Plus, Can Jurkovec be the Pickett for BC?
Consistency. That is the one word you can describe the overall performance of Jeff Hafley’s Boston College Eagles during his first two seasons in Chestnut Hill.
The consistency has been Hafley has guided the Eagles to bowl eligibility in his first two seasons. Thwarting the Eagles from participating in postseason play has been the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hafley enters his third season with a new offensive coordinator John McNulty, the return of senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec who missed eight games due to a wrist injury looking to be the 2022 version of Kenny Pickett in the ACC, and a secondary that returns that yielded the 3rd best passing defense of 2021 giving up 173.5 yards per game.
Jurkovec to Pickett Comparison
During the 2021 season, former Pitt quarterback and current Pittsburgh Steeler Kenny Pickett rocketed from where Pro Football Focus had him 52nd in the preseason rankings to becoming ACC Player of the Year and finishing 3rd in the Heisman voting.
Jurkovec returns to Chestnut Hill for a senior season, where he is looking to come back from a poor injury-riddled season.
Jurkovec regressed from his 2020 season, dropping in completion percentage (61.0 in 2020 to 54.2 in 2021) but has a similar touchdown to interception differential (+17 for Jurkovec and +14 for Pickett) that Pickett had going into his monumental final season with Jurkovec having an edge in a touchdown to interception ratio – Jurkovec 2.88 to 1 and Pickett 1.56 to 1.
Jurkovec projects his 6’5” 215-pound frame to another Pittsburgh quarterback, future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger.
Supporting Jurkovec Plus New Staff
One of the ACC’s dynamic quarterback-receiver tandems resides in Chestnut Hill as Jurkovec will seek out Zay Flowers.
Flowers have evolved under Hafley, becoming one of the nation’s dangerous receivers, who last season averaged 17 yards per reception, as an ACC coach said is a “must double.”
Flowers projects to be a slot receiver at the next level, and when he had an entire season with Jurkovec in 2020, he was ranked in the Top 10 in explosive plays in the country.
All-ACC second-team running back Patrick Garwo III is returning for his junior season. Garwo led the Eagles with 1,072 yards rushing on 5.1 yards per carrying and had seven touchdowns for the Eagles.
A giant setback for the Eagle's offense heading into the 2022 season was the graduation of 4 starting offensive linemen, including 2021 All-American and first-round draft choice Zion Johnson.
The Eagles were counting on another potential Day 1 or Day 2 pick ranked as Mel Kiper’s No.2 Guard prospect anchoring an inexperienced line with guard Christian Mahogany. Still, Mahogany tore his right ACL in June and is expected to miss the entire 2022 season.
Hafley and new offensive coordinator John McNulty will be looking to former McNulty pupil tight end George Takacs, a transfer from Notre Dame, to assist as a competent vertical weapon in the passing game. Still, his valuable asset is his high-end ability to run and pass blocks.
McNulty, who comes to Boston College as an offensive coordinator from Notre Dame, is one of four new offensive coaches who come to BC as Savon Huggins (running backs), Dave DeGuglielmo (offensive line), and Darrell Wyatt (receivers) formulate a who new offensive staff for Hafley.
Mixed Defensive Results
Hafley will rely on a secondary who finished in the Top 5 in passing yards allowed per game.
Leading that secondary will be safeties Jaiden Woodbey and Jason Maitre. Woodbey is more of a box safety player who plays closer to the line and also possesses solid coverage skills.
The Eagles got a trio of corners that they feel can be cornerstones for their defense. Elijah Jones is leading the way, whom Hafley is very high on and feels he can be one of the best corners in the ACC. Josh DeBerry demonstrated the skill last season where he can be one of the top cover corners in the ACC and the country.
Hafley will be looking for sophomore CJ Burton, who was a four-star prospect, to take that next step in becoming an impact corner this season.
Upfront for Hafley and Boston College defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu is where the head-scratching begins.
Boston College had a stout scoring defense in 2021, allowing 22.2 points per game, good for 31st in the country; the defense allowed 4.6 yards per game on the grade last year. Hafley and Lukabu’s defenses weren’t predicated on pressuring the quarterback; the Eagles pressured opposing quarterbacks on 25.9% of dropbacks in 2021, which was 11th in the ACC and 88th nationally.
While this was an improvement for Boston College over their 2020 season rankings, 13th in the ACC and 97th nationally, this is not enough or good enough to get Boston College to the next level in the ACC.
Much like what the Eagles have done for Hafley in his first two seasons, he enters his year three season with a similarly mixed bag where he has a bunch of high-end pieces to get to the next level with a high-end quarterback, receiver, and secondary, the uncertainty of can the offensive line being able to protect Jurkovec and open holes for Garwo will be the determining factor on offense as after Jurkovec’s injury last season, BC dropped games because the offense couldn’t produce.
On a defense that was equally ravaged by injuries like the season highlight by the torn Achilles of defensive tackle Chibueze Onwuka, it limited Hafley and Lukabu on what it wanted to do with their front seven, incredibly defensive line.
Lukabu will be looking for improvement on tackling from the defensive line as the group missed many tackles, especially behind the line of scrimmage against Louisville.
The season will be dictated by the health of their lines and the performance of their lines.
Jurkovec has all the skills to be another Pickett for the ACC; the questions will be, can he be protected, who will step up as a legitimate No. 2 vertical threat behind Flowers, who will see most of the double coverages.
Jaelen Gill looks like the No. 2 wide receiver who is excellent at making the contested catches, and Jaden Williams will need to step up.
George Takacs has a lot to prove; he has to prove he is an asset in the vertical game and show he was worthy of being out of All-American Michael Mayer’s shadow at Notre Dame.
Jurkovec is very much a sleeper to gain some All-ACC recognition if all these get established.
Boston College has an exciting start to the season with Rutgers at home, this will be a more challenging than average game for the Eagles, but 2 of the following 3 are winnable road games against Florida State and Virginia Tech.
Entering October, the Eagles have a 3-week stretch where they are at home against Louisville and Clemson, then travel to Wake Forest. Any chance to do well in this stretch will be built by the momentum the Eagles get in September.
November is a month where they should beat Duke and Syracuse at home, at NC State and Notre Dame will be exciting, and how the Eagles perform entering the month will determine what those games will look like.
This is an exciting year for Boston College and Jeff Hafley’s program; in one vein, I can see them being consistent again and winning 6 or 7 games. In another vein, I can see 9 or 10 wins and play in a New Year’s Day bowl. It all comes down to the line play, and if they play well enough to support their strengths, the latter is very feasible.