Since that point, the Eagles have dropped three of four games, and their trajectory toward the elusive eight-win plateau has taken a cruel and unforgiving detour. BC allowed 48 points to Kansas and 41 to Louisville, and its defense has been left wondering what went wrong too often the past few weeks.
The Eagles also lost starting quarterback Anthony Brown to a season-ending lower-leg injury that came against the Cardinals, and now it’s former fourth-stringer Dennis Grosel’s turn to lead the offense.
There’s no reprieve from difficult matchups in the coming weeks. The Eagles come off their bye to host 4-2 NC State this Saturday at noon, then they face Clemson, Syracuse, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh to close out the regular season.
Four of those six games are on the road, and Clemson and Notre Dame are both currently ranked in the top 10. The Eagles have their work cut out for them if they want to reach six-plus wins and qualify for a bowl game, but it’s also far from impossible given the potential they’ve flaunted in spurts.
They have a QB eager to fill a void, a rushing attack that has statistically been the best in the conference to this point, and a defense hungry to prove itself after allowing the most yards in school history against the Cardinals.
The bye week came at a perfect time for the Eagles, and they used it as a chance to regroup and prepare for what lies ahead. Here are five factors that will determine how the rest of the season plays out.
How will Dennis Grosel handle his new role?
Going through countless reps in practice is helpful, but there’s nothing quite like entering a tight game on the road trying to keep pace with a team that keeps scoring.
Grosel handled the situation admirably against Louisville, finishing 9 of 24 for 111 yards, three touchdown passes and an interception. Now, with a full week of practice as the first-stringer behind him, Grosel is confident he’s prepared for the challenge.
He said he has a strong relationship with Brown, and he shared some advice that Brown gave him before going for surgery.
“Just be yourself,” Grosel recalls Brown telling him. “Don’t let the moment get too big. These guys trust you. Trust yourself, trust your teammates, trust your coaches.”
— BC Football ? (@BCFootball) October 15, 2019
Grosel said nothing’s going to change in the way the Eagles run their offense. BC is averaging 253.2 rushing yards per game, and it’s no secret they’ll still lean heavily on AJ Dillon and David Bailey.
They also have Grosel, though, and he’ll have weapons Hunter Long, Jake Burt, Kobay White, and Zay Flowers, among others, to make his life easier. The Louisville game provided a sampling of what Grosel can offer, and he’s eager to prove he belongs while helping the Eagles get back on track.
Losing Brown is devastating for the Eagles, but the one-time preferred walk-on Grosel has a chance to lift their spirits.
“This is what I’ve worked for and this is what I’ve dreamed about,” Grosel told Boston.com. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s incredible, but I’m ready for it.”
Can the defense make plays when it has to?
It’s easy to forget that the Eagles finished with 563 yards of total offense against Louisville. Had they found a way to win that game, they’d be 4-2, second in the division, and heading into the second half with much more momentum.
But they also gave up 664 yards, and they couldn’t get one final stop after taking the lead on a go-ahead field goal with 3:32 remaining. The members of the defense have heard the chatter, and they believe they have the pieces in place to do enough to secure victories.
“We all can do a better job at preparing and honing in on extra details that may be key to give us an advantage on maybe one or two plays,” defensive end Richard Yeargin told Boston.com. “That’s pretty much what every game has come down to. Just one or two more stops and we win. Preparing with a high focus and high attention to detail will put us in the right position.”
The Eagles have intercepted eight passes, but they’ve struggled to get off the field on pivotal plays. Kansas was 8 of 15 on third down, Wake finished 17 of 24, and Louisville went 8 of 18.
“If you watch our defense right now,” head coach Steve Addazio told reporters, “we’re a little bit of a rollercoaster ride.”
— BC Football ? (@BCFootball) October 14, 2019
Addazio pointed out that the Eagles are playing some explosive teams. When the Demon Deacons and Cardinals faced each other this past Saturday, Louisville eked out a 62-59 win. Wake Forest lost despite putting up 668 yards of offense.
That’s also not an excuse, though, and the Eagles know they’re capable of more.
“We’ve got to smooth that out and make less mistakes, smooth that out and continue to develop on that side of the ball,” Addazio told reporters. “Clearly that’s where our focus is right now to do that. That attitude, the mentality, how hard they practice, what they’re putting into it, phenomenal.”
Will the rushing attack continue to impress?
The Eagles have run the ball effectively the vast majority of the season, and Dillon has, unsurprisingly, been a major reason why.
BC is 13-5 in Dillon’s career when he scores at least one touchdown. He’s currently fourth nationally with 124.2 rushing yards per game this season, and he needs just 298 yards to become the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher.
Dillon acknowledged taking some time between games was helpful, and he feels reinvigorated heading into Saturday.
“As a running back, Week 6, your body’s starting to feel beat up,” Dillon told reporters, “so the bye week really couldn’t have come at a better time, selfishly, for the running back room.”
— BC Football ? (@BCFootball) October 15, 2019
Dillon has been the catalyst with 745 net yards, but he hasn’t done it alone. Bailey has added 329, and Flowers has gotten involved with 168 of his own. Contrast BC’s success as the top rushing offense in the conference with NC State’s consistency stopping the run as the top rushing defense, and it’s clear something will have to give Saturday.
“You call it a challenge, you call it whatever you want to, it is fun to play good defenses and good teams,” offensive lineman John Phillips told reporters.
Can the Eagles win three of four against NC State, Syracuse, Florida State, and Pittsburgh?
In all likelihood, they’ll have to do so in order to finish 6-6. Of course, it’s possible they’ll beat Clemson or Notre Dame on the road, but the odds are against them doing so.
If BC wants to make it to another bowl game, it has to start picking up wins quickly. Last year, the Eagles were 7-2 before losing their final three games. In 2017, they started 2-4 before winning four of their final five to earn a bowl opportunity.
There’s no trend here other than the fact that the first six games don’t necessarily determine how the last six play out.
“Our focus right now is on us,” Addazio told reporters. “Our focus is on taking a look at what we’re doing, trying to put our guys in the best positions to give them the most confidence to play the most consistently.”
Appreciate all the get well wishes! Can’t wait to get back up to Boston and be around my guys ?- I’ll be back soon and better than ever ?
— A13 (@anthonybrown_2) October 16, 2019
Can BC pull out close games?
Boston College could very easily be 5-1 right now. The Kansas game got away from the Eagles in the second half, but the Wake and Louisville games never did.
BC had its chances in both and came up short after chaotic and action-packed finishes.
Saturday is a prime opportunity for the Eagles to earn a signature win in a game that could very well come down to the final minutes once again.
This team has the ability to win close games, as it showed against Virginia Tech in Week 1. Now, with the stakes even higher – if Grosel, the defense, and the rushing attack all contribute – the Eagles should have a chance to move back above .500.
“I can’t wait,” Addazio said. “Our team competes so hard.”