The Eagles traveled to Kentucky this weekend to take on a resurging Louisville Cardinals squad. Head coach Steve Addazio said after last week’s loss to Clemson that he thought his young group was showing progress and was on its way to more success. That wasn't clear on Saturday.
The Eagles' reputation for stout defense was widely backed up by their performance against a talented Cardinals' offense. As a team, Louisville rushed for 135 yards, but it took them nearly 50 carries to do so. That's under 3 yards per rush. Eighty of those yards though came on big plays, which makes the rest of the performance seem stronger, but Reggie Bonnafon and Jeremy Smith delivered one big play each, both of which gave Louisville scoring opportunities. Those plays aside, Steven Daniels continued to show his ability as one of the top linebackers in the nation, racking up 11 tackles, four for losses.
The BC secondary, while not as traditionally strong as the front seven, proved to be enough to keep the Eagles in the game. Louisville's freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson is undoubtedly a budding star in an NCAA era short of great quarterbacks, but Justin Simmons and the secondary held him in check. Jackson was picked off twice, though the Simmons interception was on a heave in the waning seconds of the first half. Jackson finished with 230 yards and 2 INTs after putting up 307, 3 TDs and 1 INT against Florida State, which highlights just how phenomenal this year's defense is.
Despite having several prime scoring chances, the BC offense again couldn’t find rhythm or success. After the loss of Darius Wade, passing struggles have been publicized and well known. However, it was the running game that was shockingly bad against the Cardinals. Usually a strength for BC, the Eagles finished with 30 carries and -14 yards. No, that is not a typo.
This can be explained in a number of ways. You could first look at the young offensive line and lack of experience upfront. You could see that defenses don’t even pretend to care about the Eagles throwing the ball, at times lining nine in the box. You could say that the sack yardage is distorting this figure. Or you could blame the stagnant run game on the injury to starting running back Jon Hilliman. Regardless of why you think it happened, the Eagles were steam-rolled in the trenches. They were physically outmanned and overpowered.
As noted, struggles in the ground game can be attributed to the lack of any sort of passing game. I know it sounds like a broken record, but the Eagles inability to throw the ball has cost them another game. Jeff Smith and Troy Flutie each took snaps Saturday after Smith left with an injury, and respectively put up QBRs of 3.0 and 5.4. You simply cannot win Division 1 football games with an offense so one dimensional. When attempting to drive down the field and tie or win, Flutie had an opportunity to hit Elijah Robinson on a seam route over the middle. Robinson was wide open with space in front of him, but Flutie left the ball well short and it fell incomplete. Misses like this are the difference between respectable quarterbacks and those that allow defenses to play without safeties.
The one surprisingly positive note from the game was the special teams. This is an area that can often decide outcomes. It has given the Eagles problems over the past two years, but not against the Cards. Knoll was perfect on extra points, and Sherman Alston was very clean on returns. Most surprisingly, the play which kept BC afloat was a blocked punt. John Johnson busted through the line and swatted a kick that Elijah Robinson picked up and turned into six points. The Eagles special teams were more effective putting up points than the offense.
Addazio's squad will look to right the ship against Virginia Tech at home this Saturday.
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