|09.26.09 at 9:42 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The best prize fighters are the ones who can take a hit, have their backs against the ropes, bounce back and deliver a knockout blow. As far as the Eagles were down last week, they came back this week to set the record straight.
Rather than acting defeated in the wake of their loss to Clemson seven days earlier, the Eagles proved resilient enough to put themselves back on the upswing this week against Wake Forest. Boston College won an overtime thriller in Alumni Stadium, 27-24, to improve to 3-1 on the season and restore a sense of order in the Heights.
The Eagles almost let this one slip away. They were able to put up a field goal in the first set of overtime and set the defense up for the win if only it could stop the Demon Deacons or hold them to a field goal. That almost did not happen. Wake Forest pushed Boston College back, back again and back some more with runs to the inside, setting itself up for the victory with a first and goal on the four-yard line. A sense of doom pervaded. Then, as quickly as it seemed that the game was lost, Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner botched a handoff and was stripped by sophomore cornerback Isaac Johnson. The ball bounced into the flat and was landed on by Eagles’ junior free safety Wes Davis.
“We were on the ropes, we were on the ropes. Certainly, it was a first-and-goal on the five and just trying to make a play,” head coach Frank Spaziani said. “It looked like a little confusion and we were aggressive. Confusion and being aggressive and something good happened for us.”
It seemed like Boston College had everything well in hand in the fourth quarter. It had broken the game open with 9:42 left when quarterback David Shinskie finished off a 13 -lay, 74-yard drive with a 17-yard completion to Colin Larmond Jr. to give the Eagles a 14-point lead. With the way that the Boston College defense has been playing to start the season (one touchdown allowed to an opposing offense entering the game), it was a good bet that it could hold on to the lead for the remainder of the game.
It did not.
There is a reason that Skinner is considered one of the best in the nation. The great ones never let their teams go down without a fight and Skinner brought Wake Forest back to tie the game at 24 and force overtime.
But Wake Forest would not go silently. In a fashion befitting his reputation, Skinner earned his stars in the final two minutes of the game. Facing 80 yards for the tie with 1:46 left and no timeouts, the star quarterback went to work. He hit his receivers in out routes that, for the most part, were able to get out of bounds to stop the clock. Skinner alternated throws to his go-to guy, Marshall Williams, along with Chris Givens and Josh Adams. With 11 seconds left Skinner hit Williams from 16 yards out to tie the game.
“Our two-minute offense was very efficient,” Skinner said. “We moved the ball down the field pretty quickly and got two scored which helped us get back in the game.”
Boston College never quit. Even with Skinner doing his mega-star act, they never got down and ended up being rewarded for its efforts.
“It is what we are trying to get across to this team. How young they are, how inexperienced,” Spaziani said. “You work hard, you work hard, you work hard and you just never, ever, ever give up. You play every play and today was a perfect example. Hopefully we learned from it.”
The events of the game were certainly a good lesson for the Eagles. They learned that they have the resilience to come back from a bad loss, a bad series and a couple bad plays and if they grind it out, good things will happen.
The perfect example of this came at the end of the first half. Boston College started the game with 10 straight points on the strength of Shinskie’s arm and the running of Montel Harris and Josh Haden. Then the Eagles watched it slip away.
Wake Forest lightning sophomore running back Brandon Pendergrass got going, banging a straight handoff through the middle into a 76-yard touchdown run, virtually untouched. Shinskie then threw an interception and Wake Forest drove 36 yards for a game-tying field goal.
Shinskie did not want the half to end like that.
“I said before that drive that we are not going into halftime without a score,” Shinskie said. “I think the line and the receivers and I and the running backs took it personal and we need to kick it up on offense and that is what we did.”
So, the word of the day on Chestnut Hill was resilience. The Eagles should feel better about themselves knowing they can take a blow and come back with a counter-punch to win a game.
Here are four other things we learned on the day that Boston College evened its record in the ACC . . .
Shinskie Steps Up
Last week was not good for Shinskie. Really, it was not good for anyone on the Eagles offense. Shinskie played two series against Clemson, had two fumbles (one lost) and ceded the position to Justin Tuggle. The offense as a whole netted 54 total yards. It was just a bad day in Death Valley.
This week was different. Shinskie got the start in front of the home crowd and had it going from the beginning. On the first drive of the game he led the Eagles down the field on 13 plays for 57 yards in 5:55 for and opening field goal. Shinskie went 3-for-5 on the drive for 36 yards with two completions to senior captain Rich Gunnell, one for 20 yards, another nine yards. One series and Boston College had already beaten their offensive output against Clemson.
