After an exciting first matchup with Notre Dame that featured more than a few glimmers of hope, the Blue Devils will return home this weekend as they host Boston College in the opponent’s first game of the season. With a rehauled coaching staff led by head coach and former Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley and Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator, the Golden Eagles enter the fall season with reason for optimism.
Even with all the turnover on the sidelines, the most exciting move of the offseason for the Golden Eagles was undoubtedly the incoming transfer of Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec, a highly touted recruit out of Pennsylvania who spent two seasons behind Ian Book in a crowded Irish offense. With the departure of Boston College signal caller Anthony Brown, the redshirt sophomore figures to be the starter under center after being granted immediate eligibility, though he will surely have to compete with the incumbent Dennis Grosel, who impressed in seven starts in Brown’s absence last season.
Despite Hafley’s reluctance to name a starting quarterback, all eyes will be on Jurkovec this Saturday as the Golden Eagles begin their season in Durham. In his time at Notre Dame, the Pennsylvania native lived up to his reputation as a big-arm, dual threat quarterback, albeit in flashes from a limited sample size (12-of-16 passing, 222 yards, two touchdowns in two seasons). His first game action for the Irish came early in 2019, when he entered a blowout victory against New Mexico, immediately demonstrating his raw arm strength and poise in the pocket on this 52-yard strike to Braden Lenzy, his first collegiate attempt and completion.
While the excitement around the quarterback position certainly is warranted, Boston College’s offense has long hinged on its ability to run the football. For the past three years, All-American running back AJ Dillon has been the rightful workhorse, tallying a whopping 4,382 yards and 40 touchdowns in three seasons. But this year, with Dillon landing in Matt LaFleur’s offense in Green Bay, junior David Bailey will be more than capable of carrying the torch. Bailey broke out behind Dillon last year, earning 148 carries on his way to an impressive season (844 yards, seven touchdowns) in which he was surprisingly more efficient than his star teammate Dillon (5.7 YPC vs. 5.2 YPC). On his career day against N.C. State in 2019, Bailey cut to the perimeter before finding pay-dirt 54 yards later. While the 6-foot, 236-pound rising star is accurately praised for his prowess between the tackles, his impressive combination of speed and technique here is why the offense will continue to revolve around the run.
But Jeff Hafley, the defensive virtuoso who transformed Ohio State into a consensus top-five defense with the Buckeyes in 2019, was not hired to fix the offense. Last season, the Golden Eagles’ defense gave up 32.2 points per game and ranked dead last in the ACC in yards allowed. Enter Hafley, who injected life into the defense in his lone season in Columbus by preaching a deceptive sort of simplicity to his unit. By implementing a tricky shade of Cover 3 built on hiding more complex concepts within a simple formation, Hafley succeeded in simplifying the role of each player while simultaneously making it more complex to scheme against him. Hafley’s squad is firing on all cylinders here against Michigan State, as the second level teases blitz, the defensive line generates pressure, the linebacker steps up to tip the ball and safety Jordan Fuller is left to ball-hawk as he comes up with the game-sealing interception.
After a respectable performance on defense against the high-flying Fighting Irish, the Blue Devils appear well equipped to take on the prolific Boston College offense and will look to capitalize on a weak Golden Eagles’ defense as Chase Brice and crew continue to mesh on offense. But the bottom line is that this is an enigmatic opponent that will walk through Bostock Gate to face the Blue Devils this Saturday, one filled with unfamiliarity, and Duke should be ready for anything.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.