BC defense must dispel the ‘Magic’ of Louisville

Boston College middle linebacker Max Richardson heard about the “Magic” of Louisville’s dynamic quarterback Malik Cunningham from a reliable source.
Richardson can form his own assessment of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt junior when the Eagles (5-4, 4-4 ACC) host the Cardinals (3-6, 2-6) in an ACC matchup on Saturday (4 p.m.) at Alumni Stadium. The Eagles can record their most ACC wins since 2009 with a game remaining at Virginia on Dec. 5.
Richardson and Louisville redshirt junior wide receiver Josh Johnson were teammates at Woodward Academy in Atlanta, Ga. BC had been on Johnson’s short list before deciding on Louisville.
“Malik Cunningham, I actually know him because a high school teammate of mine is on Louisville,” said Richardson. “Malik’s name is ‘Magic’ because he makes a lot of great plays and he’s an athletic kid.
“For us as a defense, we have to contain him and that will be our biggest challenge this weekend. We can’t let him extend plays and get outside of the pocket and do things he likes to do. That’s when he is most effective.”
Cunningham is a prototypical ACC dual-threat quarterback (think Lamar Jackson) who can dismember a defense in multiple ways. Cunningham is a prolific passer with a 147.2 pass efficiency rating. He has completed 160-of-251 passes with 16 touchdowns, but has hurt himself with 11 interceptions. He has rushed the ball 101 times for 438 yards and six touchdowns.
“You’ve got to throw different things at him,” said BC head coach Jeff Hafley. “Are we going to send five, six, seven or are we going to drop eight or are we going to rush four?
“You’ve got to change up the looks on him, send guys from the outside, send guys from the inside or make it look like you are sending guys and drop out or send them all.
“We’ve got to make him see things and react and make him stand in the pocket and make those decisions. But we can’t let him run around on us all day and truthfully, that’s easier said than done with a guy like that. We have to get better at that and I have to coach better at that.”
Virginia Tech (250.9), Notre Dame (233.5) and North Carolina (233.5) are the top-three rushing offenses in the ACC and they all pounded the rock in wins over BC. Louisville is currently fourth in the ACC with 1,747 yards on 338 attempts with 16 touchdowns and a 194.1 yards per game average. BC has the seventh-ranked rush defense in the league, allowing 158.2 yards per game.
Louisville’s ground game took a huge hit last week when All-ACC redshirt sophomore tailback Javian Hawkins opted out after eight games to concentrate on the NFL draft. Hawkins had 822 yards on 133 carries with seven touchdowns. Tailbacks Hassan Hall and Maurice Burkley stepped up and contributed to the Cardinals’ 30-0 victory over Syracuse on Nov. 20.
“I know he opted out but they play a bunch of backs and some are big and some are strong and physical and they have some fast guys,” said Hafley. “The quarterback is a dynamic passer but he’s such a threat to run and you have to have a lot of speed on the field to catch him.”
BC quarterback Phil Jurkovec used the bye week to treat a sore right shoulder, which he injured in the second half at Clemson on Oct. 31. Jurkovec played through the injury against Syracuse and Notre Dame and said he’s back to form for Louisville.
“My body was a little banged up so getting that break was great for a lot of us after going nine weeks in a row,” said Jurkovec. “I feel like we’ve reset and the week off with no contact and limited throwing helped.”

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