On the day Shinskie went 18-for-29 with 228 yards, three touchdowns and the one interception. He utilized his tight ends and his wide receivers. Wide receiver Justin Jarvis was the leader on the day with five catches for 66 yards while Gunnell hauled in five for 51 yards. Tight ends Chris Pantale and Jordon McMichael had touchdown catches. Colin Larmond Jr. had three catches for 31 yards and a touchdown as well.
The play of the day, except for the fumble recovery at the end of course, was Shinskie’s first touchdown pass to McMichael. Shinskie found McMichael running down the seam in a route that had two wide receiver comebacks. Shinskie unleashed, a little high, but it led McMichael, who used all of his 6-foot-5 frame to reach out with one hand and pluck the ball from the ether. From there it was a dash to the end zone for the 50-yard score.
“I saw that the free safety was back pretty far,” Shinskie said. “I threw it over the linebacker. I never saw a tight end run that fast. They get open all the time, I just have to get it to them.”
It was a reaffirming day for Shinskie, a personal growth as he makes the transition from minor-league pitcher to college quarterback. He still has some problems, like his tendency to deliver the ball up, but it was a good step for the quarterback.
“He confirmed a lot of the stuff we knew about him. We knew he had the athletic ability. We knew he could make plays,” Spaziani said. “What we didn’t know was when the bullets start going what’s going to happen. There are a lot of guys with athletic ability . . . but you have to do it under fire. We saw him make some plays. He looked up the field. He didn’t look like he was away from football for seven years.”
Defensive Psyche Intact
It would have been easy for the Eagles defense to fold, walk away and explain that they went up against a great quarterback and just got beat.
But they did not.
“We had a pretty good control of the game. Wake Forest is a very intelligent team and I think that our coaches fine-tuned the defense and it ended up going pretty well,” Davis said. “It would have been a terrible way to lose, especially one you felt you had a pretty good grasp on.”
On the day that co-captain Mike McLaughlin came back from an Achilles injury, it was still freshman Luke Kuechly who shined. Kuechly, playing special teams as well as giving breathers to McLaughlin, had nine tackles (six solo, three assisted). He was a force in the kicking game, delivering some of the most jarring hits of the day and had another solid performance.
The big test for the defense was to try and not get picked apart by Skinner and, until the last nine minutes of the fourth quarter, they were able to do that. But when Skinner got going, it was tough to keep him down. Since the Eagles defensive unit is so young, a comeback loss could have been a significant blow to its psyche.
“They were at a crucial point with their psyche, I will tell you that right there,” Spaziani said. “That [end of the game stop] helps their psyche. Defensively, the problems are still there, what we saw last spring and in preseason, they are still there . . . we will learn from it and go forward. But it is always better to learn when you win.”
Flash And Dash or the 1-2 Punch?
We are still trying to figure out a good nickname for the sophomore running back duo of Montel Harris and Josh Haden. H and H? How about the Horse and Hound?
Either way, what we learned today is that Boston College is committed to keeping the ball on the ground. The combo ran the ball 42 times for a combined net total of 169 yards (Haden 17 for 93 and Harris 25 for 76).
“I like it,” Haden said of the duo. “Some people call it the ’1-2 Punch.’ When Montel is in, he sees me getting pumped up on the sidelines and when I’m in, I see him doing the same thing. I think it’s a really good setup. It keeps us both strong. We aren’t tired when we go in and if we are, we can just switch it. It works well.”
Haden was the firecracker in this one. He would take handoffs from Shinskie and break to the outside for big yards. Whether it was by design or not, Haden always was able to find the corner. It was especially evident when he got his first carries in the second quarter. It appeared that Harris had begun stalling. When that happens it is time for the switch and Haden did not disappoint.
If the tandem can stay effective, it will be a big boost to this offense.
Offensive Line “Gets It”
The offensive line had been struggling a little bit in the first couple of weeks to find its rhythm. At the linemen were lulled to sleep against Northeastern and Kent State and then they did not wake up in time for the speed of Clemson. But just like Goldilocks, Wake Forest was just right.
“I was clearly upset after the we performed against Clemson and I wanted to come out and make a statement that this is the same Boston College offensive line that it has been for many years,” center captain Matt Tennant said. “The traditions are still there and we work hard and we are gong to play the whole game and more if necessary.”
One of the biggest differences between this week and last was that the running backs had time to find lanes and the quarterbacks (Tuggle last week, Shinskie this week) actually had some time to go through their progressions. Shinskie was hit a couple of times but was never actually sacked.
