Catch up on previous 2021 opponent previews!
We here at Rock M Nation remember the 2007 college football season for obvious reasons— the magical run that our Tigers went on, which included the following: a division title, a conference championship game appearance, a Heisman finalist, and a shellacking of future conference rival Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
The rest of the nation remembers it for other cool stuff as well, such as:
- Appalachian State taking down Michigan, the first time an FCS team beat a Top 5-ranked FBS team AND the first time an FCS team was allowed to earn - and did earn - votes in the AP poll.
- “The Curse of #2” where the #2 ranked team in the country lost seven times in the final nine weeks of the season.
- The wide-spread usage of “CHAOS” for each week of the college football season as 59 ranked teams lost to unranked foes - the most since 1967 - and there were 13 instances where teams ranked in the Top 5 were beaten by unranked foes (the most for the Top 25 era).
Tucked away in all that beautiful chaos was a Jesuit school from the northeast called Boston College, led by first-time head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who - in his first year at Chestnut Hill - had an incredible season by all accounts. Thanks to the pinpoint accurate bazooka arm of quarterback Matt Ryan and a stifling defense, the Eagles rattled off 8-straight victories, including take-downs of ranked Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech squads, before falling to Florida State (as the dreaded #2 team in the country!), Maryland, and then Virginia Tech in a rematch in the ACC Championship game.
Matt Ryan went on to have a notable career with the Atlanta Falcons while Jagodzinski was fired for interviewing for the New York Jets head coaching position (which was filled by Rex Ryan). Boston College - a middle of the road ACC program - got weirdly huffy and demanding by making the statement of, “We don’t want you if you don’t want to be here” and got rid of a guy who could have been their greatest head coach over “principle” and the need to “make a point” for doing something that every coach at every level does during every offseason. To the surprise of no one, they promptly fell into a hole that they are still trying to get out of. They first hired Frank Spaziani, the defensive coordinator of those ‘07-’08 Eagle teams, who took over for Jagodzinski and oversaw massive diminishing returns — 9 wins in ‘08, to 8, then 7, then 4, then 2 — and was promptly fired after the 2012 season. The Eagles then hired Florida offensive coordinator Steve Addazio - who loves dudes being dudes - and briefly saw hope as they won 7 games in his first season! But then they won 7 games in 2014...and in 2016, and in 2017, and in 2018 before “7-win Steve” finally broke character and won 6 games in 2019, earning the pink slip at the end of the season.
Enter: Jeff Hafley. The NFL journey-man position coach and one-year Ohio State co-defensive coordinator was all too happy to cash in the good will from being a Buckeye DC and take a head coaching gig at one of the tougher regions to build a quality program.
To his credit, his first year went pretty well. It certainly wasn’t worse than his predecessor!
As you can see, SP+ saw Boston College as 1 point worse than an “average” college football team last year, but you have to give the Eagles credit: they were in every game they played until the bitter end. Outside of a detonation at the hands of Virginia Tech on October 17th (and the Notre Dame game with a pointless Irish touchdown at the end), Hafley’s guys either won by a possession or lost by a possession, including barely beating a bad Texas State squad while also pushing North Carolina and Clemson to the limit. Granted, most of that was from their opponents playing poorly (their second-order wins was 4) but, regardless, BC was in a position to take advantage of those mistakes and punish really good teams for not being on their A-game.
And now 74% of 2020’s production returns for another go-around with Coach Hafley. And a young, volatile Missouri team will play the Eagles in Chestnut Hill a week before the Tigers play Tennessee. Yikes.
Jeff Hafley - 2nd Year - 6-5 (5-5)
Jeff Hafley must have just had the worst time in the NFL.
After a ten-year career as secondary coach at various east coast schools, he jumped on Greg Schiano’s Rutgers staff the season before Schiano took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job. Schiano took Hafley with him and they proceeded to take a 4-win Tampa team to 7 wins in Year One, then only win 4 games the next year. Hafley then joined Mike Pettine’s new Cleveland Browns staff in 2014, taking the previous 4-win Browns to 7 wins in Year One, then tumbling to 3 wins the next year. So, Hafley then moved to San Francisco to help new 49ers head coach Chip Kelly break in a new staff after a disastrous 5-win 2015 season. Kelly and Hafley’s 49ers proceeded to win only 2 games in 2016, improve to 6 wins in 2017, then only eke out 4 wins in 2018.
