When Pat Garwo found a hole and sprinted to the end zone for a 30-yard score late in Boston College’s win over Maine last Saturday, the scamper carried more significance than usual.
The Eagles, who entered the evening last in the nation at 16.5 rushing yards per game, had finally broken through — literally and metaphorically — and perhaps gained some much-needed momentum running the football.
“It builds a lot of confidence that we can finish games if we do the right things and put it together,” Garwo said. “Now we’ve just got to take the next step.”
The challenge is much more daunting this week, as the Eagles (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) travel to Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee to face Florida State (3-0, 1-0 ACC) Saturday at 8 p.m.
FSU, a balanced, explosive team that already has impressive road wins over LSU and Louisville, is favored by 17.5 points. For BC to have a chance, in a hostile environment, running the football with consistency is imperative.
The Seminoles have allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the ACC (174.3 per game), but they’ve surrendered the second-most yards per carry (4.7). BC’s opponents, meanwhile, have a 148.3-to-48 edge in rushing yards per game. The Eagles have allowed an ACC-high 12 sacks.
BC rushed for 111 yards against the Black Bears, up from 29 and 4 against Rutgers and Virginia Tech, respectively, and started to see tangible results after two weeks of frustration.
Garwo, a 1,000-yard rusher a season ago, totaled 17 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns, while promising true freshman Alex Broome added eight rushes for 32 yards, and the young offensive line turned in its best performance to date.
It wasn’t a flawless performance, but it was a noticeable improvement.
BC lost the time-of-possession battle against Rutgers and Virginia Tech and won it against Maine, and coach Jeff Hafley knows keeping the ball will be crucial against Florida State.
“They’re too talented on offense to give them a lot of possessions, so we really have to be careful with that,” Hafley said. “It’s why we have to be efficient on offense.”
With standout guard Christian Mahogany and starting right tackle Kevin Cline out for the year with ACL injuries, and starting left tackle Ozzy Trapilo sidelined since Week 2 with an unspecified injury, the Eagles are thin on the line. Trapilo practiced Wednesday and is questionable for Saturday night.
Nick Thomas (left tackle), Finn Dirstine (left guard), Drew Kendall (center), Dwayne Allick (right guard), and Jack Conley (right tackle) started against Maine. Quarterback Phil Jurkovec credited the O-line for making significant strides in the win.
“They should be proud of their performance,” Jurkovec said. “It’s something that they need to build off of. Feel that win, the taste of glory. We have the first win under our belt. Credit to them. I think they’re just only going to step it up from here.”
Garwo said the most important factors for the O-line are communication and trust, and he has seen chemistry develop organically in meetings, practices, and games. Tight ends George Takacs, Spencer Witter, and Hans Lillis have all made progress as blockers as well.
The execution is there in flashes. The next step is consistency.
In Hafley’s eyes, FSU’s defense is fast, athletic, and well-coached. Defensive end Jared Verse, who is questionable with a leg injury, has three sacks and four tackles for loss. Linebacker Tatum Bethune (21) and defensive back Renardo Green (20) lead the Seminoles in tackles.
On the flip side, defending the run also will be imperative for the Eagles , who have have improved in that area. They currently sit ninth in the conference at 3.8 yards per carry — down from 4.5 a season ago — but Florida State is by far the most explosive offense they’ve faced.
FSU’s Treshaun Ward leads the ACC with 100.7 rushing yards per game and has speed and size. The Seminoles are first in the conference with 242.3 yards per game on the ground. Jordan Travis, if he plays (leg injury), is the kind of dangerous dual-threat quarterback who often gives BC fits.
“I think he’s playing as well as any quarterback in the ACC right now,” Hafley said.
Controlling the line of scrimmage is important in every game, but it will be magnified in this one. If the Eagles can avoid third-and-long situations and move the ball effectively, they have a chance to stage an upset.
If FSU dominates possession, it could be a long night for BC.
Trevor Hass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.