Put it all together and Boston College had a good bounce back day. In a week, they were learn whether they can sustain that against a tough conference foe in Florida State.
|09.26.09 at 7:01 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The last thing quarterback Riley Skinner wanted to hear was a word of consolation after fumbling away a near-certain victory Saturday afternoon at Boston College.
But BC senior Mike McLaughlin, in his first game back from an Achilles injury, came over and offered them to the Wake Forest signal caller anyway as Eagle players danced around celebrating a 27-24 overtime win against the Demon Deacons at Alumni Stadium.
“I don’t think he really wanted to hear much from me but I was just telling him I’ve watched him for four years now and he is a heckuva football player,” McLaughlin said. “As far as just a true football player, it really doesn’t get any better than him. And I said, ‘I don’t know if you were trying to make a play but you’re a heckuva football player, and I can’t wait to watch you for the next eight or nine weeks and keep your head up and go win a bunch of games.’ I know they will.”
With Wake driving down to a first and goal at the BC 4 and needing just four more yards for game-clinching touchdown in OT, the Demon Deacons called for a sweep to the outside but Brandon Pendergrass went the wrong way causing Skinner to call an audible to himself and he rolled out on what appeared to be a naked bootleg to the left.
“We had a speed sweep called to the right and the running back went the wrong way,” Skinner explained afterward. “I kind of froze when I saw this happening because I didn’t think he would be going a different way. When I started running, I tried to put the ball in my other hand and get back to the line of scrimmage but the BC defender just got his hand in there and knocked it out. It was bad ball security by me and it was just a sloppy play all the way around.” Read the rest of this entry »
|09.26.09 at 4:12 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — Between the third and fourth quarters Mario Trueba of the Orange Bowl presented a $5,000 check to Mark Herzlich and Uplifting Athletes. The check is a benefit for the Sarcoma Foundation of America for cancer research and treatment. Herzlich, a Butkus Award finalist for the nation’s top linebacker last year, was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma in the spring of this year.
|09.26.09 at 4:08 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The offenses have bogged down here in the third quarter as Boston College and Wake Forest trade punts. It that regard the game has become a mini-match between Eagles’ punter Ryan Quigley and his Wake Forest counterpart Shane Popham. Boston College ran 15 plays for 73 yards while the Demon Deacons had 12 plays for 57 yards. Time of possession is pretty even with Wake Forest at 21:20 and the Eagles with 23:40.
Start of fourth quarter. Boston College 17 – Wake Forest 10.
|09.26.09 at 3:14 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The combination of Brandon Pendergrass and Riley Skinner are going to make this game interesting. Pendergrass, a true sophomore running back (a rarity on Demon Deacons team full of redshirts) got Wake Forest back into the game when he took a handoff from Skinner, broke the first level of tacklers straight up the middle and was gone . . . 76 yards to the end zone. The score was only the second touchdown that the Boston College defense has allowed to an opposing offense all year.
Combine Pendergrass with fellow speedster junior tailback Josh Adams, along with the cannon and cunning of Skinner and it all equates to headaches for Boston College. After Wake sophomore cornerback Mike Williams picked off an errant Dave Shinskie pass, the three went back to work. The Demon Deacons went 36 yards on nine plays for the game-tying field goal by Jimmy Newman.
Shinskie made up for his mistake on the next drive, with a little help from sophomore running back Josh Haden. Shinskie and Haden marched down the field, with Haden taking handoffs and cutting it to the corners for big gains (six carries, 50 yards on the drive) and Shinskie making the throws when he needed to. It was a big comeback drive for the Eagles that culminated in a four yard strike pitch-and-catch from Shinskie to redshirt freshman tight end Chris Pantale.
Halftime – Boston College 17 – Wake Forest 10.
|09.26.09 at 2:36 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — For the first time this season 25 year old freshman Dave Shinskie got the start at quarterback for Boston College after redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle had started the first three games. Shinskie led the Eagles down the field for the first score of the game, a 32 yard field goal by Steve “Sid Vicious” Aponavicius. Shinskie completed three of five pass for 36 yards including two to senior captain Rich Gunnell for nine yards and 20 yards. Montel Harris carried the ball six times for 26 yards.
The 57 yard drive is already an improvement from what Boston College did last week as it only had 54 total yards against Clemson.
It looked like Wake Forest was going to come back on the ensuing drive as its star quarterback, Riley Skinner, hit junior Marshall Williams on a 38 yard strike to the Boston College 18. From there they went backward though with the drive ending on a Skinner fumble created by junior defensive lineman Alex Albright and recovered by junior Damik Scafe.
