After months of buildup and anticipation — and preseason optimism from the players — a 96-yard, fourth-quarter Rutgers drive zapped any momentum Boston College football was hoping to build.
BC, favored by 6½ points at home last Saturday, squandered a 9-point lead and fell, 22-21, to an opponent that hasn’t reached six wins since 2014. For a team that has the potential to vault into the upper echelon of the Atlantic Coast Conference, it was a disappointing and inauspicious beginning.
BC has a chance to bounce back when it travels to Blacksburg, Va., to face Virginia Tech this Saturday at 8 p.m. in a typically hostile environment. The Hokies, coming off a head-scratching loss to Old Dominion, are 3½-point favorites.
“On to the next one,” said BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec after the Rutgers loss. “That’s all you can do. Let it hurt, let it sting. We had them on the ropes, and we had the chance to finish them a few times, and we didn’t.”
Coach Jeff Hafley said the staff moves on by Sunday, and he expects the players to do the same by Monday at the latest. He noted that the mind-set has to be to flush it and refocus.
“We’re on, or else we’re going to lose two games because of one,” Hafley said. “We cannot let that happen.”
Priorities 1A and 1B for the Eagles are figuring out ways to run the ball and stop the run. They had just 29 rushing yards against Rutgers, and their offense became predictable and stagnant late in the game as the Scarlet Knights dominated the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles will be in for another test against a Virginia Tech team Hafley said excels in the middle of the field. Senior linebacker Dax Hollifield, who had 10 tackles, recovered two fumbles, and broke up two passes against ODU, is a name to know.
With an inexperienced offensive line, Hafley is preaching consistent improvement. He doesn’t plan to reshuffle unless he has to.
“The goal here is you take this group who’s young and haven’t played, and they need to be better next week,” Hafley said. “I’ll probably tell you after the next game they need to be better. Hopefully by Week 8 or 9, they’re way better than they were in Week 1. If they’re not, then we have a problem.”
The defensive line, viewed as a potential area of growth, resembled last year’s unit in many ways. The Eagles stopped Rutgers in stretches, but the final drive left a sour taste for a group hoping to show how far it has come.
On the decisive drive, 11 of Rutgers’s 12 plays were runs. The Scarlet Knights converted on third and 1 three times and racked up six first downs in just over five minutes.
As disheartening as final outcome was, defensive tackle Chibueze Onwuka believes everything is fixable.
“That’s the beauty of the sport,” Onwuka said. “Everything you do wrong, you can correct. You learn a lot from losing. You learn a lot from making mistakes. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.”
While it was a largely discouraging performance, there were several bright spots. Explosive wide receiver Zay Flowers racked up a career-high 10 catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns, showing he’s still one of the ACC’s most dynamic players.
Jaden Williams caught a touchdown pass, and tight end George Takacs — a Notre Dame transfer with a versatile skill set — reeled in seven receptions for 84 yards.
Takacs said his relationship with Jurkovec at Notre Dame was a driving force in his decision to transfer to BC. It was easy to tell they had a prior rapport.
“We’ve been out there together before, playing together on and off for four years now,” Takacs said. “When I got out there, it definitely played a factor. That prior connection, non-verbal communication-type stuff. It worked out well.”
Takacs figures to play a major role all season, particularly without veteran tight end Joey Luchetti, who retired because of medical reasons.
The BC secondary, viewed as a major strength, held Rutgers to 110 passing yards. Of course, part of that was by design, as the Scarlet Knights totaled 212 rushing yards.
The Eagles should have a clear advantage passing and defending the pass against the Hokies; quarterback Grant Wells threw four interceptions against Old Dominion. If they can generate momentum on the ground and defend the run, they can expunge the memories of a Week 1 clunker.
“You can’t go back and play,” Flowers said. “Everybody just put it behind them. We know what happened. Now it’s time to move on. We’ve got 12 more games to play this year. We’re just looking forward to those.”
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.