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Know Thy Opponent 2020: Boston College Eagles

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Purdue gives the Eagles a return game after the Boilers won on homecoming in 2018.

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-Boston College vs Cincinnati Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 football season (if it happens) could hinge on game 4 against Boston College a lot like how the 2018 season hinged on that game. When Purdue played Boston College in 2018 the Boilers were 0-3 after three straight narrow home losses, including in a season opener against a conference opponent in Northwestern. A top 25 Boston College team came to West Lafayette and promptly turned the ball over four times. The Boilers stuffed A.J. Dillon, one of the nation’s top returning running backs, all day long and earned a surprising 30-13 victory.

That win ended up being Purdue’s first win over a top 25 team in seven years. The Boilers would collect two more that season against Ohio State and Iowa, ironically going 3-0 at home against top 25 teams and 0-4 against unranked opponents.

This year we could be in a similar position. At Nebraska-Memphis-Air Force is a lot tougher than Northwestern-Eastern Michigan-Missouri was two seasons ago. Purdue realistically could be 0-3 with a lot of questions when it heads out on its longest road trip of the year.

2019 Record: 6-7, 4-4 ACC Atlantic

Bowl Result: Lost to Cincinnati 38-6 in Birmingham Bowl

Blog Representation: BC Interruption

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0

Last Purdue win: 30-13 at Purdue on 9/22/2018

Last Boston College win: None

Head Coach: Jeff Hafley (0-0 in first season at Boston College)

Last Season for the Eagles

Since starting 3-0 and coming to Purdue with a top 25 ranking Boston College has gone 10-12. That was enough to get Steve Addazio fired. Addazio was there for seven seasons and was a perfectly balanced 44-44 with a primarily run-focused attack. Last season saw the Eagles lose a home game to Kansas, the first time the Jayhawks had beaten a Power 5 team on the road in 11 years. They won at Rutgers to start 3-1, but pretty much lost to any team with a pulse that they faced.

Enter Jeff Hafley, a 41-year-old first time head coach that last served as co-defensive coordinator for Ohio State last year. Before that he was a position coach in the NFL in San Francisco, Cleveland, and Tampa. Hafley was a solid recruit for Ohio State and their defense was excellent last year, but we know very little of how he will perform as a head coach.

Boston College Offense

Boston College is basically starting over one defense. They are going to try and pass a bit more, but they must do so with a relatively new quarterback and with A.J. Dillon gone. Dillon rushed for 1,600+ yards last season and almost 4,400 in his three years at BC, but left a year early for the NFL and was drafted 62nd overall by the Packers. Anthony Brown also graduated and transferred to Oregon after throwing for 1,250 yards and 9 TDs against 2 interceptions.

Dennis Grosel could be the leader to start under center. He split time with Brown last year and threw for 983 yards and 9 TDs against 3 INTs, but completed less than 50% of his passes. Phil Jurkovic, a former top recruit at Notre Dame, has transferred in and will vie for the starting role. Grosel finished the season last year as the starter after Brown was injured midway through the year.

Though the passing game did not do much, the top two receivers return. Hunter Long is a solid tight end with 28 receptions for 509 yards and 2 TDs last season. Kobay White led the team with 29 receptions for 460 yards and 5 TDs. Zay Flowers was also a strong contributor.

The loss of Dillon is significant, however. Junior David Bailey (844 yards, 7 TDs) was good in a reserve role last season, but Dillon was a next level runner. Bailey and the new quarterback will have a solid offensive line in front of them. Ben Patrula was an all-ACC selection a year ago and is one of three starters back. Alex Lindstrom was very good in the middle and as a unit BC was 4th in the nation in fewest sacks allowed. Much of that comes from having a very run-oriented offense, but the running game worked because of the strong line.

Oh, and because we can never seem to escape good Wisconsin running backs, the son of former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, Javian Dayne, is a sophomore that is expected to get some carries.

Boston College Defense

The defense struggled predictably against the very good teams it faced last season. Clemson bombed away for 59 points on them, but that’s because they are Clemson. The more disturbing number was 48 points given up at home to Kansas. As a unit the Eagles gave up more than 32 points per game, teams converted on 46% of third downs, and opponents moved the ball with relative ease at about 480 yards per game. That was the worst defense in the entire ACC.

There is a ton of experience returning. Max Richardson led the team in tackles with 108 to go with 3.5 sacks. He will lead the linebacking corps once again with John Lamont (78 tackles) in the middle. Richardson also led the team in sacks, which does not bode well for the pass rush.

Brandon Barlow and Marcus Valdez return as the defensive ends that will try to remedy that issue. TJ Rayam is also an experience tackle in the middle who had 41 stops a year ago. Those three only combined for five sacks, however, so the line simply has to do more.

The secondary intercepted 10 passes a year ago, but it was spread out with nine different players picking one off. Mike Palmer was a decent corner with 76 tackles and two interceptions, but now this unit gets to chase David Bell and Rondale Moore around all day. Rondale had an 8-110-2 line against them two seasons ago, so get excited.

Boston College Special Teams

The kicking game could be more reliable for the Eagles this year. Aaron Boumerhi was 12 of 18 on field goals last year with a long of 45 and he returns. Grant Carlson is a pretty good senior punter that averaged over 42 yards per kick.

In the return game Travis Levy is a dangerous speedster that might also be sued some at running back. He did well last season on both kickoff and punt returns and has the speed to break one.

Game Outlook

I have to say that, on paper, this looks like the “easiest” of Purdue’s first four games. The BC defense struggled big time last season, they have a new coach with a new system on offense, and they lost a couple of their best players. By no means will this game be easy, however. They have their own rough start with home games against Syracuse and Ohio before giving Kansas a return game.

How healthy is Purdue coming off of a rough triple-option game against Air Force? How much confidence does Purdue have at this point if it is 1-2 or worse? What if we’re still playing quarterback derby? Non-conference road games are always a bit strange because at least there is some familiarity in visiting a Big Ten foe. For this game, everything is different.

Way-too-Early Prediction

Of the first four games of the season I am the most confident in this one. That doesn’t mean I am totally confident per se, I just feel better about this one because Boston College has the most questions to answer. We have a lot of questions of our own though. This is a team that we handled relatively easily two years ago when they were better. I think Purdue goes on the road and gets an important early season win. Purdue 31, Boston College 24