Boston College redshirt sophomore cornerback Tate Haynes didn’t have an exact number for how many times he’s heard the word “young” used to describe the Eagles’ defense.
But he had a ballpark figure.
“A lot,” Tate said. “That’s what I’ve been hearing a lot from the media.”
The defense was an unknown coming into the season after losing eight starters, but it answered any questions by coming up with five turnovers in BC’s 35-28 win Saturday in its season opener against Virginia Tech.
Haynes came up with his first career sack, blitzing from the right side and swinging the ball loose from Hokies quarterback Ryan Willis to force a fumble in the second quarter.
“It was a pretty wide opening,” Haynes said. “I thought I’d have a pretty good shot at it. I think I really got pretty lucky, honestly. Marcus [Valdez] was right there to recover it. But it was wide open.”
Haynes said he was unbothered by any concerns over the Eagles’ inexperience.
“I think there’s a culture in our defensive back room that’s been set and there’s kind of an expectation level of how we should play,” Haynes said. “People have doubted that just because the older guys have gone, but we’re the next phase. We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of talented guys in the defensive back room that I’m pretty excited about.”
Last year, the Eagles’ single-game high for takeaways was four against Purdue. The last time they had forced five turnovers was 2015 against Notre Dame.
“That’s absolutely an emphasis that we work on each and every week,” said linebacker and captain Tanner Karafa. “It’s a part of our mantra: Get the ball, get the ball back, win the turnover battle. It makes up for a lot when you can make five turnovers. I think there were even some chances where we could’ve had even more turnovers, too.”
Eagles coach Steve Addazio called the performances a confidence-builder.
“They rose to the occasion,” Addazio said. “A lot of people had a lot of questions about where that would be with the youth. They’re athletic. They’re talented and today they got a little confidence. They got a little better. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to keep maturing, we’ve got to keep growing.”
Easing his workload
AJ Dillon showed no lingering effects from the ankle injury that limited him for much of last season. Still, Addazio was careful about managing Dillon’s workload in the opener.
Dillon ran 23 times for 81 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown, but he was rested for spells throughout the game, at times getting entire series off.
“Trying to stay ahead of it,” Addazio said. “We want [him] to stay fresh, and we’re kind of bound and determined to do that and utilize David [Bailey]. The strategy worked, and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“But what worked was at the end you saw AJ was stronger at the end than he was at the beginning. And that’s really what we’re trying to do is make sure that we don’t just grind him down in the beginning and try to balance that a little bit.”
Respect for a rival
Addazio has a long history with Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, dating to Addazio’s days in the Big East in the mid-1990s as an assistant coach at Syracuse.
With Foster announcing at the beginning of August that he would be retiring at the end of the season, Saturday was the last time the two coaches would battle.
After getting the best of Foster in their final encounter, Addazio made sure to find him on the field and share his appreciation for a longtime rival.
“I just told him how much respect I had for him and that he’s had a fabulous career and I really wish him nothing but great success down the home stretch of the season,” Addazio said.
“He is a really masterful defensive coordinator the way that he game-plans you. He makes it really tough on offensive coaches. It’s very, very difficult to run the ball against that style of defense. So a remarkable career and I respect that and I just wanted to make sure I saw him and told him that personally.”
It’s been a long road back to the field for Clemson graduate transfer Richard Yeargin. The 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pound defensive end was a four-star signee in 2014 and played two seasons for Clemson, but suffered a neck injury in a car accident in 2017 that shifted his life and his college career.
The last time he was on the field was the 2016 national championship game.
He transitioned to a role as student assistant before being granted a sixth season of eligibility. After completing his degree in sports communication and then getting his masters in athletic leadership, he transferred to BC.
“Richard’s going to be really good for us, I think, this year,” said Karafa. “He’s about all the right stuff. He’s done some really good things this camp and as the season builds I think he’ll just get stronger.”
In his first two seasons at the Heights, Dillon made a habit of piling up yards by the hundreds. Coming into this season, he had 12 100-yard games to his name in just 17 starts (23 games total).
With one more 100-yard game, he’ll tie William Green for the fifth-most 100-yard games in BC history.
He’s still well shy of Montel Harris’s all-time mark of 22 100-yard games.
The Eagles are 9-3 when he rushes for at least 100 yards.