Jeff Hafley came to Boston College after leading one of the best defenses in the country at Ohio State in 2019. He turned a bad defense into the best in the country and his NFL pedigree made him an obvious choice for a team that needed better recruiting and some ties to the area. Hafley’s defenses have been solid but they have struggled to stop big plays this year while also allowing quarterbacks to operate with little pressure. While they don’t have the struggles the offense has had, the defense isn’t lighting the world on fire, either.
BC has gradually gotten worse up front over the last handful of years and I think this season is really exposing the lack of impact players on the defensive line. The days of having Harold Landry, Zach Allen, and Wyatt Ray to create havoc and make big plays may be over but the Eagles have had a couple of players that show up on the stat sheet from time to time. Donovan Ezeiruaku has essentially matched his stat totals from last season and he was able to force two fumbles against Rutgers. He and Marcus Valdez make up a solid edge combo at the defensive end spots.
The linebacker group for the Eagles is productive but they had a very hard time with Florida State’s speed last weekend. Vinny DePalma is the team’s leading tackler and he is very good at making tackles in the box. He missed a tackle in the FSU game that stood out to me because he had the runner squared up but a simple move left him missing the runner completely. I think that UofL has the guys who can make guys miss but the running backs have also been running very hard and could break a tackle or two if they’re running away from DePalma on these stretch runs.
Kam Arnold is the veteran of the group and he is the most likely to draw the assignment of keeping an eye on Malik Cunningham. I think Arnold is a solid player and he put up 12 tackles against Virginia Tech. He just hasn’t been consistent in his play. Bryce Steele is the starting middle linebacker but the linebacker I’m most interested in is Jaylen Blackwell. The redshirt freshman had a strong start to the season and I think he could see the field more this weekend.
BC has one of the best secondary groups in the ACC and just like the receivers on the other side of the ball, they have been hurt by the lack of plays by other guys around them. That’s not to say that they haven’t had issues in the back end but the lack of a pass rush has made it harder on this group. Elijah Jones is having the best season out of the group with five pass breakups from his corner spot. Josh DeBerry hasn’t been tested much this year but after leading the team in tackles for loss last season, he has become the most touted player out of the secondary.
Jason Matrie is one of my favorite players in the conference. He can do a bit of everything and he has continued to be a strong performer at safety. Jaiden Woodbey is the guy in the back end that I think can make the biggest impact on the game. Per PFF, Woodbey has played 143 snaps in the box while also lining up at free safety, slot, and corner. He is all over the field and he makes a lot of plays for this defense. Does BC use him to spy Malik? Will he line up on Marshon Ford after FSU gashed them in the middle of the field? The former four-star prospect with offers from just about everyone in the country will be a big factor, in my opinion.