I’m going to give you 4 ‘things’ to watch during the game – player match-ups, strengths/weaknesses, etc. – so you’ll have a sense of what to watch for as the game plays out. I’m going to give you 4 keys to the game, so to speak, based on my research of this opponent, and 2 predictions based on those things we’ll be watching to play a large role in the eventual outcome of the game. Ergo, you have “what 2 watch 4”.
Last week, basically none of the key focus areas were successful for Louisville, so this week, with some extra prep time, Louisville should be able to get back on track against Boston College. The Eagles are 2-4 and come to Louisville as a heavy underdog (about 3 TDs at time of writing), so it will be expected that they will be easy pickings. But will they?
Back to basics – Run first offense
You know Lamar Jackson. You know that he’s a QB but that he’s just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, running the ball. The Eagles don’t seem to really like playing against running quarterbacks this season. Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush ran for 207 yards and 2 TDs against the Eagles, and Clemson’s Kelly Bryant ran for 106 yards and 2 TDs. Their respective team totals against Boston College were as follows and this is not a typo: Notre Dame ran for 515 yards and 7 TDs, while Clemson ran for only 342 yards and 5 TDs against the Eagles. Do you know the expression K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid? Run the ball, Louisville.
BC presents little threat through the air. Crowd the box and get into the backfield.
BC’s QB Anthony Brown is a freshman, and he’s not shown anything in his 6 college games that shows he’s going to beat you with his arm. He has less than half Lamar Jackson’s passing yards at 909, and he’s thrown only 6 TDs to 7 INTs. Those 7 INTs did all come in his first 4 games, but so did 5 of his 6 TDs. They’ve certainly gone more conservative with the aerial attack in their last 2 games, but if Louisville’s offense can put points on the board, they’ll have to air it out a little bit. If Brown throws well into the 30s in pass attempts, Louisville should have plenty of opportunities to apply pressure and create turnovers.
Plug holes on the inside runs.
Going with another “this seems obvious” key, I’d like to point out that this Boston College backfield isn’t much like either of the teams Louisville has been beaten by this season, Clemson or NC State. This team does have a pair of equally talented and equally utilized running backs, but neither are going to be running around the outside of the tackle and breaking long runs. Both of these guys, junior John Hillman and freshman AJ Dillon are between 220 and 240 lbs, and are far more the inside runner type. They can hit a hole hard and make it to the secondary with momentum, but in their 188 combined carries, only 1 went for over 20 yards. Hillman does occasionally get motioned out of the backfield to catch a pass in space, but most often in short-yardage or goal-line situations. If these guys are getting the ball, it’s usually up the middle, so plug the gaps and they’ll be slowed down. They each average under 4 yards per carry, so the bar is set for the Cards D to aim for. This is one of the spots where they failed against NC State, so here’s a chance for redemption.
Rhythm between QB & WRs – complete passes
In Louisville’s 4 wins, Lamar Jackson has completed 65%, 64%, 81% and 69% of his passes. In the 2 losses, his completion percentage dropped to 50% and 55%. Excluding the Kent State game as an outlier, his other 2 INTs this season did come in those 2 losses. It seems that playing from behind and playing in pressure situations has knocked Louisville just a tad off their rhythm in the passing game – surprise surprise, pressure causes mistakes. This game may not present that, but we’re still looking at a passing offense that has come up a little short in its 2 major tests this season. It’s only a handful, half a dozen maybe, throws to turn from drop or overthrow or underthrow into completion that makes all the difference, particularly when the Cards converted only 9 of 16 3rd down attempts. Whether it’s timing or composure, or both, the Cards needs to sort it out soon. Last week was also the first game Lamar didn’t throw multiple TD passes. it all needs to get going back in the right direction.
Prediction 1: 5-6 rushing TDs in the game
I’m going to cheat a little and say this is going to be between both teams, because it’s almost a guarantee any points BC does put up will be through Hillman or Dillon. But, between these two teams whose offensive strengths are very clearly in their ball carriers, this should be a run-heavy football game. I’ll go with a pair of TDs for Lamar and a pair for Malik, then 1 for each of the Eagles’ RBs.
Prediction 2: Louisville will again lose the turnover battle, or at least won’t win it, but hopefully it won’t kill us this time
That pick-6 was tough to watch, but that was a result of late game trying to force a pass into tight coverage. I’m not sure there will be as many high pressure situations in this one, but BC’s secondary is actually tied 13th in the country with 8 INTs. Lamar has thrown an INT in 3 of his last 4 games. I’m not saying it’s a guarantee, but if you want to know the easiest way for Louisville to give BC a way into this game, that’s it. Remember, K.I.S.S., Cards. Please give us 1 or fewer turnovers.
Last week was a rough team loss. It’s difficult to point to any one individual player or area of the field, or any individual moment, that lost that game. It was a pretty balanced team defeat. In that sense, there should be an entire team of Cardinals ready to prove they deserved their preseason ranking. Hopefully that is how they come out this week – ready to fight, to show they have lofty goals this season. BC only averages about 17 points per game, so you’d almost assume victory in this one, but that’s the attitude I heard from some around town going into the NC State game. This week, lose the complacency and take care of business, and the season’s back on track.
Score Prediction: Louisville 49 – Boston College 20
Andy Knabel joined on as a contributing writer for The Cardinal Connect in August of 2013. You can follow Andy on Twitter @knabelism.