4 takeaways from BC football’s statement, season-opening win at Duke

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COMMENTARY

In the weeks leading up to their season-opening game at Duke, the Boston College players and coaches consistently shared how proud they were that the team has done everything in its power to be able to play this season.

The BC football program has administered over 2,500 COVID-19 tests, and only one was positive back in the summer. All along, the Eagles expressed their desire to compete, and they took the necessary precautions to make that happen.

On Saturday, with the Jeff Hafley era finally underway after an action-packed nine months, the Eagles resembled a team that was eager to play and invigorated by the opportunity in front of them. Boston College (1-0) cruised past Duke (0-2), 26-6, outscoring the Blue Devils 19-0 in a dominant second half en route to a statement win.

Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec earned the start at quarterback and responded convincingly after what he called a “skittish” first half. Sophomore wide receiver Zay Flowers racked up five catches for 162 yards and a touchdown, redshirt junior tight end Hunter Long added seven catches for 93 yards and a score, and the BC defense forced five Duke turnovers.

After a somewhat tepid second quarter from both offenses, the Eagles erupted in the second half to seize control and ultimately pull away for a win that carried extra weight given the circumstances.

“It’s a huge day for me, a huge day for this team, the coaching staff and obviously for Coach Hafley,” Long said. “We’ve been through so much as a team. We’ve only been together nine months, but in those nine months we’ve been through stuff no team’s ever had to go through.”

Phil Jurkovec impressed in his BC debut.

Hafley elected to keep the public guessing about who would start at quarterback between Jurkovec and Dennis Grosel. They took very different paths to get to this point and have distinct styles in many ways. Both showed what they can do before the season, and Hafley opted to put Jurkovec out there.

The Eagles scored on their first possession, as Jurkovec hit Flowers for a 40-yard reception and running back David Bailey capped a 10-play, 81-yard drive with a 1-yard score to put BC ahead, 7-0, early in the first quarter.

On BC’s next drive, Jurkovec launched a deep ball into double coverage. The Blue Devils picked it off and responded with a score of their own to slice BC’s lead to 7-6. After what was largely a lukewarm half for Jurkovec, Hafley reminded him to have fun and trust himself.

“The kid hadn’t started a game since his state championship in high school,” Hafley said. “We knew he’d have some nerves, he’d be anxious. It’s a position where the experience gets you better. I had no doubt. I told him at halftime, ‘Just go play, man. You’re doing a great job.’ After the pick, I said, ‘Hey, no problem. Go play.’ Look what he did in the second half.”

Jurkovec responded in the second half, hitting Long for a 9-yard TD reception on one drive and finding a wide-open Flowers for a 61-yard score on the first play of the next. He finished the day 17 for 23 with 300 yards passing, the two TDs and the one interception, and he chipped in 12 carries for 43 yards on the ground as well.

Long praised Jurkovec for his ability to keep his eyes downfield and find the open spots, adding that he knew what Jurkovec was capable of heading into the season. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said Jurkovec made some throws that “you don’t have answers for.”

For Jurkovec, the afternoon yielded everything he could have asked for from his debut. This was what he hoped would happen when he came to BC, and the second half showed how explosive this offense can be when everything is working.

“I haven’t been out there playing real football in so long,” Jurkovec said. “Getting out there, taking hits and playing again was so much fun.”

Zay Flowers and Hunter Long provided a huge lift.

Much has been made of Boston College’s new offense, and Saturday provided a new glimpse into what the offense will actually look like.

For starters, the Eagles racked up 300 receiving yards compared to 140 rushing yards. The threat of the run was always there with such a potent offensive line, which made life easier for Jurkovec, but there was clearly an emphasis on getting athletes the ball in space and letting them make plays.

Flowers had multiple plays that elicited some raised eyebrows. On one, with a defender right in front of him, he stopped, hesitated, and eventually broke free. He faked a defender out so badly on his touchdown that no one was remotely close to him when he caught the ball. Once he got to the end zone, he showed off his dance moves.

Jurkovec said Flowers is “going to be a problem” for a lot of defenses because of his elusiveness and quickness. If anything, Jurkovec believes he should have targeted him even more.

As a freshman, Flowers caught 22 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns and added 27 carries for 195 yards and one score. Part of the jump he appears to have made in year two is natural with a full season of experience behind him, but a portion of it also seems to be related to the system and the trust Hafley has shown in him.

“To be a part of this offense, I get to show what I can do now, instead of just taking handoffs the whole year,” Flowers said. “I get to actually run routes now, and show everybody that I can run routes and I’m just not a jet sweep guy.”

Long was just as involved. He made an impressive one-handed grab with a defender draped all over him, and his touchdown helped BC create some separation.

“He’s a complete tight end, and he has a chance to be one of the better ones in college football,” Hafley said.

Hunter Long did a little bit of everything for the Eagles. —Photo courtesy BC Athletics

The defense forced five turnovers, including several in key moments.

While the offense was electric on the opening drive and in the second half, the BC defense was tremendous the entire afternoon.

Linebacker Isaiah McDuffie and defensive back Jahmin Muse registered interceptions, and defensive end Marcus Valdez, defensive back Josh DeBerry, and defensive back Deon Jones recovered fumbles, helping the Eagles win the turnover battle 5-1.

It wasn’t just the fact that BC forced turnovers – it was when and how the Eagles did so.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Hafley said. “It’s incredible. I thought (defensive coordinator Tem) Lukabu called an incredible game.”

McDuffie’s pick came early in the second quarter with Duke approaching the red zone. Valdez’s fumble recovery came with the Blue Devils at the Eagles’ 4-yard-line and prevented them from taking the lead.

DeBerry’s takeaway in the third quarter was an extremely impressive play in which he ripped the ball from a Duke player’s hands and corralled it as he fell to the ground. BC wasn’t able to capitalize with a touchdown, but a field goal from Danny Longman gave the Eagles a 10-6 edge in the third.

When Duke had it at the BC 2-yard-line early in the fourth, Mike Palmer dislodged the ball and Jones corralled it. Muse’s pick, the final turnover of the day, helped keep the Blue Devils at six points.

Saturday marked the first since 2017 that the Eagles allowed fewer than seven points, and it’s the first they’ve done so on the road since 2008. Hafley is widely considered to be a defensive mastermind, and this was the first look at what the Eagles can do with him in charge.

“The way those kids played and the energy those kids had, it was awesome for me to watch,” Hafley said.

Jeff Hafley reflected on his first win.

Hafley acknowledged he was emotional after the Eagles secured the victory – not because of he personally won his first game as a head coach, but rather because of how much he knew this meant to his players.

“I’m giving every one of those players a game ball,” said Hafley, who got a Powerade shower at the end of the game. “When they look back at that date, they’re going to remember one of the hardest points of their lives that they had to battle through and sacrifice. No one will ever take this day away from them. No one will ever take away how hard they worked to get to this point.”

It’s been a long nine months, with many unexpected developments, but the Eagles finally played a game. Hafley believes this is an occasion they’ll cherish for a long .

“It’s so much bigger than just coming here and beating Duke,” Hafley said. “This day will forever be about this team and what they did to get to this point. I’m greatly appreciative.”

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