Even in the earliest days of the previous coaching era, defense was the calling card of the Boston College Eagles. In the latter days, when the whole rest of the program went under, so did this unit, and rebuilding it has not been easy for defensive coordinator Don Brown and others.
Some improvements to the defense have been apparent, while there is still much work to be done in others. Is it good enough to help the Eagles win the AdvoCare V100 Bowl against Arizona?
Right now, the Eagles have a trio of linebackers — two of whom are seniors — having fine years: Steele Divitto, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Steven Daniels. The latter of those three came on strongly as the year went on, while Pierre-Louis was on the All-ACC first team and Divitto came in on the third team. The three resided at the top of the list this season: Divitto with 107, KPL with 104, and Daniels with 85.
In a sharp spike from last season, the linebackers this year also accounted for 11 sacks. Seeing as how Boston College came up with only six as a team all of 2012, which was without a doubt dead-last in FBS, this is one area in which Boston College has definitely improved.
The pass rush is where Don Brown’s arrival in Chestnut Hill has been most felt. Boston College went from a complete lack of a pass rush — a conservative, bend-but-don’t-break defense — to an aggressive style in which the Eagles constantly blitzed. In just one season, the Eagles went from an output of six sacks to an outstanding 35. That’s 234 yards in field position the Eagles have saved in total on dumping the quarterback. This helped lead to this unit allowing 27.8 points per game, which is about two fewer than last season. (Though, winning the field position battle has been more helpful to the offense, which scored about nine more points per game this season.)
The defensive line has played a major role in the synthesis of a pass rush this season, especially when considering the season had by senior end Kasim Edebali. Edebali, third-team All-ACC, came up with 62 tackles and 9.5 sacks in probably his finest season as an Eagle. He has also recovered two fumbles and recorded 15 tackles for a loss.
Finally, Boston College’s secondary has been more active this season, led by Sean Sylvia and Manny Asprilla. Sylvia is currently fourth on the team with 63 tackles, while Asprilla has 62. Sylvia also has one pick to his credit, while Asprilla has two. In total, the Eagles have come up with nine interceptions to go along with nine fumbles; their 18 turnovers gained is below the FBS average for the season.
The results have been improved for the Eagles in general, but there are still many things which need to be fixed. Generally speaking, the Eagles’ defense has not done a great deal away from Alumni Stadium this year; their only real solid road performance was against Maryland. Most recently, they folded against Syracuse in the closing minutes and have had to stew on that game since late November. Also, at nearly 28 points allowed per game and 420 yards allowed, the Eagles are still below-average in the major stat categories and have at times struggled to get off the field.
This time, they will face a very strong Arizona run game; the Eagles are 50th overall in run defense this year (152.08 ypg), but that number increases away from Alumni Stadium, where they allowed 166.33 yards per game. It stands to reason that the Eagles are going to get hit hard by Ka’Deem Carey and BJ Denker (when he runs), but will they hold steadfast enough to limit the damage and give the offense a chance to win the game behind Andre Williams? They are capable of it, but that is what they must do. To win, the Eagles will need a strong performance from their front seven.