Boston College went into Winston-Salem, N.C., looking for a statement win against Wake Forest in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener, but had to survive a shootout to come away with it.
The Eagles are 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2007 after pulling out a 41-34 win Thursday.
“I really think our team will grow from this win immensely because of the way had to dig and bond together as a team and overcome the adversity of giving away some points early,” coach BC coach Steve Addazio.
The Eagles offense looked dominant in blowout wins over UMass and Holy Cross, but racking up 524 yards on the road against the Demon Deacons was validating.
“It’s not just a fluke the first two games,” said running back A.J. Dillon. “We went out and showed that.”
The win also confirmed what Addazio saw brewing in the locker room in the offseason.
“This team’s got a chemistry,” Addazio said. “This team’s got something special about them. They’re not deterred. There’s no finger-pointing, there’s just strong resolve.
Here are some takeaways.
■ The 600-yard mark — That’s the goal the Eagles offense is trying to set for itself. It might seem lofty considering the only time they’ve eclipsed 600 total yards the past 18 years was two weeks ago against Holy Cross, according to Sports-Reference.com. But they’ve racked up at least 500 total yards in each of their first three games this season, and six of their last 10 games.
“We want to hit that 600-yard mark and to do that we’ve got to be able to throw it and run it and I think in the last two weeks we’ve shown that that’s going to happen now,” Addazio said.
The benefit of having A.J. Dillon, one of the best running backs in the country, helps unlock options in the passing game. The Eagles exploited an overextended Wake defense with deep throws on play-action passes. Anthony Brown became the first Eagles quarterback to throw for 300 yards and five touchdowns since Matt Ryan in 2007.
“We knew we wanted to throw the ball tonight and we knew there’d be opportunities in the play-action game because the safeties would be violently coming into the box,” Brown said. “So we knew that would happen and we went to it and we went to it fairly early.”
Brown hit six targets, including scoring strikes of 27 and 71 yards to Jeff Smith. But Addazio said there’s still plenty of options to explore with the tight end group.
“As an offense and as a team, we’re not really surprised that this is happening now because we’ve worked so hard the past two, three years,” Smith said.
■ Ground and pound — With Dillon in the backfield, the Eagles will obviously hang their hat on their running game. Dillon hit a home run early with a 45-yard touchdown on his third carry of the game. But he left his mark with bruising carries that moved the chains and drained Wake’s defense. Even as he adds to his highlight reel, he takes pride in wearing down defenses with tough carries.
“Obviously, yeah, it was nice to get the momentum going, score on the first drive, just to give that kind of confidence booster,” he said. “I fully embrace those 1-yard, 2-yard [runs], just getting back to the line of the scrimmage runs, because those take a lot out of the defense.
“I haven’t seen the film or anything, but I know for a fact there are some times where I’d get hit in the backfield and I’d grind forward and take a few seconds and I’d get 3 yards or 2 yards. Those are really demoralizing for a defense. Every run doesn’t need to be a home run.”
Dillon’s 185 yards on 33 carries made for his ninth career 100-yard game. He got to the century mark in the first half, racking up 119 yards on 18 carries. There were times when Dillon came off the field on third down and didn’t factor into the passing game, but Addazio made it clear that getting him as many touches as possible early is a priority.
“My goal was we wanted A.J. to touch the ball close to 20 times in the first half. I think he got to 18,” Addazio said. “Quite frankly, I think that there was more opportunity for us that I blame myself for in the run game. I think there was some more meat on the bone that we could’ve had and I’m sure I’m going to watch that tape and say to myself that there’s a few other different styles of runs that I would’ve liked to have been involved with. That’s on me, because I think there’s some real opportunity out there to capitalize on some things.”
■ Special teams — The Eagles had issues in almost every facet of special teams. Return man Michael Walker, who hadn’t fumbled in two years, muffed a punt. Long snapper Jimmy Martin missed his target, which led to a blocked punt. And freshman kicker John Tessitore, handling field goals with Colton Lichtenberg out with an undisclosed injury, missed an extra point.
In all, it cost the Eagles 15 points and kept Wake alive.
“The blocked punt occurred because of the high snap,” Addazio said. “It was fieldable. It was not a great snap, but it was fieldable. We had a poor snap and didn’t manage it well. That resulted in the block there.
“Mike, I think was trying not to fair catch the ball and maybe started to run a little bit. Probably should’ve fair caught that ball. That’s what I think happened there. But Mike has got good hands, he’s steady, and that happened. But it happened in [15-point] fashion today.
“On the road, it shows a little something about what our team is capable of and made of that we overcame that.”
■ No time to rest — The Eagles defense was busy. Wake ran a staggering 105 plays, the most by any team in the nation this season. Despite giving up 512 yards, the Eagles forced two turnovers, defensive end Wyatt Ray set a school record with four sacks, Connor Strachan made a career-high 15 tackles, and the exhausted defense weathered the onslaught.
“When the defense was going deep in it, 105 snaps, [BC defensive end] Zach Allen wouldn’t come off the field,” Addazio said. “Our defense was going and they were deep in this thing gassed. So it’s amazing. They were going to rally and grind this thing out.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.