The numbers hadn’t quite hit Boston College’s defense when they were going over adjustments at halftime of their 45-24 win over N.C. State on Saturday.
The Eagles offense had 234 yards on the ground. The defense had only given up 4.
It wasn’t a typo, but the single digit was hard to fathom.
“We knew we were doing well stopping the run, but during the game, you don’t see the huge margins of statistics that you see after,” said linebacker Max Richardson. “But we felt like we did an all right job stopping the run.”
N.C. State came in with the No. 1 rushing defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but the Eagles were the ones who suffocated the Wolfpack’s ground game at Alumni Stadium.
After giving up a school-record 664 yards in a loss two weeks against Louisville, the Eagles held N.C. State to just 366, and 56 rushing yards.
“We definitely believed that coming off two losses, this was a game where we have a little extra chip on our shoulder, we’re a little bit [ticked] off,” Richardson said.
With a point to prove, the Eagles defense forced four three-and-outs, five punts, and one turnover on N.C. State’s first nine drives.
“I think the defense set the tone for the day,” Addazio said. “I just believe we came out on fire on defense and I believe they set the tone for the day. Our defense playing the way they did gave us an opportunity to kind of keep banging on that rock a little bit, and you have to be able to do that if you want to really run like we ran.”
The turnover shifted the game early. With Richardson barreling towards N.C. State quarterback Bailey Hockman, redshirt freshman cornerback Jason Maitre jumped Hockman’s throw for a pick-6 that gave the Eagles a 7-0 first-quarter lead.
The 8-yard score was a nerve-calmer. Before that, the Eagles drove to N.C. State’s 21-yard line and watched Aaron Boumerhi’s field goal miss wide left.
“Demoralizing,” said Dennis Grosel, who threw for 103 yards in relief of the injured Anthony Brown. “But to run back into the huddle, talk things over, then hear the crowd roar and look over and see that we’re in the end zone with the ball changed the entire momentum of the game.”
The Eagles defense went through peaks and valleys in the first half of the season, feasting on turnovers but bleeding yards, but every game is an opportunity for growth for a young unit.
“We just preach on getting better every week,” Maitre said. “Especially me being a young guy. Just gaining more feel for the game, more experience.
AJ Dillon’s 223-yard, three-touchdown performance pushed his season totals to 968 yards and nine touchdowns. At 3,665 career rushing yards and 32 touchdowns, he needs just 75 yards to break Andre Williams’s school record, and two touchdowns to pass Keith Barnette for the most in Eagles’ history.
“I made a point not to care about individual stats and individual numbers, and just being able to help the team in whatever way I could, and that’s something I do hold near and dear,” Dillon said. “As far as this career record coming up, you look at the running history at BC, you see great backs, great offensive lines. So even this time that I’ve been here, being mentioned with the names that have come before me is an honor.”
New guy does the job
Grosel’s got a poker face that did a good job of hiding the anxiety that came with making his first career start, but it was there.
“I would say there’s a little extra nerves, but the trust that’s in our locker room right now is special,” Grosel said. “Both for me, for the offensive line, defensive line, everyone in the room there, it’s pretty special and that helped calm my nerves a ton.”
Sliding into the starting role after BC lost Brown to a season-ending left-knee injury, Grosel was effective under center. He completed just 6 of 15 passes, but he did was asked of him: Make plays, not mistakes.
“He came out there and he controlled the huddle, he made the right calls, the right checks,” Dillon said. “And I know he’s only going to grow and get better.”
His biggest moment came in the third quarter, with BC backed up at its own 2 on third and 10. He dropped back, looked through his progression, didn’t see anything, and took off.
“At that point, it’s either throw it away and save it or try to make something happen,” Grosel said.
He found a lane to his right side, slipped a tackle attempt by Wolfpack linebacker Brock Miller, and juked between two defenders on the sideline for an 11-yard pickup that kept alive what became a 16-play, 98-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard Dillon touchdown.
“Coach said earlier in the week, ‘Keep getting first downs, one first down at a time,’ ” Grosel said.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.