Sports, Football

Previewing 2021 Football: at Louisville

Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel is no stranger to Louisville. Grosel’s previous two appearances against the Cardinals came in relief of quarterbacks Anthony Brown and Phil Jurkovec after each went down with injury. The same holds true this season, as Grosel has taken over the starting spot following what is likely a season-ending wrist injury for Jurkovec.  In the Eagles’ last trip to Louisville in 2019, the Cardinals nailed a 41-yard field goal to narrowly escape a tight game victorious in the final minute of play. Grosel, then a redshirt sophomore, passed for 111 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions after replacing the injured starter early in the second quarter. 

For the first time in head coach Jeff Hafley’s career, BC football is scrambling to snap a two-game losing streak. With Wake Forest still undefeated, and NC State’s walloping of the Eagles this past Saturday night, BC is grasping at straws to stay in contention in the conference. 

Who is BC playing?

Louisville

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Oct. 23, 4 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, Ky.

How to Watch: 

The game will be televised on ACC Network.

Series History:

Since the teams’ first meeting in 1986, the Eagles are 6–7 all-time against the Cardinals, including a record of 2–4 in Louisville. In November 2012, Louisville received an invitation to join the ACC and became a participating member in all sports in 2014. 

BC has not won a game at Louisville since 2017, when AJ Dillon, current Green Bay Packers running back, led the offense. Dillon had his breakout game against the Cardinals that year, amassing 272 yards from scrimmage and a career-high four touchdowns on the ground. It was a humiliating blow for the Cards, who had not lost to the Eagles since 1994. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, future Baltimore Raven and NFL MVP, fumbled to turn the ball over with two minutes remaining, effectively losing the game. The Eagles tallied 45 points, a season high, after posting a meager 16.3 points per game prior to that matchup. 

What to expect from Louisville:

Offense

The Cardinals returned nearly all of their offensive line, plus quarterback Malik Cunningham this year, but lost two of their top playmakers in All-ACC wide receivers Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell to the NFL. The Cardinals’ offense is racking up 32.3 points per game and averaging 452.0 yards from scrimmage, sitting 25th nationally. Louisville’s time of possession with the football, ranked 17th in the nation, is a testament to the patient but explosive pace head coach Scott Satterfield has implemented. 

Louisville has a plethora of options in the run game, but the biggest question mark surrounding the offense is the wideout corps, which lost depth and has yet to identify a true star. Currently, tight end Marshon Ford leads the team in both receptions (27) and receiving yards (265). Nonetheless, passing has not been a deficiency for the Cardinals. Louisville is ranked 29th in passing yards per game as a result of Cunningham’s playmaking ability. BC has been one of stingiest defenses in the ACC in 2021, however, ranking third in the league in scoring defense. BC’s secondary is notably robust, thanks to Josh DeBerry, who is regarded as one of the top coverage corners in the ACC, and posts a tied team-high 29 solo tackles and two interceptions. 

Cunningham is a talented runner on pace for a 1,000-yard season, and he stockpiles touchdowns on the pass rush. It is worthy to mention that Louisville converts in the red zone 95.5 percent of the time, landing the Cardinals a spot in the top ten touchdown conversion rates in the nation. 

Defense

Looking to bounce back from a 4–7 record in 2020, Louisville commenced this season relying on a defense that was top four in the ACC last year, allowing just 26 points per game and 369 average yards per game. For all of the success on offense, though, the Cardinals defense has yet to boast much of the same. This year, Louisville ranks 114th in total yards allowed on defense at a staggering 449.3 yards per game. 

The secondary has been vulnerable to deep-air attacks, and the Cardinals’ depth at safety is where Louisville lacks the most. In their past two outings against Wake Forest and Virginia, the Cardinals allowed an average of 405.4 yards and a combined five passing touchdowns. Louisville’s cornerback group is deep, though, led by Kei’Trel Clark, the Second Team All-ACC selection just a year ago. Clark has recorded 26 solo tackles, three interceptions, and a heap of pass breakups on the year. Outside linebacker Yasir Abdullah has dominated opposing offenses too. Abdullah is a versatile player capable of big-time disruptions at the line of scrimmage. He has 27 total tackles and five sacks on the season. 

With left tackle Tyler Vrabel working to return from injury, Louisville will face a resilient offensive line against BC. All eyes will be on BC running back Pat Garwo III, a redshirt sophomore, who is the clear RB1 after becoming BC’s first 100-yard rusher since David Bailey at Syracuse in November 2020. In six games this season, Garwo has 519 rushing yards and five touchdowns. 

Outlook

BC will again need to bring full force to leave Louisville with a check in the win column. If the Eagles can get comfortable in the first half, in which they have outscored opponents 92–40, including 52–28 in the first quarter, they have a fighting chance. Doing so will put pressure on the Cardinals’ offense to produce late in the game, where the Cardinals have struggled lately. Louisville led by two touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter against Virginia last week but ended on an unfortunate series of events that included two field goals, three punts, and a missed 49-yard field goal that would have won the Cardinals the game. 

The Eagles need to establish an efficient run game and make modest gains on plays to wide receivers Zay Flowers and CJ Lewis. Grosel should especially look to feed the connection with tight end Trae Barry in the red zone. Barry caught Grosel’s only touchdown pass against NC State. The 6-foot-6 graduate tight end has jumped right in to fill the void left by former Eagle Hunter Long, who now plays for the Miami Dolphins. Barry has 16 receptions for 255 yards and three touchdowns this season. BC has also been at its best on third downs, offensively and defensively, and will look to take advantage of its past successes against Louisville. The Eagles are 17th nationally converting 47.5 percent of their third down conversions on offense, and limit opponents to 29.6 percent on third down conversions, ranking 10th in the nation in third-down defense. 

The Cards have faced adversity recently, disappointing themselves in back-to-back weeks on strong outings, and come off the bye to face BC. To have a good shot, the Eagles need to set the tone early and bottleneck Cunningham in the pocket, but a win is still surely up in the air.

Featured Image by Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo

October 21, 2021
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