During the bye week, I wrote a series of articles titled “Asked and Answered,” which delved into specific points and issues facing the Boston College Eagles football team entering the 2021 season. Generally, these concerns were assuaged, as many position groups were playing up to par or even above expectations. However, after a close road loss to Clemson and a strange but ultimately thorough beating by NC State, BC faces a critical inflection point in their season.
Halfway through the regular season, the Eagles sit at 4-2 with two road games next on the schedule. They sailed through their non-conference slate with relative ease. But against their two most formidable conference opponents, various aspects of the team struggled. On the defensive side of the ball, BC has performed quite well for the most part. While some opponents have been able to move the ball against them (Missouri and Clemson), they have held strong in the red zone and have limited some of the explosive plays that plagued them last season. They’ve done a good job preventing mobile quarterbacks from ruining them like last year, but they also have struggled to pressure the passer consistently.
Frankly, most of the Eagles’ problems have been on the offensive side of the ball. Part of this obviously comes from Phil Jurkovec’s absence due to injury. His backup, Dennis Grosel, has been remarkably inconsistent on a game-to-game basis. Luckily, he has been aided by an excellent offensive line, a dynamic running game, and reliable tight ends. With that being said, BC’s season took a drastic turn during the third quarter of Saturday night’s contest against NC State. The Eagles struggled to run the ball, and two big (albeit fluky) turnovers gave the Wolfpack a big lead. After that, even if BC could run the ball, they needed to throw it to get back in the game. Grosel struggled to get the offense going, and the Eagles would not score again.
Boston College now stands at a crossroads in their season. They’ve lost two straight games for the first time under Hafley, with the most recent tying for the worst defeat in Hafley’s tenure. Dreams of winning the ACC Atlantic, let alone the entire conference, are now dashed. A season that began with hopes of 10 wins now shifts toward just getting to a bowl game. At this precarious point, a question looms: should Boston College fans panic?
A Deceptive Result
In the intermediate aftermath of the game on Saturday night, I leaned towards yes. Since then, however, I’ve backed away from the ledge. The final score makes the game look much worse than it actually was. BC entered the half only down three and should have been tied if the refs had made the proper call. A special teams gaffe leading to a touchdown and an interception put the game out of reach just five minutes into the second half.
Fans also need to remember that NC State is also a very good team. The Wolfpack is solid on both sides of the ball; while not spectacular, they are efficient and capitalized on big situations on Saturday. As I said on the Locked On Boston College podcast, I think if you play this game ten times, BC wins at least four of them.
With all that being said, the Eagles still have a lot to fix. At the halfway point of the season, the biggest issue seems to be the quarterback position. Ever since the Temple game, fans have been calling upon the coaching staff to explore other options at quarterback. Dennis Grosel was one of the principal drivers behind BC’s victory over Missouri. But he made costly mistakes against Clemson that ultimately put the game out of reach. He also struggled to consistently move the ball and make accurate throws against NC State. BC fans expected this passing offense to be one of the most explosive in the conference with Phil Jurkovec. Even after the injury, hopes were high as Grosel brought plenty of experience and confidence to the position. But the passing offense, especially the more vertical/downfield aspects, has not been up to par.
Nevertheless, I maintain that benching Grosel and going with Daelen Menard or Emmett Morehead would be unwise. The biggest reason for this is Grosel’s understanding of the offense. Coaches have lauded his knowledge of the schemes and what BC wants to do with the ball. Now, based on his performances the last two weeks, some might think that doesn’t matter anymore. If he understands the offense so well, then why isn’t he performing better?
Blame to Go Around
This is a very fair critique, and part of the fault lies with Grosel. I believe there were times in the past two, perhaps even three, games when he was pressing and trying too hard to make big plays. Think about the interception against Missouri or the deep throws against Clemson. He’s trying to make the big plays that he simply can’t make, and that’s costing this team.
However, you also have to consider the big drives he led against Missouri and even Clemson to get BC in a position to possibly win the game. Part of Grosel’s success is tied to the run game. When he can run play-action fakes and freeze the defense, he can find openings. He’s also displayed the ability to make quick, intelligent decisions on throws. That type of processing needs to be strongly emphasized by the coaching staff. Take the small, easy victories when you can; throw it away if the play is dead. The defense is playing well enough that some of the burden can fall on them.
There are plenty of other reasons not to bench Grosel. Firstly, the other quarterbacks do not know the offense as well, and therefore, the coaches would need to eliminate certain portions of the playbook. While Grosel may not be able to physically execute every throw on every play in the playbook, he knows the intimate details of every play, concept, and throw. This also relates to his chemistry with the receivers. While he and Zay Flowers still haven’t consistently hit on big plays, Grosel is significantly more comfortable throwing to the starting receivers than Menard or Morehead would be, who primarily work with guys on the back end of the roster.
Pump Your Brakes
In my opinion, the biggest reason not to bench Grosel goes beyond the quarterback room. If Hafley and Cignetti decide to bench him, there’s a strong chance they lose the locker room less than two seasons into their tenure. Grosel has the respect of the entire locker room, thanks to his tireless effort and confidence. The team knows that Grosel is trying his hardest and performing decently well; his teammates have let him down as much as he’s let them down this season. But if he gets benched, the team would lose confidence in the coaching staff by making the risky decision to put in an utterly unproven quarterback.
Simply put, it is not time to bench Grosel because there are plenty of winnable games left on the schedule. The Eagles’ last two games were easily their most challenging going into this season. In the next two weeks, they have road trips to inconsistent Louisville and moribund Syracuse. Neither team has a particularly good defense, so these should be “get-right” games for Grosel and this offense. But asking a player with no college experience to make their first start on the road would be unfair to the entire team.
After that, BC finishes the season with three of their last four games at home in November. They get up-and-down Virginia Tech, mediocre Georgia Tech, and derelict Florida State before closing the season with heretofore undefeated Wake Forest. A significantly worse Grosel piloted a lesser Eagles team to bowl eligibility in 2019; there’s no good reason to think he can’t get to six wins at the very least. But putting in a quarterback with no meaningful reps since their junior years of high school would be much more likely to doom this team than lifting them to new heights.
In a vacuum, winning less than eight games this season would be disappointing. But given Jurkovec’s injury, it would be quite the accomplishment. Given how well the defense is playing, especially in the red zone, along with the newfound success of the running game, this team is still good and has plenty of winnable games ahead of them. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that it is not yet time to panic.