Steven Daniels said he was stunned when he examined the defensive statistics of Boston College’s 48-27 homecoming victory over Army last Saturday at Alumni Stadium. Daniels’s reaction stemmed from the career-high 11 tackles he recorded, including a pair of quarterback sacks, the first two of Daniels’s nascent BC career.
Daniels, a 6-foot, 249-pound sophomore linebacker from Cincinnati, turned to senior middle linebacker Steele Divitto in the Eagles’ locker room and asked, “I had two sacks? When did that happen?’’
Against any other opponent, Daniels’s sacks likely would not have gone unnoticed.
However, against Army’s Wishbone-oriented offense, ranked second in the nation in rushing (325 yards per game), Daniels’s accomplishments were overshadowed by BC’s strict adherence to the assignments given out by defensive coordinator Don Brown, who revamped the defense by adopting a more aggressive, attack-oriented approach.
“We still had some attacking [elements] in there,” Daniels said of the Army game. “It was definitely assignment football, though, because they do what they do and they’re pretty good at it.”
So good, in fact, that Army’s offense hit its rushing average by gaining 326 yards on 65 attempts, the most carries and rushing yards BC’s defense has allowed this season. Army also ran a season-high 76 plays.
Still, against that withering offensive assault, BC’s starting linebackers held their ground. Daniels, Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis combined for 41 tackles, including a career-high 18 by Pierre-Louis, who was recognized as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Linebacker of the Week.
“Steven stepped up huge in that game,’’ said Divitto, who has been flanked by Pierre-Louis at strongside linebacker and Daniels at the weakside spot this season. “He was playing downhill. You can see he loves the game, too, which is something really special. I’ve got two great guys beside me.
“Between KPL and Steven, we’ve got a great group going right now,’’ Divitto added. “Our goal when this whole thing started was to be one of the best [linebacker] corps in the country and that’s what we’re kind of building towards.’’
It helps, too, to have a burgeoning talent such as Daniels manning the “Will’’ linebacker position.
“I kind of questioned how focused he was in the spring when I got here,’’ Brown said of Daniels, who is from the same high school, St. Xavier in Cincinnati, that produced Luke Kuechly, a two-time consensus All-American at BC who was named 2012 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in his first season with the Carolina Panthers.
But after spending the spring evaluating Daniels’s play and his approach, “All those concerns were alleviated by the way he’s gone about his business,’’ Brown said. “He’s a focused guy, he gets concepts, and it’s important to him. Doing the right things are important to him.”
“Plus, he’s a load now,’’ Brown added. “He’ll bang you around in the run game, but he can also rush the passer. He’s a real versatile guy.’’
Brown noted Daniels has made significant gains in one aspect of his game.
“Playing in space,’’ Brown said. “He had some big tackles last Saturday against the Army quarterback in the backfield where he was one-on-one, in space, and won.”
“I was really excited about it,’’ said Daniels. “I wanted to do whatever it was going to take for us to get the win and for the defense to continue to do well.’’
Daniels and his defensive teammates must contain Clemson’s mercurial dual-threat quarterback, Tajh Boyd, when the Eagles (3-2 overall, 1-1 ACC) face the third-ranked Tigers (5-0, 3-0) in an Atlantic Division showdown at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Death Valley.
“He’s a big-time player,’’ Daniels said of Boyd, who threw for a career-high 455 yards and matched his own record with five touchdowns in Clemson’s 49-14 demolition of Syracuse last Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
“He’s somebody we’re definitely going to have to keep an eye on,’’ Daniels said. “But we have our game plan and what we’re going to go in there and do is we’re going to attack. That’s what we do.’’