At 4-4, the Syracuse Orange football team is in significantly better shape than they were a week ago. Meanwhile, the Boston College Eagles are in significantly worse shape after losing a third straight game to fall to 4-3. As we know, these teams have shared some memorable games over the years. We just won’t include the last two years’ matchups on that list.
Since we’re not Eagles fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect from Boston College on Saturday. BC Interruption’s Niraj Patel provides responses to our questions below. We give some answers over there too, which you can check out here.
We’ll start out with maybe the toughest question: Who’s winning the ACC this year?
Hopefully we just call it a seven-way tie or something. I don’t know, maybe Pitt. Kenny Pickett’s playing good football and definitely pushed himself up draft boards. Truthfully, I’m just salty. I’ve already contacted Disney+ to write the next episode of What If...? Spoiler alert: UMass is disbanded as a program and Phil Jurkovec never gets injured. Boston College proceeds to win the ACC.
Obviously this season hasn’t gone as planned with major injuries — to Phil Jurkovec, in particular. How’s Dennis Grosel working out, and what are his biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Grosel has seemingly regressed in my eyes. When he first took over, there was still some misguided optimism. He’s been here for years, and started games the previous two seasons. A veteran that’s objectively played fine when his number has been called, Grosel in theory could have kept the ship moving to a degree. He doesn’t have nearly the arm, but pretty much pulled a Matt Flynn against Virginia to end the 2020 season. Whatever happened that game is a distant past because the deep ball for Grosel has been non-existent.
At first he was underthrowing and getting picked off, lately he’s over-corrected and sails it over one of the fastest guys out there in Zay Flowers. Last week was a particularly bad day and a majority were probably calling for a QB change. So it’s going great. Grosel is a bit more mobile and can play the short to intermediate range just fine. There hasn’t been many good designed runs the past few weeks nor has he scrambled all that well, but he is capable. He can be serviceable with the quick passing game, and he did so last week . . . for exactly one drive. Play-calling has to be better and he needs to execute.
Have Eagles fans developed any skepticism about Jeff Hafley during this three-game losing streak? Or is it all just chalked up to injuries?
I don’t think there’s much nor is it warranted. There certainly were some in the crowd, but I wouldn’t give it much stock. He’s changed the program for the better still and they are on the right path in my opinion. Jurkovec is that big of an injury for this team. It’s still a rework overall, and if we hadn’t gotten Jurkovec last year and seen the greener side, I don’t think you’d hear much at all because there really aren’t many other options. Contrary to Ted Lasso’s opinion, it IS the hope that kills you. There are obviously legitimate criticisms, but he’s earned the right to see it all through so we can make a better assessment. He still says the right things and it hasn’t grown tiresome to me so. Defense is playing well too in spite of injuries — and that is his specialty so he has to get some kudos on that front.
BC’s defense has looked top-40ish this season. What does this group do so well and how does that help make up for offensive struggles?
The group understands its weaknesses well. They don’t generate much pressure or get many sacks, so they bide a bit more. They’ll get home occasionally, but they do a good job of getting off the field. Although it gets more and more difficult when the offense can’t stay on it. Third down has been particularly good for the most part. The coverage is sound and that’s where the real skill lies as well. Brandon Sebastian, Josh DeBerry, Jaiden Woodbey. These guys are very talented and have come away with some timely turnovers. Overall they haven’t generated all that many, but dominated on that front last week. But again, it was to no avail since the offense didn’t capitalize.
Zay Flowers has been neutralized by the offensive struggles this season. Do you see other ways to get the playmaker more involved to fix both his stat line and the offense this year?
It’s not for a lack of trying let me tell you. The man is open every game, the quarterback just can’t connect. It’s bound to happen once I suppose. Against NC State two weeks ago, he touched the ball twice which was completely unacceptable. OC Frank Cignetti made a more concerted effort last week against Louisville. Flowers touched the ball two or three times on the first drive alone and shocker ... they scored. Flowers opens up the offense in every way. They need to get him the ball and let him make a play. Screens, slants, sweeps are all feasible since they can’t connect on the deep pass. He can and has done it all so not feeding him is play-calling malpractice. There are a lot of weapons on offense, so to me there’s little excuse.
Syracuse has been run-heavy offense this year (No. 8 in the country in rushing yards per game), while Boston College is allowing over 4.4 yards per carry. Do you see BC being able to slow down the Orange on the ground?
I think it comes down to how effective Garrett Shrader can be on the ground. If it’s just Sean Tucker doing the work on the ground, I think BC can do a better job bottling him up — if that is even possible. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the defense’s ability to stop the run, but there seems to be a big hole or two every game. Tucker will take advantage of that no doubt. I also expect him to be a menace out of the backfield if ‘Cuse goes that route at all. It is a pretty good gang tackling defense, and you can be sure that stopping Tucker will be objective number one.
Thoughts on Dino Babers? Do you think he’s done enough at Syracuse to warrant a seventh year?
Babers is a fine coach. Honestly, just hitting that 10-win season and beating Clemson should take you a long way at most of the ACC programs. Having been on a side that has failed to get that really marquee win (yes, USC 2014 was glorious) or have that really special season (no more than 7 wins in over a decade), I give credit to Babers. I’m no authority on what went wrong the past two seasons, but hey this season may very well be turning around. Overall, I may pull the plug if it gets really bad, but I’d be willing to give it another year with Shrader at quarterback.
Any unsung Eagles players we should get more familiar with?
I have to be careful here. Last time I answered this question, all three players I mentioned had their worst games in Eagles uniform. Josh DeBerry might be the best player on defense, but his name hasn’t been called much. He’s a corner...so that’s a good thing, but he deserves praise with how much he is responsible for on defense. On offense, I’ll give Trae Barry another shout-out — hopefully he’s able to suit up after picking up a scary injury last week. He’s day-to-day for now. The big bodied tight end is a matchup nightmare and honestly should be fed more often. He’s had some highlight reel plays, but I’m sad that his stock hasn’t skyrocketed because of the aforementioned offensive limitations.
Which Syracuse player concerns you most, other than Sean Tucker?
It’s Shrader. These mobile quarterbacks have been headaches the past two seasons. Malik Cunningham is a different sort of runner with all his twitchiness and elusiveness, but the threat is similar enough. He roasted the BC defense to the tune of 133 yards and a hat-trick all on the ground. Plus, now what I saw from him passing last week just gives me more pause. But let’s be honest, it’s the Sean Tucker show. Need to stop that guy.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and how?
Fine, I’ll give it to you this time. BC has won the past two games because of the rushing attack. I do think the Eagles can make that happen with Pat Garwo/Alec Sinkfield and this offensive line, but in the end I struggle to see Grosel making those few plays to keep up with the Orange offense. Let’s say 31-24, Syracuse.