Postgame reactions tend to mirror final scores and results. Positive results yield happier analysis, but losses have a way of crystallizing questions of a team’s performance. It’s a byproduct of the way sports toy with human emotions, and it creates the oft-mentioned, year-to-year rollercoaster.
Boston College lost to Louisville, 41-39, in a Saturday shootout, dropping the team to a 3-3, .500 record at the halfway point of the season. It was the second consecutive loss by three points or less and the second consecutive conference loss. Both times, BC rode the game to the wire, but the final score’s shortfall leaves a bitter taste as the team enters a bye week.
“These two teams battled the hell out of each other,” head coach Steve Addazio said. “When you have those games, when you win the game, everything will be nice. When you (lose), you overlook everything else, (asking) what about this and what about this.”
This particular loss created a number of different questions for the team to answer in the coming weeks. Quarterback Anthony Brown left the game due to injury in the second quarter. The team improved statistically on third downs on offense but still struggled to get off the field on defense, surrendering a program-record 664 yards. It took a lead late in the fourth quarter but once again watched an opponent come up with the right play at the right time.
By nature, these questions beg for an immediate answer, but the truth is that the team still has half of a season to move forward. Correcting mistakes isn’t an overnight process because it requires coaching, teaching, and future improvement. There is still plenty of football left in this season, and the perceived weaknesses over the last two weeks can be fixed moving forward.
They aren’t mistakes so much as they are opportunities for growth. There is a cohesion to this team, and this week begins the process of moving forward to create a memorable second half of the year.
“I’d much rather get on the video, correct it, and work with it as we would do whether we win a game or if we lose a game,” Addazio said. “We’ve been in this a long time (with) the old saying, ‘steady the boat.’ We’ve got a talented team, and I like to be around this football team. I told them, ‘I’m proud to be your coach.’ They’ve got an unbelievable will. I’m energized to say we can get back to work, keep growing, keep molding and keep building this football team.
“I’m interested in what went right and how we will work on things that will make us better,” he elaborated. “This is where you have a great opportunity to test your mettle, your faith, and your character. I think where we’re going to head, and I’m excited about it.”
Still, there’s a process of analyzing what happened on Saturday in the Bluegrass State. Here’s some of what we learned:
First Down: Boston College Defense
BC’s three losses placed an unfamiliar emphasis on the defense. Kansas scored 48 points, and the last two weeks left the Eagles with over 1,100 yards surrendered against Wake Forest and Louisville. The Cardinals set a new opponent yardage record against BC on Saturday while marking the seventh time in program history that a defense allowed 600 yards. It was the second time Louisville set that mark after going for 625 yards in the 2017 shootout.
The defense was better on third down than it was against Wake Forest, but Louisville went 8-of-16. A bulk of it came in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals went 2-of-5. One of those conversions was a 23-yard touchdown pass from Evan Conley to Dez Fitzpatrick to finish a 13-play, 96-yard drive spanning over six minutes.
There isn’t a whole lot to analyze about the defense in any one particular play, other than that it simply has to get better at the right times. So this week, the team needs to go back and analyze everything from top to bottom in order to create a punch list for how to improve.
“There was a lot of offense on both sides of the field,” Steve Addazio said. “Obviously, we’d like to do a better job getting off the field. It’s up to us coaches to do everything that we can to put our guys in the best position to be able to come up with a stop. We needed one stop. Three minutes and 30 seconds left, and we needed one stop. So we have to go back and see where we can help our guys get better, where we can put them in better positions.”
It’s not simple enough to focus on one aspect of tackling fundamentals or coverage reads; the team instead will look internally and work towards fixing it through the bye week before returning to the field against NC State. It’s not as easy as simply saying a formation or substitution changes or fixes everything; it’s on the whole unit to work together to find the correct solution while trusting the process that annually made BC a defensive stronghold in the ACC.
Second Down: Anthony Brown and Dennis Grosel
My heart sank to my kneecaps in the second quarter when Anthony Brown went down following a 14-yard run in the second quarter. He was in the midst of an electric game, hitting tight end Hunter Long for a deep ball touchdown and coming off of a 53-yard rainbow to wide receiver Zay Flowers. He was 6-of-7 at that point for 193 yards, in full command of the BC offense.
Then the quarterback draw play happened, and Brown went down with an apparent lower leg injury. It abruptly ended his day and watching him head off the field absolutely crushed me emotionally. Any injury, no matter how serious, is unfortunate, but the high-to-low swing, especially after watching his development and return from prior injuries, is enough to break anyone’s heart.
The severity of the injury is unclear at the current moment, so I won’t speculate to anything. Instead, I’ll continue forward by simply looking at Dennis Grosel.
Grosel came off the bench to immediately throw a touchdown pass to Korab Idrizi, and he showed command of the offense in throwing for 111 yards. At one point, he was 7-of-13 passing with three touchdown passes, an indication of how he could perform as part of the offense. He’s a very different type of quarterback than Brown, and his unique set of skills slightly altered the idiosyncrasies of the offense. Louisville simply wasn’t ready for it, and it allowed the team to keep charging through yards and points.
“I thought Dennis showed a lot of grit and poise,” Steve Addazio said. “(He) made plays in both the run game and the throw game. I’m very, very sad for Anthony, but we have to see what the extent of his injury is. (In the meantime), we have to continue getting Dennis and Matt (Valecce) ready to play.”
