Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: Elijah Jones’ Multi-Interception Game, Time of Possession Keep Eagles Afloat in Bowl-Securing Win

Owen McGowan’s toothy grin said it all.  

Stumbling into the post-game press conference with sweat-matted hair, sporting a Boston College football tracksuit from top to bottom, McGowan panted before he responded to the media’s questions on Friday night in the JMA Wireless Dome. 

McGowan, a redshirt sophomore out of Canton, Mass., has played in all three levels for BC—special teams, offense, and defense. His 2-yard touchdown reception at the end of the second half grabbed a 10–7 lead for the Eagles in their 17–10 takedown of Syracuse, and it marked his first-career touchdown. 

Echoing BC head coach Jeff Hafley’s sentiments, McGowan talked about the fact that depth made the difference in the Friday-night road matchup. Players such as McGowan, Andre Hines Jr., and CJ Clinkscales had to step up amid injuries. 

“It speaks to the culture at BC,” McGowan said. “There’s guys who haven’t played, and they get their moment and they’re ready.”

McGowan wasn’t the only contributor from the lower depth chart Friday, as Hines stepped into the backfield for an injured Kye Robichaux and ran for 32 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter. Clinkscales, a redshirt freshman defensive back, recorded his first interception, picking off backup quarterback Carlos Del Rio-Wilson on the Orange’s first drive of the game, which BC converted into a field goal. 

And redshirt sophomore Cole Batson, though a starter in most games, sealed the victory with a late interception.

An all-out effort from the entire Eagles’ roster was the benefactor and paved the road to glory for the fifth straight week. No BC team has won five in a row since 2010.

Here are three observations from the win.

Dominating Unseen Battles, Failing to Convert

For the second straight week, BC defeated its opponent by just seven points despite totaling at least 40 minutes of possession. In both matchups, the Eagles ran at least 80 plays, which has thwarted the other teams—Syracuse and Connecticut—by at least 40 more plays.

It’s slightly astounding to see that BC has beaten these opponents by just one score despite accumulating total control over the football. Hafley shrugged and shook his head when he saw the numbers for himself. “Gotta score, gotta score,” he muttered quietly before taking questions. 

“You know we’re down a lot of guys,” Hafley said. “It’s a gritty win. We scored when we needed to.”

While the Eagles led in total offensive yards on Friday at a 350–246 margin, its 3.7 average yards per play signaled out one thing—BC didn’t really complete a huge play down the field, unlike the Orange. In comparison to the Eagles’ touchdowns, which involved chipping away yard by yard and clearing out the clock, Syracuse transformed big plays down the field into its points. 

The Orange were few and far between in terms of scoring, but when they did, it was noticeable. On Syracuse’s first touchdown of the game, running back LeQuint Allen shook off a defender on the right side of the offensive line to burst over midfield for 32 yards. A gaping hole in the middle of the field let up a hole for Del Rio-Wilson, who exploded for 27 yards to go up 7–3 just before the end of the first quarter. 

BC, on the other hand, scored on drives that both lasted just around eight minutes. Injuries were a part of this, as BC’s top playmakers in Ryan O’Keefe and Alex Broome were both out, and some frisky throws from BC quarterback Thomas Castellanos also subscribed to the matter. The signal caller only averaged 4.5 air yards per attempt. 

All that being said, BC managed a near 50 percent success rate on third down, going 9 for 20, and went 3 for 4 on fourth down. The Eagles also pulled off a fake punt in the fourth quarter to keep a drive going that ended in, ironically, a punt. Getting into the final fourth of the field was an issue all game, but when BC did get into the red zone, it scored on all three of its trips.

Elijah Jones for Defensive MVP?

Cornerback Elijah Jones came into the week with just 11 catches allowed on 35 targets—one of the best marks for any defensive back in the country. On Friday, Jones added his second multi-interception game of the year, playing lock-down defense all night long and terrorizing Del Rio-Wilson. 

On Syracuse’s final offensive drive of the matchup, a Jones pass deflection led to the backup’s fourth pick of the night. He is now tied for second in the nation in total interceptions with five.

“I trusted the defense to stop them,” Hafley said. 

Castellanos gave credit to Jones specifically. 

“He’s playing the best football he’s ever played,” Castellanos said. “He’s a next-level guy.”

On his first interception of the night, Jones tracked backwards, covering Syracuse’s Donavon Brown all the way into the end zone on a go route. Jones pivoted, turned his head on a swivel, and let a few seconds pass before pinning the ball to his chest with both of his arms out. 

Jones secured the pick cleanly for the touchback to give BC the ball back with 8:47 left in the first half. 

Jones’ second interception, and the Eagles’ third of the game, displayed an even more impressive defensive awareness. 

After a costly fumble on a Robichaux catch and run gave the Orange the ball with 12:27 left in regulation, it took just three plays for Jones to snatch another one. Del Rio-Wilson dropped back and fired a dart to wide receiver Umari Hatcher on his backside. Draped below the wideout, Jones reached his hands into the pocket between Hatcher’s hands and the tucked football, quite literally ripped the ball out of its socket, and came away with the turnover.

The Eagles entered the matchup ranked second to last in interceptions in the ACC. After the four-interception game, they are now sixth with eight on the year. 

Injuries Limit the Run Game

It is clear that the rushing burden has been placed on Castellanos, and it stems from the injuries to BC’s run depth. This burden has firmly shut a padlock on the quarterback’s ability to work in tandem with the rest of the ground attack, and with so much rotation on the depth chart, the load is solely being put on his back.

After posting a 128-yard, two-touchdown performance on the ground against Georgia Tech in Week Eight, Castellanos has managed just 132 rushing yards since starting running back Pat Garwo III was ruled out for the season. Broome was out for Friday’s contest and Robichaux got decked into an injury during the affair. This could be a serious problem for a team that still has three remaining conference games.

With an empty backfield due to an injury-rattled roster, Castellanos has been forced to turn to the air, which is definitely a less reliable option. Offensive coordinator Steve Shimko mostly ran screen passes against the Orange, and while some worked for gains of 5-plus yards, a good chunk of them lost yards or went for no gain. 

When Castellanos did look downfield to throw, there wasn’t a reliable chance he was going to convert. The man under center completed just 20 passes in 37 attempts for 165 yards and a touchdown. His longest pass was for 21 yards.

He recorded 87 yards on the ground, which is no small feat, and it’s a huge step up from his 45-yard rushing performance against the Huskies. But if the Eagles want to remain hot and continue their five-game streak, Castellanos is going to need options to both sides of his hips in order to not get battered play after play. The “one-man offense” is definitely starting to apply to BC, and it will likely remain that way until the injuries stop piling up.

November 5, 2023