With a scintillating home win over Missouri and a heartbreaking road loss to Clemson to reflect on, the Boston College football team used the bye week as a chance to pause, take a breath, and look inward.
“I think it was great for a lot of us,” wide receiver Jaelen Gill said. “We were all banged up, so it was good to relax, reset, and get refocused back on the main goal.”
Next up for the Eagles is a physical, deep, and experienced No. 22 North Carolina State team also coming off a bye. They’ll meet this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Alumni Stadium, as BC tries to earn its first win over an opponent ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since 2014.
The Eagles and Wolfpack have plenty of similarities on paper, from their 4-1 records to their defensive-minded head coaches to the opponents they’ve faced. BC coach Jeff Hafley spoke glowingly about the Wolfpack all week, praising them for how hard they compete and how disciplined they are.
“I believe it’s the best team we’ve played up to this point,” Hafley said.
The Eagles respected Clemson as well, but they left Death Valley feeling as though they squandered a prime opportunity. BC had the ball in the red zone late in the game — needing a touchdown and extra point to prevail — and came tantalizingly close before falling short, 19-13.
Though oddsmakers viewed the Eagles as major underdogs, they didn’t see themselves that way and were extremely frustrated by the result.
During the bye, the Eagles got away from football for a bit, saw their families, and dissected film through a broader lens.
“I like where we’re headed,” Hafley said. “We need to get better, but we’re better than we were last year. I feel confident on that. We’ve got to build on that now.”
Hafley said last week was an ideal time to take a step back, see what’s worked and what hasn’t, and incorporate some new elements into the arsenal. They even looked back at training camp to reintegrate certain wrinkles. While the Eagles used the break to scrutinize themselves, they also had more time to examine their opponent.
With the Wolfpack coming off a bye as well, Hafley said it’s important not to get too caught up in their tendencies to this point. The chess match is particularly prevalent and layered with both teams benefiting from more time to rectify their weaknesses.
One area in which both teams have excelled is third-down defense, and that’s not a coincidence. Hafley and North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren both have extensive defensive backgrounds and pride themselves on building tough-minded units.
The Wolfpack rank first in the nation in third-down defense (23.6 percent), while the Eagles are tied for seventh (27.6 percent). In 2019, one year before Hafley’s arrival, BC was 121st (46.5 percent) in that category. The Eagles aren’t necessarily sacking the quarterback frequently, but they’re getting creative and changing looks regularly to fluster opponents.
Linebacker Kam Arnold loves the way the Eagles are playing fearless, physical football. Against Clemson in particular, BC consistently made plays late in the game and gave the offense several chances.
“Everything’s coming together the way we pictured it and how we should be playing,” Arnold said.
Both teams also feature elite, experienced offensive lines. The Wolfpack average the fourth-most yards per carry (4.8) in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while the Eagles put up the fifth-most rushing yards per game (185.6). BC quarterback Dennis Grosel said the teams have similar characteristics offensively and rely heavily on a dependable outside run game.
“Our mentalities seem pretty similar,” offensive tackle Jack Conley said. “Fast and physical.”
Hafley believes there’s a reason that the Wolfpack — who beat Clemson, 27-21, in late September — are a Top 25 team, and he hopes the Eagles can prove they belong with a program many consider to be an ACC contender.
Every week is pivotal, given the nature of the college football schedule, but this week is particularly meaningful given the opponent, the prime-time atmosphere, and what lies ahead.
Arnold acknowledged it’s a “very big” game and a chance for the Eagles to get back on track.
“I feel like we’re getting better,” Hafley said. “I think we’re closing the gap on some teams.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at email@example.com.