Three NFL teams. Three seasons of minimal improvement and then crushing downfall. No wonder he went to the safest place in college football - Ohio State - in a rehab stint as Co-Defensive Coordinator.
We’ll see whether 2020 was a happy anomaly or signs of a competent program manager, but Hafley has a young rising-star Defensive Coordinator and a lot of energy around a program that has had some bright spots in the past, but is far from being a consistent power in the modern college football game.
Frank Cignetti - Offensive Coordinator: Cignetti is an interesting dude. He became a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, then became a quarterbacks coach there, then proceeded to coach quarterbacks and be an offensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, Fresno State in the Mountain West, North Carolina, the San Francisco 49ers, California in the Pac 12, Pitt, Rutgers (where he met Hafley), the St. Louis Rams before they moved to LA, then the Giants, then the Packers, and now he’s at Boston College. That’s a career that’s stretched from D-II all the way to the NFL and along both coasts. He doesn’t stay anywhere for too long and doesn’t have the best track record of development, but he has certainly been around a long time and seen a lot of football. Sometimes being able to do something for a long time is a strength unto itself.
Tem Lukabu - Defensive Coordinator: Lukabu is even more interesting than his offensive counterpart and far more accomplished. Lukabu was born in the Congo, the son of the country’s first U.N. ambassador, and ended up attending Colgate where he graduated with a degree in history and political science while being a three-year starter, two-time 1st Team All-American, and two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year for the two-time Patriot League champion Colgate Raiders. He then joined the Schiano Rutgers staff (where he met Hafley), followed Schiano to Tampa Bay, then flitted between NFL and college jobs as a linebackers coach before becoming BC’s DC. He’s considered an energetic recruiter and a bright defensive mind and was certainly the catalyst for the (minor) defensive improvement last year.
Matt Thurin - Special Teams Coordinator
Rich Gunnell - Running Backs
Joe Dailey - Wide Receivers
Steve Shimko - Tight Ends
Matt Applebaum - Offensive Line
Vince Oghobaase - Defensive Line
Sean Duggan - Linebackers
Aazaar Abdul-Rahim - Defensive Backs
The BC offense of the Addazio days was a mega slow, run-first, run-second, run-third morass of an attack that was overly predictable and designed to protect a usually lights-out defense and keep the Eagles in low-scoring slug fests where they could eke out a win. When they had dynamite running backs like Andre Williams and A.J. Dillon, that style of offense worked; when they didn’t...well...it really didn’t work. Frank Cignetti took over the BC offense, immediately recruited Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec, kept the snails-pace tempo but flipped the script on the BC style: throw it all the ****ing time and ride those big plays til they dry up. “The Jurky Boys” - as the offense with Jurkovec was affectionately called - threw it 45% of the time on standard downs and 91% of the time on passing downs, essentially putting all of their success on the shoulders of the 6’5” junior from Gibsonia, PA. When Jurkovec was connecting with the receivers, it was lethal and only a few defenses were able to slow the Eagle attack well enough.
They were essentially a more balanced, better running, higher-passing-accuracy Mississippi State... and we all remember what Mississippi State did to the Tigers last year...
Quarterback - Phil Jurkovec - Redshirt Junior
First things first: Jurokovec has the weirdest throwing motion I’ve seen in awhile, with an all-elbow wind up that has the ball in his hand just flail around behind him before snapping forward like he’s cracking a whip. It looks like it hurts a lot and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had tried to fix the throwing motion in Jurkovec’s two years with the Irish. Regardless, he’s still quite good at being a quarterback, throwing for more than 2,500 yards in one of the twenty slowest offenses in the country. His 61% completion rate wasn’t great, but his receivers struggled with drops as his “catchable ball” rate was 72.3% (as a comparison, Connor Bazelak’s catchable ball rate was 78% last year). Jurkovec isn’t a true dual threat by any stretch but is shifty enough in the pocket to buy his receivers time and does enjoy running to contact while gaining 5+ yards on over 26% of his carries. Based on experience and production, he will be the second toughest quarterback the Tigers will face and will absolutely have the potential to roast the baby Tiger secondary.
