In the running game, Boston College has made up a lot of ground this year

College Sports

Mark Stockwell
Kye Robichaux (left) has 277 rushing yards in the last two games, and he gives much of the credit to his offensive line. Mark Stockwell/AP Photo

Boston College football coach Jeff Hafley knew his team’s run game was on the rise, but even he was surprised to learn just how far it’s come.

“I didn’t realize we were 12th in the nation,” Hafley said with a grin. “That’s a huge jump.”

After finishing last in the country with 63.3 rushing yards per game in 2022, the Eagles are averaging 213.8 this season. They’re the only team in the Atlantic Coast Conference above the 200 mark and have consistently won the time-of-possession battle while racking up four straight wins.

With a revamped offensive line, three versatile running backs, a dual-threat quarterback, physical tight ends, and offensive line coach Matt Applebaum back in the mix, the Eagles (5-3, 2-2 ACC) have returned to their roots as a ground-and-pound program. As they face Syracuse (4-4, 0-4) on the road Friday at 7:30 p.m., they’ll continue to lean on what’s gotten them this far.

“We need to keep that going, because that’s how you win,” Hafley said. “That’s what we’re going to do here — we’re going to run the ball. I know it was hard last year, but going forward, we’re going to be built on the O-line.”

At the start of the 2022 season, BC had just four career starts among its active offensive linemen. Members of the O-line combined to miss 33 games last year, and the Eagles didn’t repeat a starting combination on the unit until their Week 10 win over North Carolina State.

This season, BC has started the same O-line combination in seven of eight games. Virginia transfer Logan Taylor (LT), Texas State transfer Kyle Hergel (LG), Norwell’s Drew Kendall (C), potential NFL draft pick Christian Mahogany (RG), and Norwell’s Ozzy Trapilo (RT) have dominated the bulk of the way.

Hergel has 49 career starts, Mahogany 30, Trapilo 29, Kendall 19, and Taylor 18. Trapilo missed the Army game, but otherwise the unit has remained intact.

“Last year was really hard for us, obviously,” Kendall said, “but I think that’s gotten us to where we are now.”

Jack Conley, Jude Bowry, and Kevin Cline, among others, have provided depth as needed. Conley even sported jersey No. 44 against Connecticut last Saturday and lined up as a tight end.

The Eagles ran the ball 61 times for 321 yards in the pouring rain at Army, 43 times for 308 yards against Georgia Tech, and 54 times for 246 yards vs. UConn. Against the Huskies, the Eagles won the possession battle, 40:44-19:16, and wore UConn down.

BC has gone for it on fourth down the third-most times in the country (26) and converted at the 14th-best rate and top mark in the ACC (73.1 percent). The chemistry, poise, and trust among the parties is unmistakable.

“I think we’re doing a great job running the football right now,” Mahogany said. “The best you could ask for.”

Hafley highlighted the versatility of the linemen and their ability to work both in the box and on the perimeter. He said the Eagles are throwing many different looks at opposing teams, not just in scheme but in personnel. Sometimes they swap in tight ends for receivers to create different surfaces and gaps.

Once the way is paved, running backs Kye Robichaux, Alex Broome, and Pat Garwo have proven they know how to take advantage.

Robichaux, a physical, downhill runner with a relentless motor, has racked up 277 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. The 5-6, 192-pound Broome offers a change of pace and has shown his skill as a receiver. Garwo, a savvy captain who is currently sidelined, has 274 rushing yards on the season.

“Our O-line does an amazing job,” Robichaux said. “They make everything easy for me.”

Defenses have to worry the running backs, but they also have to focus on shifty quarterback Thomas Castellanos. Castellanos leads the nation’s quarterbacks in rushing with 673 yards and is tied with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams for the most rushing TDs with nine.

Castellanos wreaks havoc both on designed runs and when the play breaks down. He also can hand it off to the backs, or run play-action and hit athletic receivers for short gains that often turn into long ones. If defenses load the box, Hafley said, Castellanos will simply throw the ball out wide.

“Safeties are definitely coming down, so it gives us more chances to go over the top,” receiver Dino Tomlin said. “Hopefully this week, we can capitalize more on that opportunity.”

Last season, fans were wondering what could have been with a healthy offensive line. Now, they don’t have to wonder. A school once referred to as “O-line U” is starting to return to that identity.

“Last year was tough,” Conley said. “A lot of injuries, a lot of different combinations within the line. There’s no sugar-coating it. Nothing was good enough about it.

“This year, our goal has been to get better and better every week and keep ascending. I think we’ve done a really good job of that.”