Ohio State on Friday opened what coach Ryan Day hopes will be an uninterrupted spring practice as he seeks a new starting quarterback and some normalcy after a tumultuous 2020.
Spring workouts were cut short last March when the coronavirus spread across the country. The Buckeyes practiced three times before spring break and didn’t return to the field as a group until the fall ahead of a delayed and abbreviated season that saw them eventually lose to Alabama in the national championship game.
Although Ohio State’s football activities were paused last week because of an uptick in positive tests, the first of 15 workouts began on schedule Friday and will culminate in the annual spring game on April 17, which may or may not have fans involved. The event in normal years typically draws a big crowd — nearly 100,000 in 2015 — but it’s also critical for coaches in evaluating young players under game-like conditions.
The 6-5 record that the Boston College Eagles put up in head coach Jeff Hafley’s first year at Chestnut Hill didn’t look much different than a typical Steve Addazio season. But it sure didn’t feel the same. Four of the five losses came to teams that were ranked at the time of the game, Boston College took Clemson and North Carolina to the wire, and the Eagles had a passing game that looked like it belonged in the modern era.
That is all well and good, but the simple fact was that this was a team that finished just one game over .500. Fortunately, the schedule is not quite as difficult in 2021, giving the Eagles an opportunity to make a significant jump as long as strides are made in year two of the new regime.
Here are five areas to watch this spring as the Eagles look to jump-start their 2021 season.
5 Storylines to Watch During Boston College’s Spring Practices
- Phil Jurkovec and the passing game
In one short year, Boston College went from being a team that grinds possessions out on the ground, one that ranked near the bottom of the ACC in pass attempts year after year, to a unit that threw the ball more than running it, something that hadn’t happened since 2012. Enter a new concept under Hafley, a new quarterback in Jurkovec, and the emergence of Zay Flowers as a top receiving option, and voila, the Eagles were off to the races. Flowers is back, but a replacement has to be found for dependable tight end Hunter Long. Most importantly, as good as Jurkovec was in his first year in Chestnut Hill, he can get better. Taking the next step starts this spring.
- Who will carry the ball?
David Bailey formed a mighty one-two rushing punch with AJ Dillon during the 2019 campaign. But with the change in offensive philosophy, his role was diminished despite ascending to the starting position. Now, Bailey is in the transfer portal and Boston College needs a new primary ball carrier. Travis Levy is still around, and he brings plenty of experience, especially in the passing game, as he has 71 catches in his career. But being an every-down back doesn’t seem to be the best fit for the senior. Patrick Garwo was the highest-rated prospect in the 2019 class and saw some action last year. Garwo is a physical presence (5-9, 216) who former head coach Steve Addazio wanted in a running back, but he may not be as versatile as the new staff would like. Hafley did land two smaller, quicker backs this cycle in Lewis Bond and Xavier Coleman. Both are on campus and will compete for time this spring. Another name in the mix is West Virginia transfer Alec Sinkfield, who was second on the Mountaineers with 436 rushing yards last season. Sinkfield announced in February that he would be transferring to Boston College but he probably won’t arrive until the summer.
- Filling the linebacker spots
The two best players on the 2020 defense were Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie. They combined for 206 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Unfortunately for the Eagles, both are moving on. Because Hafley preferred playing two linebackers as a base set, John Lamot had less of an impact in 2020, but his departure creates another hole. Several young players will fight for playing time, but Isaiah Graham-Mobley — a transfer from Temple — will be in the mix as well.
- Creating more negative plays
Under Addazio, Boston College featured a rugged defense that loved to tackle the opposition for a loss. That wasn’t the case as much in 2020. Boston College finished last in the ACC with just 4.9 TFLs per game. Much of the issue undoubtedly came down to personnel, something that won’t change entirely in one season. However, as good as Richardson and McDuffie were, they weren’t necessarily havoc creators. The loss of end Maximillian Roberts to the NFL draft doesn’t help, but the Eagles’ defensive staff must identify some defensive playmakers and turn them loose this spring.
- Learning to finish
Coaches like to see their teams get better as the season goes on. That did not happen at Boston College last season. After narrowly falling to Clemson on Halloween, the Eagles squeaked by a bad Syracuse squad, were never in the Notre Dame game, survived a late Louisville charge, and lost by 11 points to Virginia. In the first year under a new coaching staff, this is not unexpected. In a COVID-impacted season, where the team plays the first nine weeks without a break, it is completely understandable. Plus, recent Boston College seasons had not been littered with late-season success. So there has to be a different mindset, from strength and conditioning to simple preparation each and every day. These next few weeks — during Hafley’s first true spring sessions — will go a long way towards building the proper culture that will prepare the Eagles for the three-month grind that begins on Labor Day weekend against FCS member Colgate.