Boston College has an elite college quarterback and some solid playmakers, but the season opener against Rutgers may come down to whether or not the Eagles offensive line can get some push against the Rutgers defensive front.
Boston College will be breaking in an entirely new offensive line, needing to replace all five starters from one year ago. Guard Zion Johnson (first-round draft pick), center Alec Lindstrom (Rimington finalist), tackle Tyler Vrabel, and guard Ben Petrula were all in NFL training camps this summer. The one returning starter, Second Team All-ACC selection and New Jersey native Christian Mahogany, unfortunately suffered a season-ending ACL injury before spring camp.
BC offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo, a familiar name having coached with both the Giants and Jets, as well as old friend in offensive coordinator John McNulty, had a lot of work to do this offseason to maintain the standards set within the program of a solid offensive line. Star Wide Receiver Zay Flowers expressed the in-house confidence in the program’s ability to keep a certain standard.
“We are known for having great O-Linemen and putting them out in the first round,” Flowers continued. “So I believe that we’re going to be just fine.”
That confidence was echoed in how the Eagles approached the offseason. Boston College did not make huge additions in the trenches like Rutgers did in the transfer portal, only bringing Lehigh freshman Christian Curatolo up to Massachusetts. Instead, the plan is to grow from within while continuing a tradition of strong high school recruiting, where they added three more true freshmen in the 2022 class.
With such high-quality players having moved on, it’s entirely plausible that the scheme, coaching, and ability to identify high school talent continues to outperform the recruiting rankings. Ozzy Trapilo (former four-star recruit) and Jack Conley only have a combined four starts for BC, and per reports are most likely to be joined by Drew Kendall (former four-star as well), Kevin Cline, and Finn Dirstine (yet again, a four-star prospect) on the first team.
That scheme includes a lot of deep dropbacks with time afforded by a dangerous quarterback running game that keeps defenses in the box. Eagles quarterback Phil Jurkovec, when healthy, is an elite college quarterback. He has above average arm strength, excellent ball placement at all three levels, and is a threat to take off and run by design or when plays break down.
The majority of his game breaking highlights came on plays with a clean pocket, but he has excellent pocket presence to feel the rush and move around as needed which makes things easier for the offensive line. And when he has time, Boston College’s offense is built around a committee of running backs led by 1,000 yard rusher Pat Garwo III, an elite deep threat in the aforementioned Flowers, and a steady stream of Tight Ends that continue to cycle through the program.
Rutgers on their other hand returns a good amount of experience on a defensive line that is expected to go 10 players deep early in the season. The Scarlet Knights lost multi-year starters to graduation both at nose guard in Julius Turner (school record 57 games played) and defensive end in Mike Tverdov (19.5 career TFL). Even before leading sack artist Mohamed Toure (7.5 career sacks) was lost due to injury. The Knights do return Ifeanyi Maijeh, Kyonte Hamilton, and Mayan Ahanotu on the interior, as well as Aaron Lewis who saw significant snaps at defensive end in 2021. Wesley Bailey got his feet wet in seven games and figures to be the long, rangy pass-rushing threat Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano has been able to develop throughout his coaching career.
What will be more interesting to see in this game and as 2022 progresses is the development of players getting more run, especially some very talented members of the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes. From that group, Jordan Thompson, Henry Hughes, Cam’Ron Stewart, Rene Konga, can they step up? Maybe one of the sophomores or true freshmen who have never played a down at the college level can surprise.
Will Texas A&M transfer Jahzion Harris, a four-star recruit out of high school, be up to speed after just joining the team recently? Troy Rainey is back on defense after taking one for the team and playing offense halfway through 2021, can he clog some space in the middle? In addition to the listed names above, Rutgers has additional talent on the defensive line looking to make their first impacts against Power Five conference competition.
So what should we expect on Saturday?
As mentioned in the offseason hiring of defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak, Rutgers does plan to run the same 4-3 base defense Schiano teams always have. The idea is to generate pressure with four players and subsequently give the ability to disguise coverage. That way linebackers are free to blitz unexpectedly and make pre-snap reads difficult for the quarterback. Jurkovec likes to get through two or three reads before taking off running, so if Rutgers can get in his face faster than he can make his reads, they will have a chance to significantly reduce the options on passing plays. if the defensive backs can hold up one-on-one with Flowers and the other receivers, the Knights may not need to use safeties to help as often opening up more coverage options. And of course if the defensive line can occupy blockers in the run game, it will mask some of the inexperience Rutgers is trotting out at linebacker.
Last but certainly not least, if Rutgers cannot stop the run without keeping extra men in the box and/or can’t get pressure with their front four, how quickly do they employ tactics such as stunts and blitzes to dictate the action even if it means leaving more open windows?
With no preseason games like there are in the NFL, it’s impossible to know from the outside not only how good this Eagles offensive line can be now and as the season progresses, or how well they have jelled already. In just a few days we will know the initial answers to these questions and a bit more as the 2022 season kicks off for Boston College and Rutgers in Chestnut Hill.
Stay with onthebanks.com for more coverage of this game, the rest of the season, and Rutgers athletics as a whole.