The backup quarterback battle between Grosel and Valecce was arguably the most entertaining preseason subplot. The two quarterbacks operate differently because Grosel is more mobile. Valecce is a better pocket passer. The offense can change and shift based on who is playing, though it obviously remained true to its core values.
“I had a lot of support from everyone on the team,” Grosel said. “(It’s) just everything we work for since training camp, leading towards the end. So what was going through my head is to make the simple plays, just keep (drives) rolling. I thought we did a pretty good job at that, and I had trust in everyone else. They have trust in me.”
Backup quarterbacks always have to be ready to play at a moment’s notice, and there’s always interest in the team’s ability to continuously develop the position. Brown has dealt with injuries before and rallied, but this is the deepest backup room the team has had in recent years.
“Those are two guys who are great, hard-working, high character guys who got to get ready to ball,” Addazio said.
“(Brown) is a great guy,” Grosel said. “When things went down, he did not want to go into the (medical) tent, didn’t want to go to the locker room. He stood there and watched us play and watched me do everything I could. I really supported him in his career, and he supported me back. Dialogue between us is everything, and we were seeing what looks good, what looks bad.”
-I loved Louisville’s “Muhammad Ali” legacy uniforms yesterday. I obviously never saw Ali as a fighter, but his legacy transcends generations. He was a boxer, an entertainer, a showman, and an activist. He was polarizing but unafraid, and he remains a piece of Louisville history.
-The Eagles failed to force a turnover for the first time since the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl.
-The white pants are a classy look with the maroon jerseys. I think I remember the New York Giants doing it once or twice at some point with their blue jerseys and saying the same thing.
-I caught some high school football in Massachusetts this weekend, and I will always give respect and love to kids who put on their hometown colors. I always marvel at local school spirit, and I love it when a town comes out to support its youth like that. If there’s an opportunity to catch a local game, I always suggest going to do it, even if it’s only once.
Third Down: Boston College Offense
The defeat overshadowed the Eagles’ offensive performance. The team continued its trend of surging against an opponent’s defense and finished with over 500 yards for the second consecutive game and third time this season. In six games, the offense has gone over 400 yards every time while achieving a near-perfect balance in production.
“The plan on every drive is to go score,” Hunter Long said. “(We) try to put as many points as we can. The ball didn’t fall our way, (and this) is a tough loss. It’s a team thing, and everyone could have done something better, including myself.”
Long remains the team’s leading receiver, and his three catches were part of a spread-around day for the team’s pass-catchers. Four players, including another tight end, Korab Idrizi, finished with three receptions, and Jake Burt went for two catches for 21 yards. Three different receivers caught explosive gains, including two tight ends – Long and Burt – and running back AJ Dillon.
Dillon’s performance continued a return to glory for the junior running back. He rushed for 118 yards, ending a string of consecutive 150-yard performances, and brought his career total to 3,442 yards. It still marked his fourth straight time over the century mark, the second time he’s done it in his career.
With six games remaining, he is less than 100 yards away from catching Troy Stradford in the program’s record books, and there’s a legitimate watch on his assault of Andre Williams’ career-best 3,739 yards.
Fourth Down: Special Teams
Special teams usually only draw mention if something goes wrong, and the swings are among the most extreme in football. Last week, for example, placed a white-hot spotlight on the kicking game after the botched fourth-quarter field goal attempt against Wake Forest. When something goes right, nobody really notices. When something goes wrong, it becomes a headline.
Had BC won the game, Aaron Boumerhi would’ve likely been a hero. He kicked a 45-yard field goal with under four minutes remaining to give the Eagles a 39-38 lead. It was his second made kick of the year over 40 yards, and it gave him an active day with a perfect 4-of-4 on extra points. Because his Louisville counterpart, Blanton Creque, missed a 44-yarder at the end of the first half, the discussion would’ve been on the Eagles’ advantage in that department.
Punter Grant Carlson also had an active day, kicking 205 yards on four punts with two landings inside the Louisville 20. His 60-yard punt in the second quarter was a career-long over a 54-yard kick at NC State last season.
Point After: Bye Week
Losing to Louisville unquestionably hurts, but yesterday’s ACC results did nothing to clean the waters facing the conference’s bowl hunt. North Carolina defeated Georgia Tech, 38-22, to improve to 2-1, but the remaining results only brought the division races closer even tighter.
Pittsburgh surrendered 20 points in the fourth quarter but held onto a 33-30 win over Duke, and Virginia Tech opened up a 21-0 lead in the first quarter before beating Miami, 42-35.
The results mean 11 teams enter this week with either one or two ACC losses. The only teams with any kind of cushion are Clemson and Virginia, both of which have at least two conference wins without a loss.
Wake Forest, the lone other undefeated team, is 1-0 but still has to play every other ACC Atlantic Division team along with crossover games at Virginia Tech and Duke.
So while BC is one of four teams with two ACC losses, it still controls its own destiny in the division race for a bowl game. The Eagles still play Florida State and Clemson, and the next game, at home against NC State, now becomes critical in terms of positioning.
The ACC’s tiered approach creates a wide-open race to a number of different slots, and everything is based on conference record. The results this past weekend kept the race as wide open as it’s already been; even though the last two weeks left a definitive sting, there is still meaningful football left – and a long road between now and the end of the season.