Running Back - Travis Levy - Senior
The good news is that the Boston College running game stinks. The better news is that their best rusher, David Bailey, hit the transfer portal and is no longer with the team. That leaves Levy, with his 99 rushes for 321 yards and 0 touchdowns, as BC’s leading returning rusher. The bad news is that the Eagles don’t run much so whoever is getting carries is minimally impactful for game-planning to stop the BC offense.
Receiver - Zay Flowers - Sophomore
This will probably be the dude that ruins the Tigers’ day in Chestnut Hill. The 5’11” speedster was Jurkovec’s #1 target last year, getting 106 targets - more than double the targets for the next highest receiver - for 56 catches, 892 yards, and 9 touchdowns. His 53% catch rate isn’t great overall but is great for the deep-ball threat that he was, averaging a decent 8.4 yards per target but 16 yards per catch. Last year’s second favorite target - tight end Hunter Long - is now a Miami Dolphin so expect even more throws to head in Flowers’ direction. He’s only the second BC receiver to ever earn 1st Team All-ACC status, so shutting him down is priority number one.
Hafley and Lukabu inherited a truly wretched BC defense devoid of any playmakers, and turned them into a merely bad defense, still absent of reliable playmakers. But there was a 15-spot jump from 2019 to 2020 and most of that production is returning so it is reasonable to believe that they could be even better this year. How they improve, and in which areas they improve, is yet to be determined, but they were super stingy on third-downs last year and performed way better in the redzone than in the open field. It’ll be a great test for Drinkwitz and Bazelak to see just how much more effective they can be without Larry Three-Sticks around to bail them out in those situations.
Defensive Line - Marcus Valdez - Redshirt Junior
16 tackles and 5 tackles for loss might not seem like a lot from a 4-3 defensive end, but a.) he was the most productive of the linemen, and b.) brought down his guy on 94% of his tackles. None of the defenders mentioned here are super havoc-inducing but, as talked about from coaches around the conference, they are really good at disrupting plays and pushing the ball to the linebackers, an underrated skill from a stat-perspective but super important from a team-defense orientation.
Linebacker - Joseph Sporacio - Redshirt Sophomore
More good news: the top four linebackers on last year’s team are all gone. This leaves young Joe Sporacio and his 21 snaps and 1 whole tackle as the most experienced linebacker on the team. The Eagles have some younger recruits waiting to jump in but experience is low in the linebacking corps and will absolutely need to be taken advantage of.
Defensive Back - Brandon Sebastian - Graduate Student
...and now the bad news: the entire BC secondary from 2020 returns for 2021. Our discussions over the young Missouri secondary have certainly hit home how important an experienced secondary is for the success and health of a defense, and BC will have both in spades. The Eagle DBs weren’t great last year by any means, but thrived in shutting down obvious passing situations and eliminating big plays through the air. Being able to stretch them thin by overwhelming the linebackers will be key in trying to move the ball successfully through the air.
So what does it all mean?
I hate this game. I hate that the Tigers are playing an offense that is uniquely equipped to take advantage of an obvious Missouri weakness. I hate that Missouri has to travel to Boston to play it. I hate that the next week Mizzou will be going up against division foe Tennessee. I have no idea who scheduled this or for what reason, but there is no reasonable football argument that could be made for playing this game. The SEC schedule is hard enough as it is; why complicate it by playing another P5 team on the road on the east coast?
Regardless of my opinion of the reasons for this game existing in the first place, it’ll be the second big test of the season, two weeks after the first test of 2021 in Kentucky (on the road as well). BC will have a pillowy-soft slate of opponents leading up to this game and should be a comfortable 3-0 when the Tigers arrive. Their offense might be one-dimensional but a young defense with a new coordinator could easily be overwhelmed. The BC defense will give up yards on the ground but if Tyler Badie and Elijah Young (or whoever the rotational guy ends up being) can’t get going on the ground a veteran secondary that eliminates big plays will be ready to pounce on a young receiving corps as well. Missouri could fall behind very quickly or get sucked into a shoot out.
How the young Tigers show up and execute in this game will say a lot about the season going forward and the health of the Drinkwitz regime in the moment. We all are bought in and believe he can get Missouri ready for anything, so this will be an excellent test of this staff’s preparedness and ability to play in unique circumstances. These two teams were about the same last year and are returning the same amount of production headed into 2021. Winning this game will be an underrated statement performance for the baby Tigers.