Football, Fall, Sports

Preview: BC Looks to Rebound From 3–9 2022 Season in Home Opener

Boston College football is scheduled to open its 2023 season with a home matchup against Northern Illinois this Saturday, the first of three consecutive weekend matchups at Alumni Stadium. In a battle between two squads coming off disappointing 3–9 seasons, both rosters will be eager to hit the ground running and right their wrongs from the previous year. 

In this new campaign for BC, Phil Jurkovec and Zay Flowers—the Eagles’ starting quarterback and top receiver last season—are no longer on the Heights. The Baltimore Ravens selected Flowers, the most renowned BC receiver of all time, in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and ACC-foe Pittsburgh snatched Jurkovec in the transfer portal. 

BC head coach Jeff Hafley returns for his fourth season at the helm while Emmett Morehead, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound signal caller out of Woodside, Calif., takes his turn as the Eagles’ starter under center. In four starts and 10 games played in 2022, Morehead completed 115 of 192 passes for 1,254 yards and 10 touchdowns. Morehead was one of two freshmen in the country last season to produce multiple 325-yard, three-touchdown games.

This year, BC’s football program will also celebrate its 125th season.  

Who is BC playing?

Northern Illinois

When is BC playing?

Saturday, Sept. 2, 12 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

How to watch:

The game will air on ACC Network and BC Sports Network WEEI 93.7 FM/850 AM.

Series history: 

BC’s 2023 season opener marks just the fourth time the Huskies and Eagles have matched up. BC has won all three of the previous matchups. 

The most recent contest between the two happened on Sept. 1, 2017, when the Eagles secured a narrow 23–20 win at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, Ill. in their season opener. Anthony Brown passed for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in the game while BC’s defense combined for 33 tackles. 

The two also met on Sept. 26, 2015, when the Eagles again took home a three-point victory by a score of 17–14. 

What to expect from Northern Illinois:

Offense

The Huskies have historically had a strong rushing attack, and it is on the ground where they will look to overpower the Eagles. Last season, the Huskies effectively ran the pigskin, averaging 190.4 rushing yards per game, good for second in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). 

But, Harrison Waylee, Northern Illinois’ leading rusher last year, hit the transfer portal and joined Wyoming in the offseason. The player looking to replace Waylee as the starter is Antario Brown, a junior from Savannah, Ga. Brown led the MAC with 6.3 yards per carry in 2022, albeit on limited volume. The Eagles must be wary of the Huskies’ ground game, given Brown’s production combined with an offensive line returning four of its five starters from last year. 

While Northern Illinois enjoyed a good year on the ground last season, the same cannot be said for its passing game. The Huskies averaged just 182.7 passing yards per game, good for 10th in the MAC. 

Seventh-year senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi will make a return to the lineup after playing in only four games last season due to injury. Lombardi, who transferred from Michigan State in 2021, has been a steady signal caller for Northern Illinois when able to stay healthy, racking up 3,242 yards and 20 touchdowns while completing 60.0 percent of his passes. He is also a threat on the ground, boasting 10 rushing touchdowns during his tenure in DeKalb. The Huskies feature a strong offensive line, which only gave up 12 sacks last season.

Defense

Defense figures to be the weaker side of the ball for the Huskies. In 2023, Northern Illinois allowed 32.8 points per game and 396 total yards per game. 

The Huskies’ run defense was effective, as it only surrendered 3.8 yards per carry to opponents. That being said, the Huskies’ air defense struggled mightily against the pass, allowing 252.8 passing yards per game as opposed to only 142.8 yards per game on the ground. The Eagles will have to damage Northern Illinois with Morehead’s arm if they are to defeat the Huskies on Saturday.  

Outlook:

BC’s offense should be able to move the ball in the air against the Huskies, especially with the addition of graduate transfer wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe from Central Florida. O’Keefe has already been recognized as a candidate for several pre-season awards, including the Biletnikoff Award watch list, which is bestowed to the top receiver in the country at the end of the year. The problem for BC will be stopping Northern Illinois’ strong rushing attack. 

While BC should be considered the easy favorite—and have a 70.7 percent chance of winning according to ESPN’s matchup predictor—its contest against Northern Illinois will be anything but easy. Coming off a 3–9 season, Hafley has to step up his game and prove to the Heights’ faithful why they entrusted him as the school’s top-paid head coach in the first place. 

September 2, 2023