Until recently, Boston College football had never lost two straight games during the Jeff Hafley era. Last weekend, the Eagles made history. Saturday night, they did it again. For the first time since 2018, BC has lost three games in a row.
Since beginning conference play, the Eagles (4–3, 0–3 Atlantic Coast) have scored an average of 11.3 points per game. Quarterback Dennis Grosel has thrown five interceptions and just two touchdown passes, and an undefeated season has turned into a disaster following a Saturday night loss to Louisville (4–3, 2–2) by a final score of 28–14. To end the season with a winning ACC record, the Eagles would have to win all of their remaining games—with or without Grosel at the helm.
“I’d be lying to you … if I told you right now that I have an answer,” Hafley said of the quarterback situation. “I don’t want to say something out of frustration because we’re all frustrated … but I’m not going to put that on Dennis.”
Similar to last week’s loss to NC State, BC jumped out to a fiery start against Louisville. On their second drive of the game, the Eagles’ run game took over and Alec Sinkfield cruised into the endzone for a touchdown. BC had a 7–0 lead, Grosel was 4-for-4 passing, and the Eagles looked primed to snap their two-game losing streak.
Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, however, quickly killed BC’s momentum. He powered the Cardinals downfield with his breakout speed, and the game was soon tied after Cunningham darted 10 yards into the endzone unscathed.
With Cunningham’s success came Grosel’s breakdown and that of the entire BC offense. At the end of the first half, the Eagles boasted a total of 105 yards on offense with 65 coming through the air and 40 on the ground. After his perfect 4-for-4 start, Grosel was rendered completely ineffective, completing four of his next 12 passes.
“Execution needs to be on a higher level at all times,” Grosel said. “Third down really tells the story here. We couldn’t keep the chains moving, couldn’t stay in rhythm. … When we start off in rhythm and get out of it, it’s tough for us to fight back and get in there. That starts with conversions, it starts with execution, and it starts with first downs.”
Despite BC’s failure to move the ball, its halftime deficit was just 14 points. Defensively, three turnovers ended Louisville drives short of the endzone. BC recorded a fumble in the first quarter, then Brandon Sebastian and Jaiden Woodbey followed with interceptions of their own. The turnovers did not result in points, however, as the Eagles remained unable to push downfield.
“When you steal possession, it’s not just about stealing possession—you’ve got to score points,” Hafley said. “It wasn’t just off of the takeaways. We were pretty inefficient at that for most of the night.”
Aside from its collection of turnovers, the BC defense struggled to stop Louisville on the ground throughout the game. Ultimately, the Cardinals managed 331 yards on the ground, with Cunningham recording 133 himself. All four of Louisville’s touchdowns also came via the ground, with Cunningham trotting into the endzone three times on the night.
Hafley’s halftime adjustments could not provide any steam for the struggling BC offense, but they did reinvigorate its defense. Louisville’s only chance to score in the third quarter was a missed field goal, and the score remained 21–7 at the start of the fourth.
“We did a really good job in the second half,” Hafley said. “They came out with a different run plan than we’d seen on tape, and we figured it out pretty quickly. … Until that last drive I don’t know how much success [Cunningham] really had.”
Down by two scores, the BC offense showed some life as the game wound down. After a quiet first three quarters, Pat Garwo III took charge of BC’s offense, pushing the Eagles downfield with run after run. BC survived a 3rd-and-1 offsides call with a conversion on 4th-and-5, and suddenly the Eagles were within scoring range with 11:15 on the clock. Moments later, Grosel connected with Trae Barry on third down to set up first and goal.
With nine yards between BC and the endzone, Grosel took a second-down snap. He caught it, stepped back, and let fly toward the end zone, ready to cut BC’s deficit to a single score. His pass, however, fluttered slowly through the air before arching down toward a sea of Cardinal red. Louisville’s Josh Minkins snagged it in his own end zone and BC’s momentum was momentarily crushed.
Moments later, however, BC had another shot, as Louisville almost immediately fumbled the ball back into BC hands. With just over eight minutes on the clock, the Eagles once again had possession just short of the red zone. Roughly two minutes later, Grosel again found himself lobbing the ball toward the end zone. This time, he found Jaelen Gill in the end zone.
With 6:10 on the clock, BC trailed by just one score. The Eagles had not allowed a touchdown yet in the second half, and their newfound momentum on offense seemed to bode well for their comeback hopes. But, Louisville refused to yield and Cunningham put the final nails in BC’s coffin. He led the Cardinals back down the field to another score, and Louisville led 28–14 with just minutes remaining.
Unlike last weekend’s game against NC State, BC showed fight against Louisville. The Eagles ended the game with a touchdown rather than a safety and managed an impressive defensive showing. With five games remaining this season, time is running out for BC to step it up.
“Keep swinging. … That’s going to be the message for the rest of the season,” Grosel said. “We’re going to be in every game we play. How the rest of the schedule goes is on our shoulders and up to us. … I’m confident going forward with the guys we have.”
Featured Image courtesy of Timothy D. Easley / AP Photo