College Sports

Humbled BC football team looks to finish the regular season strongly against Miami

Coach Jeff Hafley will try to regroup the Eagles for a strong effort in their regular-season finale.

Earlier this month, with the program riding its first five-game winning streak since 2010, vibes around Boston College football were by far the best they’ve been in coach Jeff Hafley’s tenure.

The Eagles had an identity, a collective toughness, and a will to win that had been largely absent in recent years. A path to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game existed in Week 10 for a team picked to finish 13th in the preseason poll.

Ever since, the Eagles have regressed to their old selves and sent a fan base yearning for a reason to believe spiraling down a different path. Miscues and self-inflicted wounds led to disheartening losses against Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh and put the party on hold.

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“We got too complacent,” quarterback Thomas Castellanos said. “We started winning. A lot of people here didn’t know the feeling of winning. We got too cocky and we got humbled. We’ve got to flip the script and get back on the same page.”

Despite the recent woes, the Eagles still have a chance for their first eight-win season since 2009. Prognosticators currently have them playing in either the Fenway Bowl or Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 28.

But first, they welcome a talented yet inconsistent Miami team to town Friday at noon. A victory would give the Eagles (6-5, 3-4) their first seven-win season since 2018.

“I feel like a win against those guys, even though we have the same record, would mean a lot to this program and to us,” Castellanos said.

While reaching eight wins has crossed their minds at various points, the Eagles insist that’s not their focus at the moment. They want to beat the Hurricanes (6-5, 2-5) to get to seven, then they’ll worry about eight if they get the chance.

“We can’t think about who we’re going to play in the bowl game or what our record’s going to be,” receiver Lewis Bond said. “We’ve just got to focus on beating a good Miami team, and then the rest will settle itself.”

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One area of emphasis from Hafley is winning the turnover battle. The Eagles turned Georgia Tech over three times and Syracuse four times to cement two of their best wins. Last week against Pittsburgh, BC gave it away twice and couldn’t register a turnover of its own.

BC is continuing to wear down opponents with a relentless running attack, yet it doesn’t mean a whole lot if promising drives stall. Hafley said the Eagles have to be more efficient when they cross the 40-yard line and put points on the board.

Castellanos, in particular, has played well in spurts but has thrown untimely interceptions in key moments. Some of those third-and-long situations that haunted the offense last year are starting to creep back into the picture and lead to poor decisions.

Against a Miami run defense that’s first in the ACC and 10th in the nation at 92.9 yards per game, limiting miscues in the pass game will be paramount.

“We’ve got to put together full drives,” Bond said. “In our wins, we’re putting drives together and scoring. In the losses, we haven’t been finishing those drives.”

Castellanos said that although he’s technically a sophomore, he views himself as a freshman because of how little he played at Central Florida. He believes he’s done a “pretty good job” in his first season as a Power Five quarterback, but he acknowledges he has a lot of room to grow.

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Against Pittsburgh, for instance, he forced a ball into double coverage in the middle of the field, which resulted in an interception. Castellanos knows that making the simple play, or throwing it away, often benefits the team.

Defensively, against a Hurricanes team that’s third in the ACC with 262.1 passing yards per game, priority No. 1 for the Eagles is limiting explosive plays.

Against a Pittsburgh team with two wins, and a quarterback making his second start, big plays doomed BC in the second half. With catalyst cornerback Elijah Jones still out, and a shorthanded secondary, limiting deep passes would go a long way against Miami.

Up front, the Eagles will continue to lean on senior defensive nose tackle Cam Horsley, a player Hafley referred to as an unsung hero this season. Hafley credited Horsley for continuing to handle double-teams with poise and fortitude.

“I think he’s one of the better players in the ACC and just doesn’t get credit because of the nature of the position,” Hafley said.

Horsley is eager for the challenge of playing as an underdog and staging an upset.

The Eagles were supposed to beat Northern Illinois, cruise past Holy Cross, lose badly to Florida State, give Louisville a game, not win five straight, put up a fight against Virginia Tech, and beat Pittsburgh. None of those things happened, so it’s fair to expect the unexpected heading into this one.

“It’s definitely been a roller coaster this season,” Horsley said. “Vibes were high. The last couple weeks have been a little tough, but we’ve faced adversity before. We’re good at fighting adversity. It’s definitely crazy, but we’ve just got to finish strong.”

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