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Birmingham Bowl Preview: Boston College Q&A

We get some insights and perspective on Cincinnati vs Boston College from a BC writer.

Florida State v Boston College Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Cincinnati Bearcats close out the 2019 season against Boston College on January 2nd in the Birmingham Bowl. It’s a disappointing ending, for a very successful season. But Cincinnati now has the opportunity to win 11 games in back-to-back seasons for just the second time in school history and build momentum towards 2020.

To prepare for this game, we spoke to Niraj Patel, who covers Boston College football for SBNation’s BC Interruption, to provide some BC perspective and insights.

A lot of Cincinnati fans aren’t excited for this game. We (because I am one of them) feel that a team that went 10-3 with losses to 2 teams who combined to go 25-1, should be facing a better team than someone who went 6-6 from the ACC. What would you say to us fans in response to our lack of enthusiasm?

I’d say it’s pretty justified. The whole bowl system and conference valuation clearly needs some work, but it’s tough for any team that’s had such a good season to have to play against a team that just fired their coach and had by all accounts, a season to forget. I suppose it’s at least a chance to give the conference some more regard, even if it against the [for now] lowly Boston College. A loss here for Cincinnati wouldn’t be the best look, so just have to take care of business and aim for an 11th win. If you really think you deserve a better bowl and better opponent, you just have to prove it.

I, personally, am disappointed RB AJ Dillon is sitting out. I have watched Dillon and followed much of his career and would have loved to see the challenge of Cincy’s defense trying to contain him. But a lot of BC fans have tweeted at me that David Bailey is legit. His numbers are certainly awesome. Can he really fill the void of Dillon?

I’m disappointed too, but absolutely respect his decision and appreciate all he’s done. With the workload he’s shouldered over the past three years, he has every right and it’s probably best for himself. Bailey is definitely legit, but the issue is, what made the duo so difficult to contain was that you had to contend with both of them. The power running from both of them could wear defenses down. Often, teams throw out a change of pace back and defenses catch a break from the physical pound, but not with how BC employed its offense. Bailey actually averaged more yards per carry than even Dillon and posted over 700 yards. Unfortunately, I don’t think he can fill the void alone, but if he has someone that can come in and give him spells just as he had given Dillon before coming onto his own, then he’s perfectly capable of putting up gaudy numbers and provide a nice matchup with the Cincy defense. We should see freshman running back Pat Garwo III in that role, and more from change-of-pace back Travis Levy.

I have watched QB Anthony Brown before, but am unfamiliar (as most Cincy fans are) with Dennis Grosel. What does he do differently than Brown? Has he been an upgrade, downgrade, or about the same?

I would have to say he’s a bit of downgrade, but he’s still played admirably in his few games. I think Anthony Brown was just a little more refined and capable of making more throws and coming from behind or keeping up in a shootout. Grosel has played alright in his few games and has shown some flashes. He has confidence and has a greater tendency to run with the ball himself, and this ability has kept alive otherwise stagnant drives. With Anthony Brown entering the transfer portal though, this is a huge audition for Grosel though, so he’ll be playing as hard as ever. Brown was having one of his best seasons numbers wise, so Grosel definitely had a lot to live up to, and he’s done just enough.

To me, the matchup to watch are the BC linebackers against Cincinnati’s running game. What do you see as the key matchup on either side of the ball?

I’d say that’s it too. BC’s linebacking corps is objectively the strength of its defense, and finally came together at the end of the year. One of the team’s best linebackers, Isaiah McDuffie, was injured for most of the year, so maybe some of the defensive statistics for the team aren’t as bad as they may seem (still pretty bad). On the other side, I think we’ll watch out for the Cincinnati defensive line vs the BC offensive line. I don’t think the Bearcats’ pass rush has been all that great this year, so they can’t get bullied by a BC offensive line that had all five members of the offensive line receive ACC Honors.

In 6 of Steve Adazzio’s 7 seasons you guys went 7-6 (or 7-5 last year, 6-6 this year). In my opinion, BC is more than capable of 8-9 or a 10 win season every once in a while. Maybe not consistently, but a random break through season in the ACC. So in your opinion, did he deserve to get fired? Are you happy you moved on?

Yes and yes. I think you hit the nail on the head. BC fans, correctly or not, believe we are capable of more than a 7-win ceiling. As new head coach, Jeff Hafley, noted in his press conference, the team isn’t that far removed from some great success under Matt Ryan. Addazio couldn’t get it done and ushered in an offense and attitude that alienated and tired everyone. In seven seasons, not having one breakthrough says a lot about his abilities, especially when nearly every other ACC coach has had at least one special season. He was consistent and not many of the other schools can say that, but overall fans were jaded. The team plateaued, but I think everyone is pretty overjoyed and confident in the state of the program moving forward.

