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Scouting the opponent: Duke football needs to stay sharp even against a struggling Boston College team

Freshman Todd Pelino is among the reserves who will fill in for absences against Boston College.
Freshman Todd Pelino is among the reserves who will fill in for absences against Boston College.

Coming off of its bye week, Duke has had extra time to rest and recover following a dominant and turnover-filled road win against Miami. Now, the team will play its second Friday night game of the year when Boston College comes to Durham this week. Head coach Mike Elko’s squad will be looking to pull its conference record above .500 and open up a two-game winning streak, while Boston College aims to bounce back following an embarrassing 13-3 loss on the road against Connecticut. Let’s take a look at what the Eagles will have in store for Elko’s Blue Devils. 

To say Boston College has had a rough season would be an understatement. The Eagles are 2-6 on the season and 1-4 in conference, placing at the bottom of the ACC Atlantic Division. Their two wins on the season came in a victory against FCS program Maine and a one-point home victory against Louisville. Boston College has lost games against several struggling teams this year, including a 27-10 loss against a Virginia Tech squad that has gone 2-6 overall thus far and the aforementioned defeat at the hands of Connecticut. Putting it bluntly, the Eagles are not a strong team this year.

A big part of Boston College’s struggles this year has been the offense. It has managed to average just 17.3 points per game this season, including two games where the Eagles managed to put up just one field goal. Some fault there has to be attributed to graduate student quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who had a hot start in his inaugural year as the starter in 2020 before a hand injury sidelined him for most of the 2021 season. Now in his third year as the starter, Jurkovec has struggled to get back to that high level of performance. While he averaged 255.8 passing yards in 2020, that dropped to 152.3 in 2021 and has only recovered partially since then, back up to 213.9 yards through the air per game. 

But it is important to note that Jurkovec’s struggles have not been solely his fault. His offensive line has faced injuries and has been largely unable to give the quarterback time in the pocket. So far this season, Boston College quarterbacks have taken 29 sacks for 244 cumulative yards lost, the 10th most sacks allowed by an FBS team. The effect of the weak offensive line has been amplified by Jurkovec’s inability to scramble or improvise on the run. He has averaged -5.4 rushing yards per game. 

“[Jurkovec] is a very talented player who has had tremendous success throwing the ball when he's been able to get time in the pocket.” said Elko during his Monday media availability, “And obviously that’s been their challenge.”

A weak rushing game hasn’t helped the struggling Eagles offense, either. The team as a whole has averaged 67.5 rushing yards per game, and leading rusher Patrick Garwo has averaged just 33.8 ground yards per game. 

One bright spot on offense has been wideout Zay Flowers, who has been very strong through these first eight games. Flowers has averaged 90.8 receiving yards per game, good enough to place him in the top 20 of all FBS receivers by both total receiving yards and receiving yards per game. Flowers will likely be the primary concern for the Duke secondary this week. 

On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have not been a whole lot better. They have allowed 28.8 points per game, including two games against No. 21 Wake Forest and Florida State where Boston College allowed 43 and 44 points, respectively. The defensive unit has especially struggled to slow down the ground attack, allowing 142.3 yards per game. Pass coverage has been slightly better, limiting opponents to 225 yards in the air per game.

As Elko said, “[The Eagles] are very physical, load the box a lot, put themselves in a lot of single high defenses, mix it up between man and zone and really challenge you to execute in the throw game.”

Overall, this is a team Duke should beat, and by no small margin. The Blue Devils have a more productive offense and a more capable defense. Boston College has struggled through almost all of its games this year, and one talented wide receiver will not save this team. But that is why they play the games. Anything can happen when Friday night rolls around, and Duke needs to be careful not to rest on its laurels and risk losing an important game that would clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018. Boston College will be coming in hungry for a win and frustrated after the loss to the Huskies, and the Blue Devils will need to be ready to see the Eagles’ best football on Friday.

“We fully expect them to come out and play their absolute best game of the season Friday night. Their program’s got a lot of pride, and I know they're going to want to respond and rebound.” said Elko, “It's going to take everything we have this week for us to bounce back and get another victory.”

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