 34 through the air. Grosel had the second-most rushing yards of any BC player while also rushing for a touchdown in his second straight game. His mobility is necessary given his slow release, and Grosel appears seasoned in the art of running the football. 

Featured Image by Tyger Williams via AP Photo

September 18, 2021