A pair of ACC Atlantic Division teams will look to overcome rough starts to conference play on Saturday as Boston College makes its way to the Bluegrass State to take on Louisville.
After starting ACC play with a win over Florida State, Louisville has dropped consecutive games to Wake Forest and Virginia by just a combined four points and comes in with a record of 3-3 and 1-2 in conference play. Following a 4-0 start, Boston College has opened its ACC slate with back-to-back losses to Clemson and NC State.
The home team has won the last three games in the series, which included a 34-27 victory for Boston College last season in Chestnut Hill. Dennis Grosel passed for a pair of touchdowns while David Bailey (now at Colorado State) ran for a pair. Overall, the Eagles have won three of the last four meetings between the schools.
Boston College at Louisville
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Louisville -6
When Boston College Has the Ball
Boston College appeared to have suffered a big blow when quarterback Phil Jurkovec went down with a serious hand injury early this season, but Dennis Grosel has plenty of experience. Grosel is probably the better athlete between the two, although he has struggled with turnovers in recent weeks. Statistically, Boston College is toward the bottom of the ACC in total and scoring offense and has managed just 10 total points in its two ACC games. At the skill positions, however, the Eagles have some playmakers.
Running back Pat Garwo III is on pace to rush for 1,000 yards this season with 519 and five touchdowns thus far while averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Travis Levy, a 205-pound power back, will get the call in short-yardage situations and has four touchdowns on the ground. Zay Flowers is the name to know in the passing game. He leads the Eagles with 352 receiving yards, although he has arguably been impacted the most by Jurkovec's absence. CJ Lewis is a solid complement while tight end Trae Barry has to be accounted for in the red zone. Barry averages nearly 16 yards per catch and is tied for the team lead with three touchdown grabs. Up front, a veteran offensive line has surrendered nine sacks in six games.
Defensively, Louisville has struggled. The Cardinals allow more yards per game than any team in the ACC and against FBS competition — they are yielding more than 34 points per game. One thing that Louisville does well is get to the quarterback. Yasir Abdullah leads the team with five sacks. Freshman defensive end Ashton Gillotte has three.
Linebacker may be the deepest position on this defense, even with the loss of Monty Montgomery to injury. In addition to Abdullah, top tacklers Jack Fagot and C.J. Avery have played a lot of football in their careers. Safety Kenderick Duncan has been a tackling machine in the secondary while Kei’Trel Clark, a Liberty transfer, has been solid in coverage. Clark leads the Cardinals and ranks second in the ACC with three interceptions. Louisville has allowed a lot of yards and points but has been opportunistic. The Cards are second in the conference with seven interceptions.
When Louisville Has the Ball
He hasn’t received a lot of attention, but quarterback Malik Cunningham has quietly had a stellar season. Cunningham has eliminated the turnovers and comes into Saturday’s contest with 18 total touchdowns and just two interceptions. Ten of those scores have come on the ground, which leads the ACC. Although he has struggled to get going since the start of conference play, Jalen Mitchell is a solid running back and he leads the team with 357 rushing yards.
Through the air, Cunningham has done a good job spreading the ball around. Four different pass catchers enter Saturday’s contest within five yards of the team lead for receiving yards. Tight end Marshon Ford is Cunningham's most trusted target with a team-high 27 catches for 265 yards. Jordan Watkins and Ahmari Huggins-Bruce have been dependable as well while Tyler Harrell has provided a big-play threat. Harrell has just seven catches, but he averages an eye-popping 37.3 yards per reception and leads the team with three touchdown grabs. The offensive front, anchored by center Cole Bentley, has allowed an ACC-low eight sacks.
This could prove problematic for a Boston College defense that has recorded a grand total of eight sacks in six games, the fewest in the conference. The Eagles haven't made many plays behind the line of scrimmage or generated a bunch of turnovers, but the defense has still gotten the job done. Boston College ranks in the top five in the ACC in the four major categories and is in the top 30 nationally in scoring defense (19.5 ppg, tied for 28th). The Eagles also have scored twice on defense this season.
Temple transfer, Isaiah Graham-Mosley is a fifth-year player and the top tackler for the Eagles with 38 stops. Senior defensive end Marcus Valdez is probably the best player up front while cornerback Josh DeBerry likely has an NFL future. DeBerry is fourth on the team in tackles and is tied with Brandon Sebastian for top honors with two interceptions. Linebackers Kam Arnold and Vinny DePalma are two other players worth paying attention to.
Both teams are very good on special teams as well. A pair of Boston College kickers (Connor Lytton and Danny Longman) have combined to go 6-for-7 on field goals with a long of 49 yards while Louisville’s James Turner is 9-for-12 with a long of 46. Levy also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown earlier this season.
Boston College has struggled to put points on the board since the start of ACC play, but Louisville is no juggernaut defensively. The Eagles have been susceptible to the big play in recent weeks and the Cardinals can make plenty of them. The home field should be an advantage for Louisville this week and the Cardinals could easily be 5-1 at this point in the season. Boston College is coming off its worst performance of the season in a 33-7 home loss to NC State and it might be tough to turn things around on Saturday.
Prediction: Louisville 34, Boston College 24
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— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.