The majority of the 30,922 fans at Alumni Stadium on Saturday likely spent halftime griping about Boston College’s woeful defense.
Trailing by a touchdown at the break, BC had already allowed 234 yards and seemed to be on track to match the 461.8 yards per game it allowed last year.
Things had been expected to be different under first-year head coach Steve Addazio and defensive coordinator Don Brown, who led the nation’s 10th-ranked defense last season at UConn.
After holding Villanova scoreless in the second half, however, the Eagles’ defense gave fans something positive to talk about after the 24-14 win — BC’s first home-opening victory since 2010.
Addazio said Brown calmed the defense — which created three of Villanova’s four turnovers in the second half — in the locker room.
“I just think the hype of the game, it just got [us] a little discombobulated,” Addazio said, “and I know Donny was frustrated, but he did a great job of settling them down at halftime and saying ‘Hey guys we have to play within the framework.’ ”
They did just that as Villanova compiled 121 total yards in the second half.
The defense made big plays too.
With 9:12 left in the game, junior defensive back Manny Asprilla picked off Villanova quarterback John Robertson on the BC 44. It was the third career interception for the Everett High product. Eight plays later, BC took a 24-14 lead when senior kicker Nate Freese hit a 39-yard field goal with 5:18 left in the game.
“The D-line was in the backfield and hit the quarterback and he had to throw the ball up,” Asprilla said of his pick. “All the credit should go to them.”
Then, with 2:36 left in the game, Josh Keyes sacked Robertson, forcing a fumble that senior defensive end Kasim Edebali advanced to the BC 39. After a three and out, junior defensive back Sean Sylvia iced the game for the Eagles by intercepting Robertson with 1:59 remaining.
That put the “here we go again” halftime talk to rest. But in the first half BC looked like the team that finished 2-10 last year.
On Villanova’s opening drive, Jamal Abdur-Rahman scored on a 47-yard run with only 1:54 gone. After BC tied the game at 7 on the ensuing drive, the Wildcats logged another long scoring drive to go up, 14-7, on Abdur-Rahman’s 27-yard TD catch with 2:48 left in the half.
BC’s defense started to bounce back after the first two series, making a goal-line stand with 3:35 left in the half that prevented the Eagles from falling down by two touchdowns.
“Coach Brown always tells us, ‘Never let the defense cross that magic line,’ ” said senior linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (team-high 12 tackles). “And even though on a couple gimmick plays they were able to do that twice, we got back to the fundamentals and they didn’t cross that line again.”
Sophomore defensive back Bryce Jones also picked off sophomore running back Gary Underwood with 1:58 left in the half.
“After coming off a 2-10 year you want to get out there and prove that that’s never going to happen again,” Jones said. “So when we got that chance to get back out there, we were excited.”
Perhaps the biggest evidence that BC’s defense is drastically different was that it collected four sacks Saturday compared with six sacks all of last season.
“We’re not going to be able to stand up in our conference if we don’t continue to bring it so we just have to get used to that style of playing and we’re not all the way there yet honestly,” Addazio said. “But in the second half I thought you saw bits and pieces of that and, all of a sudden, the momentum shifted and that’s why we have to be that kind of team.
“But in the first half, it didn’t look right. It just didn’t look right. But they settled down and I thought they did a great job with it.”