BC Roundtable: Discussing the First Half of the Season, Hafley, & Clemson
The BC roundtable of journalists has returned in time to talk about the upcoming matchup with the undefeated Clemson Tigers. Today Dan Rubin from BCEagles.com, and Kevin Stone of the New England Football Journal join AJ Black to talk about some of the big topics involving the Eagles.
We are now just at the midway point of the season, what has been the biggest takeaway from the first six games?
Dan - Every coach talks about evening out the weekly emotional roller coaster that occurs during a given season, but Jeff Hafley has, to a degree, actually implemented it. I can’t recall a BC team that responded to the highs and lows like this one. A big comeback over Texas State? “We have to fix things and get better.” A tight loss to UNC? “We have to get better.” Emotional win over Pitt? “We’re focusing on ourselves.” Blowout by Virginia Tech? “The guys had a great attitude.” Blowout over Georgia Tech? Yep...going to try to get better.
Kevin - There are a couple for me. The first is how quickly Phil Jurkovec has not only adapted to a new school, new teammates & a new coach, but how easy he’s made it look. The kid has burst on the scene and is only getting better. The other is just how quickly guys have bought in to an entirely new staff. The energy & expectations before the season were one thing, but to see how they’ve performed in high-leverage situations late in games & responded to Hafley has been fun to see.
AJ - I am going to take a little from both Kevin and Dan here. The speed in which this program has been able to turn the offense into a high functioning pro style offense has been simply remarkable. The fact that Hafley and Cignetti have been able to do that not only in a few months, but in the face of a pandemic is incredible. Secondly, just how well coach BC seems. Yes they still have their moments, with careless penalties and mistakes, but in big moments, Hafley has them prepared and ready. Something you couldn’t say a year ago.
Jeff Hafley has stressed that we would see improvement through the season. Where have you seen the most improvement?
AJ - The secondary. Last season this group struggled, ranking 122nd in passing yards allowed. A lot of that was based on scheme, Addazio and Bill Sheridan didn’t seem to trust them and had corners “giving’ space to receivers in hope to prevent the big play. Hafley, Tem Lukabu and Aazaar Abdul Rahim have made this group a physical, dynamic unit. They have instituted their scheme which involves a lot of man coverage, and lets them play “violent” a term Hafley uses a lot for his D. The results have been astounding. BC’s secondary has morphed into a punishing physical group, that hawks the ball and is physical from whistle to whistle.
Dan - Everyone expected the offensive line to be this continuation of last year, but the change in offensive style created a growing pain nobody really saw coming. It took its lumps earlier in the season and absorbed potshots in the public eye - I think everyone asked a question about its play at some point over the first six weeks - but it really played well over the past two to three games, even with the loss to Virginia Tech.. I think it’s going to continue to surge, and I’m really excited to see what happens at the point of attack this week.
Dabo Swinney has built a juggernaut at Clemson. Obviously recruiting has been a key to their success but what is it about the program that has stuck out to you over the past thirteen years?
Dan - The consistency at Clemson doesn’t exist anywhere else, except maybe Alabama. I feel like every program had its time in the ACC over the past decade. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech held their own in the early 2010s before Florida State took over. Duke and North Carolina pressured FSU in the middle of the decade, and Louisville and Pittsburgh put together good seasons. Miami threw a nine-win season in there, as did NC State, Syracuse and UNC. Pittsburgh won a division championship.
Only one team seemingly stayed constant during that rotation: Clemson, which went 6-7 in 2010 and hasn’t finished with less than 10 wins since. That speaks volumes to Dabo Swinney and his coaching staff, and it’s a testament to their system, which somehow always churns forward. It’s one thing to have talent; look at Florida State or Miami in that regard. It’s another to refine that talent year after year after year.
Kevin - Just the level of talent & the speed at the most important positions on the field. Names like Watson & Watkins, etc. For years now, you always knew they would have one of the fastest, most explosive offenses in the country. It’s basically been the Tigers & Alabama on their own planet then there’s everybody else.
Clemson is a well coached team that excels in all three phases of the game. What do they do well that worries you most heading into this game with the Eagles?
Kevin - The obvious answer is their offense here right? 73 points against GT is just outrageous. BC did pretty well against Pickett & Howell but Lawrence is a completely different animal under center.
AJ - I agree with Kevin, but a different part of the offense worries me. I think the BC secondary can hang with Lawrence enough to keep the Eagles in the game. However, Travis Etienne is a big concern. We saw how much BC struggled tackling when they played an elite running back in VT’s Khalil Herbert. Etienne is even better, and it’s going to be an enormous challenge to slow him down.
If Boston College is to pull off an upset on Saturday they will need to __________
Dan - Stop either Travis Etienne or Trevor Lawrence. I don’t think any team is ever going to stop both of them, but slowing one aspect of the team down - the pass or the rush - knocks out one of its legs. A couple of years ago, BC drew up the perfect game plan when it dragged Clemson into the fourth quarter and turned the first half into a slugfest. Do that again, and I’m all in on a potential upset in the making.
Kevin - Stop committing so many penalties, run the ball & force turnovers. Penalties have killed BC almost every game. Clemson will make field position hurt if aided by dumb personal fouls or unsportsmanlike flags. BC had 33 minutes of possession last game & will need at least that again. Lastly, if the D can force a couple TO’s & the offense doesn’t have another V-Tech performance with 5 of their own they might be in this one in the 4th.
AJ: Keep the Clemson offense on the bench. BC can put up points, this isn’t something that is overly concerning, but if they try and get into a shootout, the Tigers are going to blow them off the field. BC needs good solid sustained drives that leave Lawrence and the offense on the sidelines. Control the ball, and they have a shot.
Non BC question to wrap things up….Pull out your crystal ball, who will be the four playoff teams come January?
Dan - Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati. Yeah, that’s right. It’s a weird year. Let’s see the rankings get as weird as possible. I would even love to see BYU sneak in here with the Bearcats somehow.
Kevin - Clemson, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia
AJ - Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon. Going with the three horses in this one, and former BC QB Anthony Brown will keep up BC fans to watch PAC-12 after dark, as he leads the Ducks to the playoffs.
Make sure to follow our columnists on Twitter
Dan Rubin : @BCDanRubin
Kevin Stone: @KStone06
AJ Black: @AJBlack_BC