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Three Keys to Victory: Georgia Tech

Three critical objectives for BC to achieve in Saturday's game against the Yellow Jackets

Fresh off a win against Virginia Tech last Friday, the Boston College Eagles now fly south before winter. They will face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, another team with a disappointing record. Like the Eagles, Georgia Tech lost their star quarterback for a few games. But their defense has struggled immensely, and the offense hasn’t been able to keep up with opponents. With Phil Jurkovec back under center, the Eagles now have a new attitude entering the home stretch of their season. What does BC need to do this week to squad the Yellow Jackets?

Lessons from Losses

The Boston College Eagles will face a similar attack to those they met two and three weeks ago. In both those games, the defense allowed over 300 yards on the ground alone, somewhat inflating their rushing yards per game stat. Like Louisville, Georgia Tech features a dynamic dual-threat QB that can create explosive plays with his legs. The Yellow Jackets also have Jahmyr Gibbs, arguably the best running back in the ACC, like Sean Tucker. Georgia Tech also has two very capable backup running backs in Dontae Smith and Jordan Mason. BC’s defense needs to keep building off what they’ve done well the last two weeks.

Despite a statistically poor performance against Syracuse, the Eagles’ defense looked much better than they did against Louisville for the majority of the game. Between Tucker and quarterback Garrett Shrader, the Orange ran for 322 yards. However, 198 of those yards came on five combined carries and made up over 60% of Cuse’s rushing yards. Therefore, on the other 36 carries, the Orange only ran for 124 yards, good for 3.4 yards per carry. That number is still decently high, but the truth is that outside of a few explosive plays, BC did a solid job stopping Cuse on the ground.

Since the Louisville game, Boston College has improved on defense due to playing smarter and more disciplined against the run. Against another team with a complex, multi-faceted running game, they will have to maintain that discipline. Despite losing a player like Isaiah Graham-Mobley to injury, the Eagles defense is getting superb play out of guys like Vinny DePalma and, to a lesser extent, Kam Arnold. DePalma and Arnold are oddly reminiscent of last year’s linebacker duo of Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie. One is the elder player with experience and instincts but lacks athleticism; the other is the younger player with great speed and aggressiveness but sometimes gets out of position. But DePalma has put together two excellent games, and Arnold is getting better every week.

Arguably the most crucial part of stopping Georgia Tech’s rushing offense and preventing big plays will come down to the safeties. Jaiden Woodbey, now firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, is playing very well and should be an integral and effective part of limiting the Yellow Jackets’ offense. This leaves us with Mike Palmer. Thanks to season-ending injuries for Deon Jones and Jason Maitre, Palmer is now back starting at free safety. He is a good coverage player and put together an excellent game last week. But where Palmer struggles the most is taking good angles downhill to cut off runners breaking into the secondary. This will be the aspect of the game I’ll be watching closely because if Palmer continues to struggle there, players like Sims and Gibbs can kill you with explosives. But if he plays like he did last week, this game should look a lot like it did last year.

Let Phil Cook

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A few weeks ago, although it seems like last season, I described a metaphor where I wanted Frank Cignetti Jr. to let Dennis Grosel bake with this offense. Suffice it to say, Grosel did not follow the recipe to the letter, and the product was not very good. But now, there’s a new (or old) hotshot chef back in the kitchen ready to take the Eagles to Flavortown. In the parlance of Chopped, Phil Jurkovec was given a pretty easy basket to work with last week. Despite one or two bad mistakes, Jurkovec added some of his signature flair to the offense and put together a successful dish. This week, it’s time to really up the flavor factor.

With a whole week of practice under his belt, it’s time to unleash Phil Jurkovec and what the offense should have been. Jurk’s big arm unlocks an entirely different aspect of this offense that attacks areas of the field that previous quarterbacks could not. Even though Cignetti tried to shoehorn some vertical passing plays into the offense with Grosel under center, I imagine he’s kept some under wraps. Now is the time to put them back in the playbook.

Statistically, Jurkovec adds an explosive element to the Eagles’ offense, even if his numbers slightly regress. In the 2021 season, he is six for 12 on passes greater than 20 yards for 127 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Conversely, Dennis Grosel completed on four of his 25 deep passing attempts. Additionally, the Georgia Tech defense is an ideal opponent to attack through the air. They are allowing the highest completion percentage among ACC defenses (64.7%), the fourth-most passing yards (267.7 per game), and the highest passing efficiency (162.2). This game is a perfect opportunity for Jurkovec to remind the ACC and the college football world of what he can do.

Go Heavy

Despite my desire for a more wide-open passing offense, I think this is an ideal opportunity for BC to utilize their tight ends more. Part of the reason for this is injuries. Ethon Williams, Kobay White, and CJ Lewis seem to be lost for the season, leaving the Eagles relatively thin at wide receiver. But even with Trae Barry sidelined for another week, the tight end room is still deep. Joey Luchetti and Spencer Witter are great in-line, short-to-intermediate options. But this is an excellent time to kick the tires on players like Brendan Smith and Charlie Gordinier, who could be the future at the tight end position.

There are several reasons why I think multiple tight end sets will be very effective for Boston College. As previously mentioned, the Yellow Jackets’ defense struggles greatly against the pass. This is surprising given that they run a relatively unorthodox defense that is geared towards stopping the pass. Georgia Tech runs a variation on the 3-3-5 defense, using various coverage shells from three-high safety alignments. They also use lighter personnel in the front seven (or six). Therefore, I would suggest counting Georgia Tech’s speed with strength. Even though I still want Jurkovec to throw the ball over the field, this defense is also susceptible to the run. With this offensive line settling in and Tyler Vrabel possibly returning to the lineup, the run game should also be consistently successful.

Naturally, if the run game is succeeding, the passing game should follow. Furthermore, if the Eagles consistently use two or three tight end sets, it may force Georgia Tech to respond by putting bigger, slower defenders on the field. This creates a two-fold effect: inexperienced players will be on the field, and the play-action passing game will be more effective. If there are only two (or even one) wide receivers on the field, Georgia Tech will most likely roll coverage towards those players, leaving the tight ends open.