COLUMBIA, Mo. — The record is still unblemished for the Boston College football team, but the Eagles’ fortunes took a turn just three weeks into the season.
Earlier this month, BC was seen as a potential challenger to Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division. Second-year coach Jeff Hafley had his pro-style systems installed. He had a veteran offensive line and emerging playmakers at running back and receiver. Most important, he had a quarterback, the sport’s most valuable currency. Second-year starter Phil Jurkovec, a transfer from Notre Dame, threw for 2,558 yards and accounted for 20 touchdowns last year and gave the Eagles a fighting chance against Clemson and his former team, the Fighting Irish.
The script changed two weeks ago when Jurkovec sustained an injury to his throwing hand early against Massachusetts, then the next day posted an Instagram photo of his wrist heavily wrapped in bandages from his room at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. BC’s worst fears were soon realized: The junior QB and NFL draft prospect could miss the rest of the season. He’ll certainly miss Saturday’s matchup against Missouri (2-1) in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
But the Eagles have something that’s become a rare luxury in college football: an experienced backup quarterback.
Dennis Grosel, a redshirt senior, will make his ninth career start for Boston College (3-0) on Saturday (11 a.m. St. Louis time, ESPN2). In the age of the NCAA transfer portal and constant quarterback turnover, Grosel is the incredibly rare reserve QB who’s stuck around for opportunities like this. (Case in point: Anthony Brown, who started 28 games for BC from 2017-19, transferred after the 2019 season and now starts for No. 4 Oregon.)
With Grosel at quarterback Saturday at Temple, Boston College rarely put the ball in the air — the Eagles ran the ball 35 times while Grosel attempted just 13 passes, completing five — but the Eagles haven’t lost faith in the veteran’s command of the offense. He’s the same QB who replaced an injured Jurkovec in last year’s finale and threw for 520 yards and four touchdowns against Virginia, a game that’s caught the eye of Mizzou coaches this week.
The offense “looks the same,” MU defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. “I think he is just as effective as far as running the offense. He’s shown some things in the past. You go back and watch that Virginia game from last year, he was very impressive in that game. So he’s very capable of running the offense, putting the ball where it needs to be. They do a great job getting him out on the perimeter with the boots and play-action. He’s great with his feet. You saw that last week.”
Hafley doesn’t measure Grosel’s performance by last week’s meager 34 passing yards, especially after a game Boston College controlled with its defense and kicking game.
“Dennis is a confident guy,” Hafley said this week. “The other thing I’ll say is I’m not into yards. … I think coaches that are into yards, they’re doing things selfishly. I’m into wins. So if we’ve got to throw for 50 (yards) to win then we’ll throw for 50. If we’ve got to throw for 400 and that’s the plan, let’s throw for 400. Just like our defense. I’m into points. I don’t even know how many yards we gave up against Temple. Truthfully, I have no idea and I really don’t care because we gave up three points.”
Hafley came to Chestnut Hill after spending the 2019 season as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator — BC was also reportedly interested in Appalachian State’s head coach at the time, a guy named Eli Drinkwitz — but before the Buckeyes, Hafley spent eight years coaching NFL defensive backs in Tampa, Cleveland and San Francisco. (His offensive coordinator also has NFL roots: Frank Cignetti Jr., who coached the St. Louis Rams quarterbacks in 2013-14 under Jeff Fisher and served as the team’s coordinator in 2015, their final year in St. Louis.)
Hafley had been a college coach at Rutgers and Pitt, but the one-year stop at Ohio State was a dramatic transition back to the college game, no matter who lines up at quarterback.
“I definitely had to get readjusted,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. Some things schematically, some things just with recruiting again, some things just … the players are different. I don’t have 32-year-olds that are grown men, which I love. I love the kids. I love motivating. I love being there for them. I love hanging out with them. I love coaching them. I’m just glad I’m back in college football to get a chance to help change kids’ lives. I still have a lot to learn, and I know that. I’ll continue to learn and do the best that I can. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m having a blast with this team right now.”