Sports, Football, Fall

Notebook: Castellanos’ Interceptions, Injuries, and Lackluster Defense Play Role in BC’s Loss to Hokies

Virginia Tech didn’t only snap Boston College football’s path to the ACC Championship on Saturday. The Eagles also received a massive reality check in terms of where they stand as a program overall. 

Five straight wins brought excitement to Chestnut Hill, but winning out the rest of the season proved to be a bit too lofty of an aspiration for BC head coach Jeff Hafley. After squeaking out wins against Connecticut and Syracuse the past two weeks with below-average offensive showings, BC’s defense could not carry the load against the Hokies. 

“When you go on a couple-game win streak, you’ve got to be focused, you’ve got to be on your details, and you’ve got to execute at a high level,” Hafley said. “If you don’t, you can get humbled pretty quick.”

Virginia Tech scored 35 straight points in the win, putting BC down 38–7 early in the third quarter and simultaneously emptying out Alumni Stadium. Quarterback Kyron Drones ran all over the Eagles, rushing for 135 yards while throwing for two touchdowns, outplaying Thomas Castellanos in the exact way Castellanos has torched opponents in previous weeks. 

With “The Path” no longer in play, BC will either take its loss as motivation to improve and win in a short week, or lose its last two games of the season—something the Eagles have done under Hafley in both the 2021 and 2022 seasons. 

Here are three observations from the 48–22 loss.

Castellanos Brought Back to Earth

While Castellanos was largely the reason BC managed to go on a five-game win streak and take powerhouse then-No. 3 Florida State to the end of the game in a two-point loss in Week Three, the signal caller has slowly regressed since his 255–passing and 128–rushing yard performance against Georgia Tech in Week Eight.

The sophomore transfer has struggled to use his arm and connect with receivers over the past three weeks, and that issue spilled over on Saturday. Castellanos went 10 for 20, but threw two first-quarter interceptions which Virginia Tech easily picked off. The interceptions set the tone for the game, and BC never connected.

Even as the game went on, Castellanos couldn’t find his arm, whether he was underthrowing or overthrowing the ball. His second interception was short of Dino Tomlin sprinting down the sideline, allowing Dorian Strong to undercut Tomlin and pick it off. And later in the second quarter, Castellanos simply put too much zip on the ball for receiver Jaden Williams down the left sideline, resulting in Williams failing to haul it in and erasing a potential 20-yard play.

Castellanos’ elusive rushing attack has also not been as dynamic as it was earlier this season. He rushed for just 46 yards on Saturday, totaling 178 rushing yards over the last three weeks. While that is still a solid number, BC’s injured backfield means Castellanos is needed to do even more. Castellanos may prefer to protect his body behind the Eagles’ stellar offensive line, but his rushing attack is what truly makes BC a dangerous opponent.

Injuries and “Next Man Up?”

Part of the reason Castellanos has not had as much success running the ball recently is because of the injuries to BC’s running backs. Pat Garwo III, who had rushed for 270 yards through five weeks, is out for the season. 

Kye Robichaux, BC’s lead back who has rushed for 565 yards and six touchdowns through eight weeks, was injured against Syracuse and was not cleared to return on Saturday. And Alex Broome, who has rushed for 270 yards through seven weeks, returned Saturday after missing BC’s game against Syracuse with an injury.

While Broome recorded 56 rushing yards and one touchdown against the Hokies, a majority of those yards came on a first-quarter, 36-yard run. BC finished the game with 124 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry. It was evident that Robichaux’s powerful, head-down running approach was missed, as the Eagles didn’t have a big back they could rely on third and fourth downs.

BC finished the game going 3 of 12 on third-down conversions. Andre Hines Jr., who was praised after helping BC defeat Syracuse, received only one carry. Broome finished with nine rushes, and Xavier Coleman, who had only appeared in two games prior to Saturday, recorded five carries for 14 yards and one touchdown.

But no one came close to replacing Robichaux’s production, something BC desperately needs to get back.

Elijah Jones was also notably absent from Saturday’s game just a week after recording two interceptions and being named one of 247Sports stars of the week. Hafley confirmed Jones is likely out for the season, and did not confirm that Jones’ absence was injury-related. If that proves to be true, it’s a troubling pattern for BC, as Williams missed the final six games of the 2022 season due to a non-injury related matter. 

Without Jones on the field Saturday, the Eagles’ other defensive backs—such as Amari Jackson, Cole Batson, and John Pupel—did not rise to the occasion.  

Jackson, for example, couldn’t get over to Jaylin Lane fast enough at the 7:04 mark in the second quarter, allowing the receiver to prance into the end zone to put the Hokies ahead 24–7. 

Then, with 2:29 left in the second quarter, Da’Quan Felton torched Jackson and Batson on a go route, creating three defenders worth of space. Jackson and Batson couldn’t even bring Felton down initially, allowing 20 yards after the catch. The Hokies went on to score to go up 31–7. 

Virginia Tech’s final touchdown, a Malachi Thomas 35-yard rush to go up 45–15, featured Jackson not even turning around on the play to attempt to tackle the back, allowing for another untouched Hokies score. 

Getting Back on Track

Forty-eight points is the most points BC has given up since playing Notre Dame on Sept. 16, 2017, when the Eagles surrendered 49 points to the Fighting Irish. 

With a short week, BC must have a short memory if it wants to continue to climb the ranks for a better bowl game. 

“It’s going to be erased very quickly, sometimes that’s the beauty of playing on a short week—you have no other choice,” Hafley said. “It’s on to Pittsburgh very fast.”

Being better prepared comes with having a short memory, as Hafley needs to be ready for anything Pitt will throw at BC this upcoming Thursday.  

On Saturday, the Eagles were ill-prepared for Drones’ designed runs, as BC’s defensive line looked helpless against the 6-foot-2 quarterback. The defensive line didn’t receive much help from the linebackers and defensive backs in containment either. Virginia Tech’s onside kick with 1:26 left in the first quarter gave the Hokies a quick 10 points to set the tone for the game. 

Game planning also went wayward in Saturday’s matchup. Both of Castellanos’ interceptions came on first downs. BC could avoid those risky Castellanos throws if it ran the ball more on first and second down. But getting Robichaux back will obviously be a big determinant of whether the Eagles can be effective in their rush attack.

November 12, 2023