Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown, who had found a way to bring stability to a Boston College offense that had struggled, was out for the season.
So was senior center Jon Baker, who had been a linchpin on the offensive line since he was a freshman.
So was senior linebacker Connor Strachan, an anchor on a defense that had been among the best in the country the past two years.
So was sophomore linebacker Max Richardson, a part of a young core committed to reshaping the way people looked at the Eagles program.
So was cornerback Kamrin Moore, a senior captain kept the defense glued together on the field and the locker room glued together off it.
And so was All-America defensive end Harold Landry, who returned for his senior season with the hope of both leading Boston College back to a bowl game while at the same time proving to NFL scouts that he was a first-round talent, was out for the third straight game.
Still, Boston College found a way.
Missing six starters from their season opener, the Eagles (6-5) steamrolled UConn, 39-16, at Fenway Park on Saturday night, weathering the storm of injuries that’s plagued them this season and securing a bowl berth. A team that seemed out of it a month ago when it was 2-4 will be making its fourth bowl appearance in five seasons.
“I think it just shows how relentless our team is,” said safety Lukas Denis. “The way we prepare, our mind-set is just always to fight. We lost some key players throughout this season, but that just made us want to go harder for those guys.”
Eagles coach Steve Addazio, the target of intense scrutiny much of the past three seasons, became the first coach in BC history to lead the team to four bowls in his first five seasons.
“It makes it really sweet and really special when you can stand as the head coach and look those kids in the eye and see the joy in their eye for accomplishing [their goals].”
With Brown out, the Eagles fed the Huskies (3-8) heavy doses of freshman running back AJ Dillon. A week after setting BC’s single-season freshman rushing record, Dillon piled up 200 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns, including a 53-yard second-quarter rumble where he dragged four Huskies across the goal line.
“The only one I remember is the one guy that I threw by me,” Dillon said. “I don’t remember who else was there.”
He added another 20-yard dash in the third quarter where he shrugged off one tackler in the open field then plowed through three more to find the end zone again.
Between Brown and Jon Hilliman (107 yards, two TDs), the Eagles rushed for 330 yards. Veteran Darius Wade provided the Eagles with the steady quarterback play they were looking for in his first start since 2015. He completed just 7 of 15 passes for 55 yards before giving way to freshman E.J. Perry in the fourth quarter, but kept the Eagles offense composed in the huddle and came through with a clutch play when things were rocky early on.
In the second quarter, with the Eagles down 3-0, he used his feet to make a play to swing the momentum the Eagles’ way. After five Dillon carries got the Eagles down to the goal line, Wade had to make a play on third and goal from the 2. Everyone in the ballpark could’ve seen another Dillon run coming, so the Eagles went to play-action. As soon as Wade looked up, he had two defenders in his face. Flushed from the pocket, he rolled right, turned out the jets to flee would-be tacklers and flung a pass on a zipline to Chris Garrison in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up, 7-3.
“When Darius was in there, there was no question he was a great leader today,” Dillon said. “Things didn’t always go our way and he stayed positive, stayed the course and that’s what you want from a leader.”
From there, the Eagles never let their foot off the gas.
Without Moore, the Eagles’ secondary came up with three interceptions. The first was from Moore’s fill-in Amp Cheevers, who pulled the plug on UConn’s second drive by hawking a deep ball from UConn quarterback David Pindell in the end zone for his second interception of the season.
Early in the third quarter, junior corner Taj-Amir Torres came up with a 65-yard pick-6 that made it 27-3 and all but took the air out of the Huskies’ sideline. Later the same quarter, Denis short-circuited a Huskies fourth-down attempt by picking off Pindell and returning it 56 yards.
While it’s been rocky at times, this one, Addazio said, was gratifying because of the adversity the team faced.
“It makes you a tougher, more leathered football team,” Addazio said. “In this conference [ACC] that we’re in, you’ve got to run the gauntlet. In order to run the gauntlet, you’ve got to learn how to overcome adversity, create depth, and you’ve got to have a confidence that you can beat those teams week in and week out,” he said. “We’re battle-, weather-tested right now against really good competition. So I’m excited about all of that and proud of our guys.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.