BC beats Central Michigan, 28-8

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By: Bradley Smart

In a must-win game for the Boston College football team, a bruising running game emerged as the Eagles (2-3) scored a season-high in points en route to downing visiting Central Michigan (2-3), 28-8.

The 6-foot, 240-plus pound duo of John Hilliman and A.J. Dillon combined for over 200 rushing yards, cornerback Lukas Denis added two interceptions and came within a diving effort of a third, and a stellar special teams effort boosted Boston College to a convincing win.

A sign in the depths of Alumni Stadium lists the five “time tested and infallible” keys to winning. They’re playing great defense, winning the turnover battle, running the football, scoring in the red zone, and playing great special teams. On Saturday, the Eagles could check off all five.

“This was a good team win in all three phases,” coach Steve Addazio said afterwards. “We’re trying to play better team football, and this week we took advantage of field position and inserted a running game. We have to grow and keep developing each phase.”

After allowing 20-plus points in each of the first four games this season, a strong defensive effort kept the visiting Chippewas to under four yards per play. Quarterback Shane Morris was pressured into bad throws throughout the game, and finished just 21-of-42 for 171 yards and three interceptions.

The game got off to an uninspiring start for the Eagles offense, which entered ranked 126th in offensive S&P+, a rating system devised by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. The opening drive was a four-and-out, turning it over on downs after four rushes. The second drive? An excellent punt from Central Michigan’s Jack Sheldon pinned the Eagles at their own one-yard line, and Hilliman (93 yards) was stood up in the backfield for a safety.

However, the Eagles recovered, sparked by superb efforts from return man Michael Walker. Walker, who entered averaging 12 yards per punt return, turned in two excellent returns. Sheldon kicked it directly at him on a line on back-to-back punts, and he made them pay. The first went for 61 yards, a career-long, taking it all the way to the Central Michigan six-yard line. Hilliman punched it in up the middle on the first play from scrimmage to give the Eagles a five-point lead.

The second punt had a similarly large hole, and he broke for a 34-yard return to midfield. Boston College’s offense answered the call, going 53 yards in eight plays. Helped out by a costly roughing the passer penalty on fourth-and-two, the Eagles gave it to Dillon (120 yards), who went 15 yards untouched for the score.

“It was blocked perfectly and wide open,” Walker said afterwards of his first kick. He was able to run into both kicks that picked up long returns, due to the rugby-style that Sheldon used. “It’s a risk, but there’s a reward. Coming into it at full speed, there’s a crease and I can hit it.”

Meanwhile, the Boston College secondary rose to the occasion. The first five Chippewas drives ended in punts, as Morris struggled to find any open receivers. He looked frequently to running back Jonathan Ward, but completed just two-of-nine attempts in the opening quarter. Good pressure at the line of scrimmage and tight coverage prevented Morris from finding much. He also overthrew receivers several times, including one near the end of the half that dropped into the waiting arms of Denis.

A familiar breakdown allowed the Chippewas to score in the second quarter, though. On the first play for Central Michigan from their own 38-yard-line, Kumehnru Gwilly ran straight up the middle, untouched, for 33 yards. A back-shoulder throw from Morris followed to Mark Chapman for a first down, and Gwilly pounded it in from the one-yard line to capitalize.

Walker set his offense up again before half, as he returned a 33-yard punt from Sheldon to within four yards of the original line of scrimmage. With incredible field position, the Eagles needed just three runs and a dead ball personal foul to add another score. Hilliman picked up all three carries, eventually cutting to his right and diving it in on second-and-goal for his second touchdown of the half.

After a 50-yard missed field goal to end the half, the Eagles offense methodically exploited their rushing advantage to open the second half. Boston College, after forcing a punt, went 89 yards on 12 plays. Hilliman had seven carries, Dillon had three, and quarterback Anthony Brown completed a pair of passes – a 23-yard first down and a three-yard touchdown to Hilliman.

Brown, nursing a shoulder injury, didn’t look long often, instead dumping it off short or to the sidelines. The redshirt freshman absorbed a pair of roughing the passer penalties en route to a 14-for-21 day, totaling just 85 yards. With the rushing game firing, however, he was able to relax.

It was clear throughout the second half that the Eagles had a considerable advantage up front, and that the Central Michigan defensive line – ranked 118th in stuff rate – weren’t going to stop them. Dillon and Hilliman, two physical backs, exerted their will on opposing defenders. The first two drives of the half consisted of predominantly runs, piling up 103 yards on just 17 attempts.

Meanwhile, offensive struggles continued for Central Michigan. In an effort to get Morris going, a steady stream of screens were called. However, after picking up back-to-back first downs on their second drive, Morris was hit by linebacker Ty Schwab in the pocket as he was releasing, and defensive end Zach Allen dove to pull in an interception.

Both teams later missed field goals, failing to take advantage of scoring opportunities. The interception was for naught after Colton Lichtenberg’s field goal dinged the right upright from 29 yards out, his third miss in a row. The ensuing Central Michigan drive, boosted by a pair of long completions to Tony Poljan, reached the red zone. After a pair of incompletions, Michael Armstrong’s kick sailed wide right on a longer 35-yard attempt.

The final quarter was scoreless, featuring sloppy plays from both teams. Hilliman and Dillon both fumbled, while Denis came away with another interception of Morris. As is often the case with the Eagles this season, Dillon’s fumble left them in the shadow of injury. Losing the ball at the three-yard line on his last carry of the game, Dillon went down hard and didn’t move for a few minutes. He eventually walked off on his own accord and appeared alright, but tenderly nursed his neck.

For the Eagles, it was a crucial win. Not only did it snap a three-game losing streak, but it also gives the team valuable momentum going into back-to-back tough matchups. They host Virginia Tech before traveling to Louisville, the meat of their ACC schedule awaiting them.

“We were coming off of a week that we got banged up,” Addazio said. “We came out with physicality. These are high level teams, and we’ve got positive confidence and this momentum matters. This conference is powerful.”

Hilliman, meanwhile, spoke confidently.

“We can do this” he said of the visiting Hokies. “This is a tall task, but a doable task. We feel like every game is a winnable game, no disrespect to our opponents.”