What’s the plan for the coaching staff? Who is running the practices and who is calling the plays on offense?

So the interim coach for the bowl game is wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell. Rich is young, himself, only a few years removed from his playing days with Matt Ryan. I think he has a great relationship with the players, and brings plenty of passion. Right now, I’d probably describe him as a player’s coach, because he’s still got a lot of energy left in him. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has accepted the same role with Northwestern, so I don’t believe he will be available for this game. The remainder of the coaching staff is still available as of now I believe, so I can imagine a few people helping to call plays.

It sounds like there is much excitement about Jeff Hafley as the new head coach. Was that your preferred choice?

A whole lot of excitement. It’s been said this is the most positively BC fans have ever received a new head coach. He was my choice as well actually. He checked a lot of the boxes for me, from his experience, age, and the way he talks and presents himself really felt Boston College to me. There were a number of other rumored candidates, but it’s been tough to filter out the noise. Among those candidates though, there were more concerns with whether it would be any substantive change or a general lack of experience. When the names started floating around, Hafley felt like the obvious candidate, and everything he’s said and done has affirmed that selection.

What happened against Kansas this year? How did that go so horribly wrong?

Next question.....Everything wrong in the world happened. The Eagle defense proved incapable of tackling the two running backs for Kansas, and let a quarterback, who I believe was benched later on in the season, absolutely torch them. Yes, the secondary was definitely inexperienced as this was an early game in the season, but it just speaks volumes to how ill-prepared the team was, and was a massive eye-opener for some of the pro-Addazio holdouts. It was the beginning of the end.

What would winning this bowl game mean to BC fans?

I’m sure it’s a little bit of an afterthought now because there’s so much excitement surrounding the program. Next season can’t start soon enough for most of us. That being said, it would be great to usher in the Hafley era (even though he’s not coaching obviously) on a high note, especially to show the resolve and belief the guys still have, and to demonstrate the level talent on the team. To the players and staff, it will definitely mean more, but for the rest of us, we can kind of sit back and kind of just enjoy without many expectations.

Would a win make this season a success?

It wouldn’t really change anything with how the season in particular went. Everyone’s pretty much moving on, and the season isn’t exactly redeemable no matter. Although, if you incorporate the coaching situation, it’s already been a resounding success (Really hoping not to come across as super bitter about it). Beating a ranked team would be pretty exciting though.

What do you think BC needs to do to beat Cincinnati?

Oddly enough, I would have guaranteed victory if Steve Addazio was still coaching because of the perpetual 7-win limbo we were in, but with the change means I will not be betting the house. It’s tough to say the specific key to the game. I think the team is entirely capable. Everyone is on audition as I said. From players to coaches, everyone knows they need to bring their individual A game for whatever might come next. That, in and of itself provides a major advantage for BC. Like you suggested, it might be tough for Cincy to get up for a game against an opponent you might not hold in the highest regards at the moment. I think BC needs to try and control the clock, and keep themselves in it, limiting the opportunity for Michael Warren and Deguara to make their marks. Most importantly, they need to contain Desmond Ridder. Mobile quarterbacks could cause problems for this defense From there, BC needs to get points on the board. Without AJ, they need to quickly establish that their run game is still potent and force the Cincy defense to make adjustments.

If Cincinnati does, what, they will win this game?

If Cincinnati can jump out to an early lead, then they’ll win this game. Now that can be done in a myriad of ways. The thing is, I’m not sure what to expect from the Eagles at all, and no one really does. There’s so much change from mindset to play-calling, that who knows what they’re going to look like and the mentality each individual is playing with. The defense could be a sieve, as they have at a number of points this season (see Kansas), or the team might fail to generate any offense sans AJ Dillon. He was so instrumental in making things that much easier for Grosel the second half of the season, that defenses might play him completely differently. I know I’m not giving too much, but it just seems like there’s a lot up in the air right now, and so many of the statistics can’t be counted on anymore. My general feeling is that BC still doesn’t have the prowess to stage a comeback, but they have the ability to keep up in a shootout, if that makes sense.

Stay tuned to Down the Drive and follow us on twitter for more Cincy coverage of this game and also feel free to check out BC Interruption for their perspective of the Birmingham Bowl, as well.