The Boston College Eagles suffered their second loss of the season on Saturday night to the North Carolina State Wolfpack. With the 33-7 defeat, the Eagles lost consecutive games for the first time in the Jeff Hafley era; it also tied for the biggest margin of defeat under Hafley (26 points).
With that being said, the final score does not tell the whole story of the game. At halftime, the score was only 10-7; after BC nearly scored a TD and then missed an easy field goal, NC State earned a gift from the officials, who ruled that a fumble in the red zone was an incomplete pass, allowing NC to kick a field goal to take the lead. Things quickly snowballed out of control for BC in the second half, with the Wolfpack scoring on two consecutive drives thanks to BC’s turnovers.
Black Hole: Ball Security - 6 drops, 1 interception, 1 fumbled punt snap
Special teams, in general, could earn the Black Hole distinction for this week, with Connor Lytton committing his first career missed field goal. But the coverage units were good, and the return game was irrelevant, so that’s not necessarily fair. Nevertheless, the course of this game changed because various Eagles struggled to hold onto the football.
We have to start with the huge mistake by Grant Carlson. On the Eagles’ first drive of the second half, Carlson simply dropped the ball after receiving the snap, and the Wolfpack returned it for a touchdown, extending their lead to 17-7. After a stellar start to his season, this massive error by Carlson handed NC State all the momentum, which they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Typically, especially for experienced players, mistakes like these are fluky, but here’s hoping we don’t see anything like that again.
On the ensuing drive, the other two aspects of BC’s struggles with ball security reared their heads. Star true freshman wide receiver Jaden Williams allowed a third-down pass to bounce off his hands and right into the arms of NC State linebacker Isaiah Moore. Williams had at least one more drop on the night and did not catch any of his three targets. Even experienced players like Zay Flowers, Travis Levy, and Trae Barry struggled to hang onto the ball throughout the night. Flowers and Barry also couldn’t reel in some big contested catches that could have gone for big yardage or scores.
BC’s receivers have only committed 11 combined drops this season, which is a pretty solid number. Additionally, the Eagles have only fumbled the ball four times this season, three of which are by Grosel, with none coming from the running backs. This made Saturday night’s performance surprising, and while there was some rain, it most likely wasn’t enough to really affect the ball. Nevertheless, these uncharacteristic mistakes prevented BC’s offense from staying on schedule and handed the Wolfpack the game.
Third Star: Running Backs in the First Half - 15 carries, 88 yards (5.9 yards per carry), 2 catches, 30 yards
In the first half, BC’s running game hummed along smoothly. All three of the primary backs made big plays. Travis Levy took a quick check down on third down for a 27 yard gain on a drive where the Eagles would score their only touchdown. Patrick Garwo ran very well between the tackles, finding holes easily and getting into the second level. He even trucked through a defender in a way that would make Andre Williams and AJ Dillon proud. Alec Sinkfield took over in the second quarter and ripped off several big runs as well. These successes in the running game kept the offense in manageable situations throughout the first half.
However, in the second half, all of that went away. Sinkfield barely saw the field, while Garwo couldn’t find any holes to run through. It looked like NC State started clogging the box with more defenders as well, but it looked more like they just started playing better, as opposed to any schematic/strategic change. For that reason, I’ll still give the running backs a place in these awards, but they have to be relegated to the lowest level due to their disappearance in the second half.
The Eagles ran for 100 yards in the first half, but they couldn’t even get positive yards in the second half. This is partly because sacks count against rushing yards; Grant Carlson’s fumbled snap also counted against the Eagles’ rushing totals. But even if you take those plays away, BC still only ran for 16 yards in the second half. While they were also playing from behind and forced to throw the ball, they still had plenty of opportunities to get the run game going, and they simply couldn’t do it.
Second Star: Marcus Valdez - 22 snaps, 3 tackles (2 solos, 1 assist), 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 2 hurries, 1 batted pass
For weeks, we’ve been waiting for BC to finally develop a pass rush, specifically one that can get pressure with only four defenders. On Saturday night, veteran captain Marcus Valdez realized those hopes. Despite playing only 22 snaps, Valdez was all over the field. He made two big splash plays for the Eagles’ defense with a tackle for loss and a sack. But Valdez affected the Wolfpack’s offense in multiple ways. He was stout in run defense, got pressure on the quarterback numerous times, and even batted a pass at the line of scrimmage.
For a pass rush to be successful, it can’t just be one player. But even having one guy that can consistently win his one-on-one matchups makes it easier for everyone. If offensive lines are forced to double team Valdez in the coming weeks, that will create better opportunities for guys like Shitta Sillah and Brandon Barlow, who have not performed consistently against better competition in the past few weeks. But if Valdez can keep up his play like this and stay on the field even more, Boston College’s defense could become much more lethal.
First Star: Jaelen Gill - 5 targets, 5 reception, 71 yards (14.2 yards per reception), 0 drops, 4 first downs, 2 for 2 on contested catches
As mentioned in the Black Hole section, many of BC’s receivers struggled on Saturday night. The Eagles’ primary weapons, Zay Flowers and Trae Barry, combined for four receptions for 21 yards on 12 combined targets. Therefore, the clear standout for BC was Jaelen Gill. The Ohio State transfer made several clutch catches throughout the game, leading the Eagles in catches and yards. He also caught every ball thrown his way, including two contested throws, only one of which did not convert a first down.
Surprisingly, Gill only played 30 of BC’s 70 offensive snaps on the night. After missing the first three games, he’s come along slowly in the most recent three, but he’s made several big plays in limited action. Moving forward, BC needs to find more ways to get him the ball; he’s reliable over the middle, and he is very effective at generating yards after the catch. Given Jaden Williams’ lackluster performances in recent weeks, it should be time for Gill to replace him in the starting lineup permanently.