Spring, Football, Sports

BC’s Defense Steals the Show in Annual Spring Game

Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley was not lying when he said the Eagles’ defense was ahead of its offense at the start of the 2023 spring season. BC’s defense forced six turnovers and registered six sacks in its annual Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game at Alumni Stadium on Saturday, doubling the touchdown count of the offense that was playing with no pressure of real tackles or real scoring. 

But Hafley was also transparent about BC not showcasing much of its new offense under offensive coordinator Steve Shimko due to the game being televised. 

“Today was going to be vanilla,” Hafley said of the offense. 

Make that vanilla in an extra large cup, as the Eagles didn’t score until the 9:33 mark in the second quarter when starting quarterback Emmett Morehead dropped an easy pass into the hands of Dino Tomlin for a wide-open 5-yard touchdown. That would be the only touchdown pass of Morehead’s day, and the signal-caller was also intercepted twice. Morehead finished 14 of 25 for 151 yards. 

But according to Hafley, there is nothing to worry about. 

“At the end of the day, I’m not gonna judge us off our spring game,” Hafley, who stood on the field behind the offense during the game, said. “I think we ran four verticals like 10 times, we threw goal balls which we haven’t done much of all spring. We ran two different run plays out of the same formation. … If the defense didn’t have a better day, knowing the limitations of what we were gonna run on offense, then something’s wrong with the defense.” 

In a game where the final score is perhaps the least important aspect—Maroon won 69–42, tallying points from a modified scoring system—sophomore cornerback Amari Jackson stood out most among the rest. 

Jackson picked off Morehead twice, one being an end zone takeaway. The McDonough, Ga. native even made a cameo on offense, catching a pass.

“Details,” cornerback Elijah Jones said about his teammate’s play. “He’s definitely improved from last year.” 

There were five interceptions in total and one fumble recovery in the game, with three of the interceptions taking place in the red zone—in part due to the second half being a 33-minute, running clock, situational gameplay style. Hafley said he was particularly impressed with how his defensive backs played—they recorded eight pass breakups—with a highlight coming from Jones’ one-handed, acrobatic bat-down. 

Besides Morehead, four other quarterbacks saw action. Jacobe Robinson, who joined the Eagles mid year and Hafley said is a “high school senior,” first received playing time after Morehead, perhaps unofficially making Robinson the backup under center. While the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Robinson was a bit shaky, he displayed fast feet and solid athleticism, even breaking out for a major run play on the ground. 

“When that guy covers ground, he just goes,” Hafley said. “For him to go up there and execute and do some stuff … he’s got a chance because of his mindset, his work ethic and his athletic ability. He’s a big man.”

The Eagles only had two red zone plays installed and the defense only played one coverage, making those takeaway opportunities where BC just “threw the ball up” a bit easier. BC reached the end zone two more times after Morehead’s initial touchdown. Matthew Rueve found redshirt junior tight end Charlie Gordinier for a 4-yard touchdown pass near the end of the half, and redshirt junior running back Andre Hines found a gap on a sweep for a 12-yard rushing touchdown. 

“We installed a lot of our offense and executed it well,” Morehead said of the spring overall. “Today, we ran only a couple plays, but it went really well. I think the guys really like the offense.”

Starting wide receiver Joseph Griffin Jr. did not play to continue recovery from offseason surgery, and graduate transfer Ryan O’Keefe played sparingly in order to not showcase how BC will utilize him. 

Instead, Tomlin and Taji Johnson led BC’s receiving core on Saturday. Johnson, who only caught nine passes last season, was targeted by Morehead fairly often, demonstrating his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, potentially hinting at a larger role next season. 

“I love those guys,” Morehead said. “They’ve worked really hard with me every day after practice. I know I can trust them in big moments in the season. I know Dino came up a bunch for me last year.” 

Tomlin said he felt good about how the receiver groups played, but still addressed the need for improvement. 

“We definitely gotta play a lot cleaner, formationaly and whatnot,” Tomlin said. 

Pat Garwo III, Alex Broome, and Cam Barfield got most of the work as the starting running backs. There were no big-run chunk plays—mostly due to the thud system with referees blowing a whistle when guys got touches—eliminating the possibility for breaking tackles. The trio played behind a starting offensive line of Ozzy Trapilo, Logan Taylor, Drew Kendall, Kyle Hergel, and Jack Conley. Christian Mahogany, who is back and fully healthy, did not suit up for the game.

Hafley emphasized how important it is that BC is entering the summer fully healthy and declared that last season’s struggles were now seen as a positive. 

“Because they went through that last year and they said ‘okay, I can do this,’ now they have some confidence,” Hafley said.

April 16, 2023