Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: Quarterback Dilemma, Wideout Drops, and Costly Penalties Hurt BC in Season-Opening Loss to Northern Illinois

One play summarizes Boston College football’s 27–24 overtime loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday: a dizzying fourth down escape, courtesy of backup quarterback Thomas Castellanos. 

With 8:51 to go in the fourth quarter, the Huskies brought their pass rush straight into the Eagles’ blocking scheme. Castellanos turned on the sprint button from the moment the play began. 

After taking the snap, with five yards to go to the first down marker, Catellanos turned his shoulder and made a beeline in the opposite direction to avoid pressure from two NIU linebackers. Narrowly dodging the referee, the 5-foot-10 signal caller juked to his left and began to tumble backwards. Down at his own 10-yard line, almost 40 yards back from the line of scrimmage, Castellanos scurried all the way back to where he had first started the play, zig-zagging through a heap of defenders. 

Looking downfield, Castellanos heaved a pass to a streaking Lewis Bond, who secured the catch and an unlikely first down for the Eagles. What became a jaw-dropping play for BC, one that’ll likely be featured on the BC highlight reel at the end of the 2023 season, could have easily benched Castellanos for the next offensive drive, or even the rest of the quarter. This is the type of offense that BC mustered against the Huskies—an offense, according to BC head coach Jeff Hafley, that “never even got into a rhythm,” and just looked muddied without any sort of identity.

Here are four observations from the Eagles’ loss.

QB Who?

Seeing Castellanos step into the game on BC’s third offensive drive might have been confusing to some, but Hafley said that was the plan all along. Hafley praised the Central Florida transfer’s progression during spring and fall practice and said rotating the quarterbacks was intended. 

On the flip side, that meant the Eagles’ projected starting quarterback, Emmett Morehead, was relegated to watch from the sidelines as Castellanos took over. 

Castellanos finished with 138 yards through the air, two touchdown passes, and only one interception, but on a 46.4 percent completion rate and a total quarterback rating (QBR) of 44.5. Morehead’s QBR was strikingly worse, sitting at 11.9. 

I suppose the silver lining was Castellanos’ dynamic play style. The signal caller picked up 67 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown on nine carries. Apart from these truths, however, was an underlying sense of stagnancy due to a lack of stability at the quarterback position. For fans at Alumni Stadium, there wasn’t a clear tell as to who was going to take the field on each offensive drive—Castellanos or Morehead. 

Having two quarterbacks will not make do for the rest of the season, and BC’s offensive coordinator Steve Shimko will need to decide on his resolute starter. And having two quarterbacks incapable of commanding an offense or strategizing ways to dismantle a squad like Northern Illinois is incredibly worrisome. 

Slippery Hands

A handful of drops by receivers and tight ends plagued the Eagles all game long, and it’s part of the reason that BC only accumulated 168 total receiving yards. 

Even a simple slant route proved to be an issue for some of BC’s primary targets, like Jaden Williams, Joe Griffin, and especially George Takacs. One of Takacs’ fumbled targets nearly resulted in a game-sealing interception for NIU before the Eagles tied the game at 21 apiece in the fourth quarter. 

Down 21–14, BC started its game-tying drive at the 3:23 mark in the fourth and were bailed out of a turnover due to play review. It all emerged from a bobbled drop. 

After Castellanos rushed up the middle for 16 yards to initiate some energy into the drive, he proceeded to roll out to his left on the next play and tossed a back-shoulder throw to Takacs in the seam. With one defender draped below his waist, Takacs leaped and reached for the ball, which danced off the top of his fingers and shot into the air behind him headed for NIU’s Nate Valcarcel. 

It appeared as though Valcarcel took the ball and tumbled with it, but the interception was overturned and BC proceeded to score a 30-yard touchdown via a Williams’ wheel route. Still, the drops—six in total—were not few and far between for BC’s air attack.

Defensive Penalties

A string of defensive penalties nearly kept BC off the field entirely for its game-knotting drive in the fourth quarter and had Eagles’ fans pulling hair out of their scalp in utter frustration. 

With a seven-point lead and 5:59 left on the clock in regulation, the Huskies started an offensive drive from their own 25-yard line and were halted by long, third down stops three times in a row. This may sound odd, considering this would typically mean that NIU converted two of these third-down situations. But what really happened was penalties. 

On third and 10, Donovan Ezeiruaku committed a personal foul for pushing over Rocky Lombardi, the Huskies’ quarterback, after he had already thrown the ball, which resulted in an incompletion. Then, on third and six on the next series, Jalen Cheek committed pass interference for a 15-yard penalty and another NIU first down, further draining the clock. 

The Eagles eventually stopped the Huskies and received the ball back, but these painstaking mistakes added up in the long run. Overall, BC registered 10 penalties for 93 yards lost. 

O-line Turnaround

While Hafley commented on his inability to get a full read of his offensive line’s performance due to the inconsistencies of offensive flow during the game, it was clear how much of a difference Christian Mahogany’s return and the additions of Kyle Hergel and Logan Taylor made to the success of the O-line.

BC’s offensive line allowed just one sack all game and two tackles for loss. The rushing core accumulated 146 rushing yards on 28 attempts and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt. In addition, it picked up a rushing touchdown. 

This is just a flat-out different look for BC, which boasted arguably the nation’s worst offensive line in 2022. The Eagles averaged 63.2 rushing yards per game last season and totaled only six rushing touchdowns, so this is a momentous step in the right direction, no matter the outcome of the game.

September 3, 2023