NC State and Boston College came into the 2021 football season with a number of similarities. Both programs boasted strong seasons in 2020, returned a promising quarterback, and were the darlings of the national media in an ACC Atlantic bereft of a clear second power behind Clemson. Five games into the year, the parallels have continued. Although the preseason quarterback hype has rung more true for Devin Leary due to Phil Jurkovec’s season-ending injury, both programs have looked strong and largely lived up to the preseason billing.
With Clemson springing leaks at every level of the team, the competition between NC State and the Eagles has become less of a fight for second and more of a charge to end the Tigers’ stretch of dominance at the top of the conference. With Wake Forest still undefeated at the top of the division and Clemson always a threat to get back into the hunt, Saturday’s clash will be key to maintaining position in the Atlantic.
Who is BC playing?
When is BC playing?
Saturday, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where is BC playing?
Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
How to Watch
The game will be broadcast on ACC Network.
Between the Wolfpack and Eagles’ first couple of meetings in the 1930s and the time the teams resumed competition in the ACC, 75 years passed. Results have been fairly even between BC and NC State since the two began regular ACC play against each other a decade- and- a- half ago, with the Eagles claiming nine victories to NC State’s.
Despite a weak performance by Dennis Grosel, who took over after Anthony Brown went down with injury, BC won the teams’ most recent clash in 2019 45–-24 as the Eagles rushed for over 400 yards and throttled the Wolfpack run game to just two yards per attempt. Leary replaced starting quarterback Bailey Hockman after the offense looked anemic and only did slightly better, throwing for 259 yards and three touchdowns but completing just 45 percent of his passses.
What to expect from NC State:
Despite the preseason hype around Leary and the Wolfpack’s one-two punch at running back in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr., NC State’s offense hasn’t jumped off the page. The Wolfpack rank in the middle of the nation in nearly every traditional and advanced metric, coming in at 67th in points per play, 73rd in yards per play, and 62nd in Bill Connelly’s offensive SP+ system. While NC State has faced a pair of top defenses in Clemson and Mississippi State, they have also had South Florida and Furman to pad the numbers.
Leary has shown flashes of stardom, such as his four-touchdown display against Clemson, and he takes care of the football but has little in the way of explosive play ability. NC State averages just 10.1 yards per completion, the 116th best rate in the nation, despite running out a trio of tall, speedy wideouts. The Wolfpack’s pass-run divide skews fairly heavily to the pass, so the Eagles can likely expect an aerial attack against what can at times be a flexible BC pass defense.
Apart from a weak performance against an elite Mississippi State defensive line, NC State’s run game has been solid. The Wolfpack splits carries equally between Knight and Person Jr., with Knight the more effective of the duo so far at 6.5 yards per attempt. Left tackle Ikem Ekwonwu is one of the best left tackles in the country, and the Wolfpack has found more stability across the rest of the line after an up-and-down 2020 season. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck employs a lot of motion in order to free up one-on-one matchups for his explosive backs on the outside.
For all of the Wolfpack’s struggles in the passing attack, NC State’s pass defense has made up for it and then some. Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers has been great all season but needed 49 attempts to get to 294 yards, as the Wolfpack did a great job at limiting chunk plays. Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei went just 12-of-26 for 111 yards and a pick in his shot against NC State, although it has not exactly taken herculean defensive efforts to slow down Clemson’s passing attack this season.
Overall, NC State has allowed an average of just six yards per pass attempt, good for 13th in the nation, and is great at preventing big plays. Playmaking linebackers Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas are both skilled in coverage, and safety Tanner Ingle is rangy and a big hitter over the top.
The pass rush is the main weakness on defense. NC State gets sacks on just 3.8 percent of opponent dropbacks, one of the lowest rates in the nation, and the defensive line rotates a lot as it lacks an elite pass rusher. The front seven havehas fared much better against the run, ranking 37th nationally in yards allowed per rush. Cory Durnden is strong at nose tackle and Moore and Thomas are just as good against the run as they are in coverage.
Despite Jeff Hafley’s optimism this week that Grosel could connect on more deep balls, BC will have a hard time putting up big plays against this stingy Wolfpack secondary. Still, there is reason to feel good about the chances of BC’s resurgent run game succeeding for modest gains and that the Eagles can at least keep Grosel clean enough to avoid his tendency for crippling negative plays.
With Leary’s above-average but not elite abilities a known quantity, this game will come down to whether BC can stop Knight and Person Jr. The Eagles’ defense has acquitted itself very well against the run at times, but it has also had lapses that lead to big plays, such as Kobe Pace’s 59-yard blitz right up the middle in the Clemson game. If the defense can avoid these lulls and Grosel can just put away the game-changing mistakes that cost BC against Clemson, the Eagles have a good shot to take another step into the conversation for the Atlantic title.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor