Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: With Standout Ground Performance at Georgia Tech, BC Makes Claim for One of the Top Rushing Offenses in the Nation in Third Straight Win

With the transfer portal inundated with players departing college football programs after name, image, and likeness legislation went into effect, revolutionizing offenses can be a painstaking process. That clearly hasn’t been an issue for Boston College football head coach Jeff Hafley, offensive coordinator Steve Shimko, and starting quarterback Thomas Castellanos, who transferred to the Heights from Central Florida this past offseason. 

The adjustments this team has made, behind Castellanos’ athleticism, are unprecedented. 

The Eagles finished last in the nation with 63.3 rushing yards per game in 2022. They started the 2022 season with eight different starting offensive line combinations in their first eight games played. Yet, they currently sit at No. 15 overall in the country in rushing yards per game and have the top rushing attack in the ACC at 211.3 yards per game. No other team in the ACC is averaging more than 200. 

Castellanos is first in the nation in total rushing yards for non–running back players with 628 rushing yards and No. 28 overall including running backs. Castellanos is ninth in the nation in rushing touchdowns—counting any position—with nine rushing touchdowns as well. 

Other than undefeated No. 4 Florida State, who BC nearly upset in Week Three, no team in the ACC is on a longer winning streak. Three straight BC wins, including two conference victories amid those three wins, has put an identity back in Chestnut Hill, Mass. 

The Eagles notched back-to-back 300-yard rushing games for the first time since the 2017 season. Castellanos is also the first Power Five quarterback with multiple 100-yard rushing games this season. According to FPI, BC has a 67.1 percent chance of making a bowl game. There isn’t much more you can ask for from this team at this current moment, especially when compared to last year. 

Here are two observations from BC’s 38–23 win at Georgia Tech.

Creating—and Preserving—an Identity

Every week that BC has played this season, the run game has distinguished itself from the rest of the offense. It’s now into a further dimension—this run game is an identity. And the way we’re talking about this identity every week is how you’d probably talk about a team like Michigan, Ohio State, or FSU. It’s that consistent—every single game the Eagles play.

Shimko, a first-year offensive coordinator for the Eagles, needs to be credited. It’s safe to say now that while Hafley praised now-backup quarterback Emmett Morehead to be the leader of this offense in the spring, that plan evaporated once Castellanos arrived in the summer as a transfer. Castellanos’ swag, dexterity, and sheer agility is frankly outstanding. 

While the sophomore signal caller rushed just once in the first quarter of the game, he took off with his explosiveness for the rest of the afternoon. Castellanos finished with 128 yards on the ground in addition to two rushing touchdowns and was complemented by an even stronger performance by Kye Robichaux, who has stepped in for the backfield starter, Pat Garwo III. Robichaux piled on 165 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns of his own. 

Castellanos finished with an interception, but he passed for 255 yards on 17 completions. Much of that success in the air has come from play-action run fakes, which has opened up abundant options. 

The intensive run-game approach has led to plenty of deepshots this season, and you don’t see Shimko direct Castellanos to make shallow or mid-range throws often. Typically, either a swing pass on a wide receiver screen or a deep throw with time in the pocket is featured due to this hard sell on the run, catching opposing defenses off guard. Castellanos can be prone to throw interceptions for this reason—he has six this season—but he makes up for it with his feet.

Great power comes with great responsibility, and Castellanos possesses all of the offensive power for the Eagles. While BC solely relies upon Castellanos—he makes up 42.5 percent of the rushing offense and 69.0 percent of the total offense—he is living up to the responsibility he carries into every single game and setting up an identity that BC can preserve for years to come. He has the potential to become a program great, will likely go down as the best rushing quarterback in BC history, and clearly has those intentions.

“I will say this—we are turning this thing around,” Castellanos said after the game. “Boston is back. Boston College football is back. We’re no longer the laughingstock of college football or the ACC. We’re back and we’re rolling.”

Ball Hawk

Hafley, who possesses defensive expertise as a former defensive backs coach at Ohio State and in multiple NFL stints, faced criticism after a blowout loss at Louisville in which Cardinals quarterback Jack Plummer passed for 388 yards and five touchdowns on just 18 completions. 

Plummer’s longest pass of the game was 75 yards to the house, and four of his touchdown tosses went at least 42 yards in the air. It was one of the worst defensive showings in BC’s secondary during Hafley’s tenure so far. 

But since then, BC has limited opposing quarterbacks to an average of 185.3 passing yards per game and opposing offenses to 23.6 points per game. In that span, the Eagles have accumulated four interceptions as well. And the first interception in BC’s win over the Yellow Jackets on Saturday was one for the highlight reel, as it became SportsCenter’s No. 1 play on Sunday.

With just over a minute left in the first quarter on Saturday and down 7–3, Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King dropped back in the pocket and zipped a pass to the far sideline, intending for Dominick Blaylock on a simple out route. BC cornerback Amari Jackson had other plans in mind.

Diving toward the spiraling ball in perfect pass protection, Jackson swatted the ball with his non-dominant left hand to record a simple pass break up. But, as if there was glue stuck to Jackson’s gloves, the football stuck firmly between his fingers and his torso. Jackson pinned the ball with just one hand, shook off the wide receiver, and made a beeline for the end zone with nothing in front of him but air. 

Blaylock, after realizing he didn’t come up with the catch, froze. Once he caught a glimpse of Jackson running down the sideline with the ball in his hands, he started an attempt to catch up. But there was no DK Metcalf–esque chase down from Blaylock, who helplessly stared at King’s first interception of the game and BC’s first pick six of the season. 

Jackson’s pick six was just the first of the Eagles’ three interceptions in the game, as Elijah Jones tallied two of his own en route to the 38–23 win.

October 22, 2023