Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: Hartman Lights Up BC’s Secondary As Wake Cruises To 43–15 Victory

After jumping out to a 4–0 start in the 2021 season, Boston College football looked impossible to beat. And then October hit. 

Four consecutive losses—first to ranked opponents Clemson and NC State and then to unranked opponents Louisville and Syracuse—prompted head coach Jeff Hafley to take a reality check. 

It wasn’t until Week 10—when Hafley got his starting quarterback back from injury—that BC surpassed 14 points in a game since it defeated Missouri 41–34 in overtime. Despite its miserable October campaign and going 1–2 in its final three games, BC was still bowl eligible. 

This October hit even harder.  

On Oct. 1, BC defeated Louisville 34–33. Since that victory, BC’s opponents have outscored the Eagles 74–18.

At this point last year, the Eagles were 4–3. They’re 2–5 now. If Hafley doesn’t flip the switch, bowl eligibility is surely out of the question in 2022. BC’s 43–15 loss at Wake Forest on Friday was just the icing on the cake. 

Here are three observations from the loss.

Too Much Hartman to Handle

In a conference that’s stacked with potential NFL quarterbacks, Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman is one of the best. Hartman’s QBR of 78.4 is good for 17th in the nation. He’s ranked fifth in passing touchdowns with 21. Hartman has nearly eclipsed 2,000 passing yards this season and has registered 71 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. He’s got the seventh best passing efficiency in all of the FBS—for every seven touchdowns Hartman throws, he’s thrown just one interception. 

Hafley’s coaching resume has primarily been in coaching defensive backs. Now, as a head coach, Hafley’s BC teams have been elite against defending the pass since his arrival on the Heights. But in BC’s loss to Wake, Hartman outmaneuvered Hafley’s defense.

Hartman finished with 313 passing yards on 25 completions while throwing five touchdowns to three different receivers. He was responsible for a sixth score on a 2-yard touchdown trot with less than a minute left in the third quarter. 

Hartman was especially stellar in the red zone, where he made well-timed throws on quick decisions into the end zone. All five of his touchdown passes came on throws of less than 17 yards. 

It started with a back-shoulder throw to Jahmal Banks with 1:30 remaining in the first quarter. Hartman dropped back, stuck out his hips to the left side of the field to stray away BC’s safety Jason Maitre from his primary read, and tossed a confident ball to the pylon. Banks made the play with BC’s Elijah Jones in coverage. From there on out, Hartman made BC’s defensive backs look flat-out hapless.

Hartman showed a poise on his progressions that is a rare trait for college quarterbacks, due in large part to Wake’s pro-style offense. Hartman once again showed why he can outplay any quarterback in the FBS. He’s not just one of the ACC’s best—he’s one of the nation’s most fine-tuned signal callers.

Lack of Discipline and Pressure on the Quarterback

In its last two matchups, BC’s defense has shown abysmal play in the trenches. The interior defense has a combined nine tackles for loss and four sacks in two games, well below its marks in the Eagles’ first five games. The lack of pressure on opponent quarterbacks is catching up to BC’s play in the secondary.

Total tackles have decreased for the Eagles’ defense in recent games, and it’s due to a lack of pursuit in the field. Linebacker Kam Arnold made a career-high 12 tackles at Virginia Tech on Oct. 22, but in BC’s last two games, the Eagles’ leading tackler combined for just 13 total tackles. Linebacker Vinny DePalma has been limited, too, recording just seven solo tackles in two games. Against ACC opponents, BC is facing tougher and more durable offensive linemen, many of whom are NFL-scouted players. 

The penalties added up for BC in its loss to the Demon Deacons, and it’s not just a matter of the defense. Early jumps on the offensive line have been a consistent problem for the coming-and-going, injury-prone group that has to protect quarterback Phil Jurkovec. The Eagles recorded 11 penalties for 104 yards. Pursuit and penalties will need to improve in the coming weeks for both BC on both sides of the ball.

Throw to Zay and Pray

Saturday wasn’t the first time wide receiver Zay Flowers didn’t look thrilled to be on BC’s sideline. After reports came out that Flowers turned down a six-figure NIL offer to transfer, BC fans have been pressing their fists to their foreheads in pure sympathetic agony for who some say is college football’s most dominant deep threat.

Just past the six-minute mark of the second quarter, Flowers made one of the best plays of his career. On second down with 21 yards to go from BC’s 39-yard line, Jurkovec unleashed a bomb downfield to a wide-open Flowers between two of Wake’s defensive backs. Flowers caught the ball in transition, and immediately after securing it, he took a hop step backwards, making Wake’s Isaiah Wingfield touch earth. After the basketball-looking move, Flowers powered his way through with his nifty speed down the left sideline and into the end zone. 

Flowers, who leads the ACC in receiving yards, capped off another stellar performance with 10 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. Some could argue he’s been the only spark plug for BC all season long.

October 23, 2022