4 takeaways from BC football’s bounce-back win over Georgia Tech

This was a strong response, and next up is "the big dog," Clemson.

Boston College defensive back Mike Palmer celebrates his touchdown with Jahmin Muse.
Boston College defensive back Mike Palmer celebrates his touchdown with Jahmin Muse. –Michael Dwyer/AP Photo

COMMENTARY

Boston College’s loss to Virginia Tech was a disappointing setback for the Eagles not only because of the end result, but also because of how they got there.

They uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times, missed tackles, and couldn’t capitalize on prime opportunities to score. The consensus among the players afterward was that they beat themselves more so than the Hokies beat them.

Even though the final margin was rather lopsided, head coach Jeff Hafley wasn’t discouraged. He knew the Eagles had their chances, and he was confident their habits since June would help them rebound against Georgia Tech the following week.

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Following its worst performance of the season so far, Boston College (4-2, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) responded with perhaps its most complete showing to date against the Yellow Jackets (2-4, 2-3 ACC), running away with a stress-free, 48-27 win at home Saturday night. This was the Eagles’ first win over Georgia Tech since 2007, and it marked their third-best scoring output since joining the ACC in 2005.

BC averaged six yards per carry, racking up 264 rushing yards while shattering its previous season-high of 90. David Bailey finished with 13 carries for 85 yards and two touchdowns, CJ Lewis added two receiving touchdowns, and Mike Palmer returned a fumble for a touchdown.

The Eagles bolted out to a 14-0 lead after one quarter and held a 34-14 edge at halftime, and their offense was ultimately too explosive for the Yellow Jackets to contain.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Lewis said. “I feel like it’s just hard to stop us, because there’s a lot of people that can make big plays on the field at any moment. As long as we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot during game day, I feel like we control our destiny.”

CJ Lewis turned in a career night.

The two-touchdown performance was the first of the junior Lewis’s career, and both of them came in the first quarter.

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His initial score was a 7-yard touchdown reception on the right side of the end zone. Center Alec Lindstrom recognized that the Eagles had a free play and snapped the ball quickly, and quarterback Phil Jurkovec floated it where only Lewis could get it.

On the next drive, Lewis sprinkled in a 16-yard catch and run and then leaped to haul in a 5-yard pass for another TD to make it 14-0 with 2:58 left in the first.

“CJ just keeps getting better,” Hafley said. “He shows up every game now. He’s a big target, and he goes up and gets the ball.”

Lewis, who caught just one pass for 15 yards in BC’s first two games combined, has reeled in 12 catches for 204 yards and three scores in the four games since. He’s stepped up along with Jaelen Gill and Jehlani Galloway to fill the void after Kobay White suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

After the game, he took the modest route and credited his teammates for making his life easier.

“There’s just more opportunities to make plays out there,” Lewis said. “I know a lot of defenses are keying on Zay (Flowers) and Hunter (Long), and I’m just trying to fit in and find my role.”

The run game looked the best it has all year.

After throwing a whopping 51 passes against the Hokies last week, Jurkovec attempted only 21 against Georgia Tech. He said the Eagles “could have run the ball pretty much every play” Saturday.

The Eagles, known historically for their potent offensive line and rushing attack, looked by far the most comfortable they have all year running the ball. Linemen Zion Johnson, Christian Mahogany, Lindstrom, Ben Petrula, and Tyler Vrabel turned in their best collective game this season to date.

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Hafley said he’s proud of the offensive line for not “listening to the noise.”

“If we can run the ball like that, that’s so hard to defend,” Hafley said. “They really did an excellent job. I expected it today, I expected it last week, and I expect it again next week.”

Hafley said he gave Bailey a game ball, not only for his work against the Yellow Jackets, but also because of the way he’s stayed ready and never complained.

Said Hafley: “It’s for how he’s handled himself and how he’s been a great teammate, how he hasn’t flinched or pointed fingers and hasn’t come up and said, ‘Coach, why am I not getting the football?’ It epitomizes what this team is about.”

Jurkovec also chipped in 94 rushing yards himself, and Flowers scored on a 22-yard run that stemmed from a jet sweep.

The defense responded, and the Eagles won the turnover battle.

A week after allowing 350 yards on the ground to Virginia Tech, the Eagles surrendered just 106 to the Yellow Jackets on 3.2 yards per carry.

Granted, Georgia Tech isn’t in the same echelon as Virginia Tech at the moment, but the Hokies’ 23-16 loss to Wake Forest and Clemson needing a second-half surge to pull away from Syracuse on Saturday shows that anything can happen in the ACC.

The Eagles tackled at a much higher level, won the turnover battle 3-0 after losing it 5-0 a week ago, and totaled four sacks on the day. BC now has 17 sacks through six games compared to 19 in 13 games last year, and Saturday was a microcosm of what the unit is capable of when everything is clicking.

“I think Coach Tem (Lukabu) and the defensive staff did a really good job,” Hafley said. “They stressed the run all week. They stressed staying in gaps and leveraging the ball. There were times when our guys were calling out the plays. It was so awesome to see.”

Palmer’s 33-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the second quarter – ignited by California transfer Luc Bequette – was the first TD of Palmer’s career, BC’s first non-offensive touchdown of the season, and the first fumble recovery touchdown for the Eagles in 2017.

“It came to me, and I scooped it up and just started running,” Palmer said.

Marcus Valdez also recovered a fumble in the first quarter, and Jahmin Muse added an interception late in the third.

This was a strong answer, and next up is “the big dog,” Clemson.

While Saturday’s showing was a major step in the right direction for the Eagles, it certainly wasn’t perfect.

The Eagles committed some untimely penalties, got a break when Bailey’s fumble was overturned, and allowed some big plays to the Yellow Jackets.

Overall, though, it was exactly what BC needed after a lackluster showing the week prior. For a program hoping to establish itself as an upper-tier contender in the ACC, wins like this – at home against a slumping team as the favorite – are a must.

BC took care of business and has plenty of momentum heading into its next game. That game, against No. 1 Clemson on Saturday at noon on ABC, is a pressure-free opportunity for the Eagles.

They have way more to gain than they do to lose, and it’s a prime chance to make a name for themselves nationally by staging one of the biggest upsets in school history.

“Clemson, they’re the big dog,” Jurkovec said. “Everyone knows it. There’s no secret about it, from all the success that they’ve had. It’s really exciting for us that we get to go there and have a shot at them.”

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