Sunday, May 19, 2024

Army Football Preview: Boston College

Army plays host to a struggling Boston College team this weekend in a game that marks an exception to the ACC’s “no-G5 away games” scheduling policy. Wake Forest and Duke have made trips to West Point in recent years, and Syracuse will make a trip next year, so Boston College is far from the only ACC school to make a trip to the Banks of the Hudson, but these kinds of trips from ACC teams ought to become rarer in the future.

One hates to think of Power 5 games as must-win for the Black Knights, but with the way the schedule has shaken out this season, well, this is one that Army really has to have. With that in mind, it’s a Hell of a good thing we’ve got this one as a home game.

Boston College Eagles

BC has had about as confusing a 2023 season as you’ll see anywhere, save for at Army, of course. The Black Knights are 2.5-point favorites, but you’d have to have a serious gambling problem to make a bet on this game. 

The Eagles started the season by losing in overtime to a MAC school, Northern Illinois. YUCK! The week after that, they barely beat FCS powerhouse — and future Army opponent — Holy Cross at home. But they followed that up by taking the then #3 team in the country down to the wire, losing by just 2 points to Florida State. Two weeks ago, they got smoked by Louisville on the road before beating a winless Virginia by a field goal just this past weekend.

Whatever conclusions we might want to draw from those results, the Eagles now stand 2-3 overall, and they’re looking down the barrel of a very tough ACC schedule going forward. Whatever the path to a bowl game might be for BC, it probably requires a win this weekend.

Offense

Sophomore QB Thomas Castellanos leads the Eagles’ offense. He completes a respectable 58% of his passes, but does so for an average of just 7.6 yards. He averages 2 passing touchdowns per game, but he also throws almost 1 interception per game, as well. He also runs the ball — a lot. Castellanos leads the Eagles in both total rushing yards and yards/carry. On the season, he’s got 67 carries for 358 yards (5.3 yards/carry) with 3 rushing touchdowns.

While Castellanos has been good this season, his supporting staff hasn’t been remotely as consistent. Leading RB Kye Robichaux has carried the ball 51 times, but he averages just 4.0 yards/carry. Meanwhile, only one receiver, WR Lewis Bond, averages more than 50 receiving yards/game. On the season, Bond has 23 catches for 350 yards and 5 touchdowns.

If the Black Knights can keep Castellanos from running the ball all over the place, they ought to be able to control the Eagles’ offensive attack. That’s doubly true if Army’s offense can control the clock. However, if Castellanos runs the ball well, that might be trouble, especially in the red zone.

Boston College has faced 78 third down situations this year. They’ve converted 41% percent of those third downs, which is pretty good on its face. However, when we include fourth downs in the analysis, things don’t look nearly as good overall. BC has gone just 11/16 on fourth downs this season, meaning that they actually achieve first downs just 55% of the time when they reach third down overall. 

Army ought to be able to make that work, but they can’t afford to lose containment on Castellanos when they rush the passer. He’s at his most dangerous in exactly those kinds of situations.

Defense

The Eagles’ pass defense has been okay this season, but they’re really struggled at times against the run. With that, good teams have run on them — a lot. On the season, BC opponents average some 38 rushes/game and 4.3 yards/carry. That yields 163 rushing yards/game, but it’s a little misleading in that not every team has come in trying to pound the rock. Holy Cross, however, dropped 264 yards rushing on these guys on a whopping 6.8 yards/carry, while Louisville put up 194 rushing yards on 4.7 yards/carry. Virginia, by comparison, only ran the ball 29 times for 2.0 yards/carry.

Oh by the way, Virginia lost that game. 

Not coincidentally, BC also allows a lot of third and fourth down conversions. The Eagles’ defense has given up 45% of third down conversions this year (107th) and an abysmal 80% conversions on opponent fourth down (126th). So yeah, the Black Knights should be able to sustain long drives throughout the game if they pound the rock.

LBs Vinny Depalma and Kam Arnold lead the Eagles’ defense with 40 and 31 total tackles, respectively. Senior S John Pupel has also played well, putting up 33 total tackles plus 1 forced fumble. Junior DE Donovan Ezeiruaku might be the player to watch this weekend. His 21 total tackles plus 1 sack might not seem like much, but he is arguably the Eagles’ best defensive lineman, and he personally will likely be the key defensive read on many of the Black Knights’ inside zone plays.

Special Teams

Sophomore K Liam Conner has missed 1 extra point this year. However, he’s been perfect on field goals, though his longest was just 42 yards. Still, he’s been automatic from short range, and that counts for a lot.

P Sam Candotti started the year with the punting duties, but P Loren DiLoreto has slowly taken over as the mainstay boot for the Eagles. He’s only averaging 38 yards/punt, but he has 3 punts of 50+ yards and has put 2 inside the 20. Moreover, he hasn’t allowed a single touchback all season. That’s impressive.

Outlook

Army needs this win to keep their bowl chances alive. With a victory this weekend, they’d need just three more wins on the season with possibilities coming against UMass, a suddenly worse than advertised Coastal Carolina team, a suddenly better than advertised Troy team, plus their two Commander-in-Chief’s rivalry games. Alas, though we all love the Army Team, getting a win at LSU has to be considered a serious longshot, and the Holy Cross game won’t count for bowl eligibility since Army already beat an FCS team in Delaware State.

This game was essentially a sellout until the East Stands Project was delayed. That opened up additional seating. Limited seats are still available as of this writing — mostly in the endzones — but the weather forecast notwithstanding, we ought to see more than 35,000 fans in attendance at Michie Staidum this weekend. There’s sure to be a decent BC contingent there, but the Black Knights have sold a lot of tickets themselves this year, too. If Army can control the clock, a loud stadium might go a long way towards hindering BC’s offensive opportunities. 

If you don’t have tickets, you should consider coming out to support the Black Knights!

Boston College at Army kicks at noon on CBS Sports. As always, you can find Rich DeMarco’s and Dean Darling’s radio broadcast on the Varsity Network. And of course, follow all of the As For Football Crew on X to get our takes on the game — @asforfootball, @BrigadeReview, @DannoECabeza, and @RobRobi00389452.

Cover image via Flickr: West Point – The U.S. Military Academy.

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