Boston College football coach Jeff Hafley knew his team’s run count was on the rise, but even he was surprised to learn how far it had come.
“I didn’t know we were 12th in the country,” Hafley said with a grin. “That’s a huge leap.”
After finishing last in the nation with 63.3 rushing yards per game in 2022, the Eagles are averaging 213.8 this season. They are the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference above 200 points and have consistently won time of possession while posting four straight wins.
With a revamped offensive line, three versatile running backs, a dual-threat quarterback, physical tight ends and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum back in the mix, the Eagles (5-3, 2-2 ACC) have returned to their roots as a ground-up and pound program. As they face Syracuse (4-4, 0-4) on the road Friday at 7:30 p.m., they’ll continue to lean on what got them this far.
“We have to keep that going because that’s how you win,” Hafley said. “That’s what we’re going to do here, we’re going to run the ball. I know it was hard last year, but going forward we will be built on the O-line.”
Entering the 2022 season, BC had just four career starts among its active offensive linemen. Members of the O-line missed a combined 33 games last year, and the Eagles did not repeat a starting combination on the unit until their Week 10 win over North Carolina State.
This season, BC started with the same O-line combination in seven of the eight games. Virginia transfer Logan Taylor (LT), Texas State transfer Kyle Hergel (LG), Norwell’s Drew Kendall (C), potential NFL draft pick Christian Mahogany (RG) and Norwell’s Ozzy Trapilo (RT) have taken most of the dominated away.
Hergel has 49 career starts, Mahogany 30, Trapilo 29, Kendall 19 and Taylor 18. Trapilo missed the Army game, but otherwise the unit has remained intact.
“Last year was obviously very difficult for us,” Kendall said, “but I think that got us to where we are today.”
Jack Conley, Jude Bowry and Kevin Cline, among others, have provided depth where necessary. Conley even wore jersey No. 44 against Connecticut last Saturday and drafted as a tight end.
The Eagles ran the ball 61 times for 321 yards in the pouring rain at Army43 times for 308 yards against Georgia Tech, and 54 times for 246 yards vs. UConn. Against the Huskies, the Eagles won the possession battle, 40:44-19:16, and wore down UConn.
BC has gone for it in fourth place, the third most times in the country (26) and converted at the 14th best rate and highest score in the ACC (73.1 percent). The chemistry, balance and trust between the parties are unmistakable.
“I think we’re doing a great job with football right now,” Mahogany said. “The best you could wish for.”
Hafley emphasized the versatility of the linemen and their ability to work both in the box and on the perimeter. He said the Eagles are taking a lot of different looks at opponents, not just in terms of scheme, but also in terms of personnel. Sometimes they swap tight ends for receivers to create different surfaces and gaps.
Once the road is paved, running backs Kye Robichaux, Alex Broome and Pat Garwo have proven they know how to take advantage.
A physical downhill runner with a relentless motor, Robichaux has racked up 277 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. The 5-6, 192-pound Broome offers a change of pace and has shown his ability as a receiver. Garwo, a smart captain who is currently sidelined, has 274 rushing yards this season.
“Our O-line is doing a great job,” Robichaux said. “They make it easy for me.”
The defense has to worry about the running backs, but they also have to focus on the running backs the shifty quarterback Thomas Castellanos. Castellanos leads the nation’s quarterbacks in rushing with 673 yards and is tied with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams for most rushing TDs with nine.
Castellanos wreaks havoc both during planned runs and when the play breaks down. He can also pass it to the backs, or run play-action and hit athletic receivers for short gains that often turn into long gains. If the defense fills the penalty area, Hafley says, Castellanos will simply throw the ball wide.
“The safety measures are definitely going down, so it gives us more opportunities to go over the top,” receiver Dino Tomlin said. “Hopefully we can take more advantage of that opportunity this week.”
Last season, fans wondered what could have happened with a healthy offensive line. Now they don’t have to wonder about this. A school once called “O-line U” is beginning to return to that identity.
“Last year was tough,” Conley said. “Many injuries, many different combinations within the line. There’s no sugar coating it. Nothing was good enough about it.
“This year our goal was to get better and better every week and keep rising. I think we have succeeded very well in that.”
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