Then Shinskie went back to work, if ever so briefly. Harris carried the ball twice for 12 yards to the 50 yard line which set up Shinskie for the play-action. Shinskie had time and looked down the middle to find Jordon McMichael. The ball was overthrown a touch but the big junior tight end went up and hauled the ball down with a spectacular one-handed grab and raced the remaining way to the end zone for the score.
End of first quarter. Boston College 10 – Wake Forest 0.
|09.26.09 at 1:21 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — It is a beautiful day on The Heights. The air is crisp, there is barbeque smoke in the air and Wake Forest is in town to take on the Eagles at Alumni Stadium.
A perfect day for football. A day long awaited by one particular individual on this Boston College squad.
Senior middle linebacker and Eagles co-captain Mike McLaughlin is set to make his return this afternoon. McLaughlin injured his right achilles tendon last March in off-season conditioning drills and has spent the entire summer and beginning of this semester trying to get back to game speed to help this young Boston College defense.
“The word I would use is hungry. I am as hungry as I have ever been in my life right now. Every day I have worked out two, three times a day getting my body ready, getting my mind ready for this day,” McLaughlin said. “It can be a little discouraging but I just thought about right now, getting ready for this day.”
“It was just one of those freak injuries,” McLaughlin said. “Something I have done nine-million times. Back pedal into a sprint. I knew right away, you could hear it snap.”
Of all injuries to sustain, there are two that athletes fear the most. The first being anything to do with the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee. The other is the achilles.
McLaughlin may have been ready a few weeks ago in terms of how his achilles felt, but it has taken him time to get back to “football shape,” both physically and mentally.
“I was just upset. I never had a doubt that I wouldn’t come back,” McLaughlin said. “The day after surgery I was out there in my backyard doing pushups and sit-ups, which was not very smart, it’s just my mindset. There was no way this was going to stop me from coming back for my last season.”
Despite the loss of McLaughlin and Butkus Award finalist Mark Herzlich (Ewings Sarcoma), the Boston College defense has been up to the task. The unit has allowed only one touchdown to an opposing offense through the first three games (to Kent State late in the game) and has taken on a “bend but don’t break” kind of medium.
Part of this performance has been the outstanding, and somewhat surprising, play of true freshman Luke Kuechly. Kuechly was a beast against Clemson down in Death Valley last weekend, totaling 13 tackles (7 solo, 6 assisted) against the speedy Tigers offense.
“Luke has done and unbelievable job, like I have been telling everyone,” McLaughlin said. “To play that position in our defense is unbelievable when you’re a freshman. I mean, you are the quarterback of the defense.”
With the return of McLaughlin, Kuechly will be moved down a spot in the depth chart to make way for the senior. With the two together it appears that any question regarding the linebacker corps heading into the season have been thoroughly answered.
All to the positive.
“You kind of see flashes, you know, I don’t want to say it now, but you kind of see flashes a little bit of Mark [Herzlich] when he is out there like that. That is how Mark was when he was a freshman . . . I am not comparing them yet but whenever you see that it is a really positive thing,” McLaughlin said.
For his part, McLaughlin has been helping Kuechly make the transition to major college football. From help recognizing the offense to calling plays in the middle to words of encouragement, McLaughlin has been there. Kuechly could have done worse for himself than to have two mentors like McLaughlin and Herzlich on his shoulders.
“I have been trying to do as much as I can. I have been watching a ton of film with him through camp. In practice, if he gets yelled out you have to pull him aside,” McLauglin said. “I mean, it’s tough, he is an 18-year old kid and we are expecting him to know everything and be sharp with every little thing that he does. So it is just patting him on the butt and just saying ‘keep it up, don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.”
As kickoff nears, McLaughlin is warming up on the field, ready to do something that some may not have thought possible six months ago.
|09.23.09 at 10:11 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — The shadow of Death Valley may still haunt Boston College, but now it’s time for a Wake.
The Eagles return to Alumni Stadium Saturday afternoon with the goal of moving on from the beat-down they received at the hands of the Clemson Tigers last Saturday. The best way to do that? Take it out on the next opponent, Wake Forest.
The Demon Deacons open their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule after three straight home games to start the season. They dropped the first against Baylor before coming back to beat Stanford and in-state rival Elon the next two weeks. Baylor and Stanford are not grandma’s homemade toaster strudels, so the Demon Deacons have been tested early enough for Boston College to quantify what kind of skill level it will see this weekend.
The scouting report for Wake Forest focuses on one name: Riley Skinner.
The redshirt senior quarterback may be the best quarterback in the ACC, and he certainly has the attention of the BC defense.
“To me you have to understand the type of animal you are playing every week, that’s really important.,” BC senior middle linebacker and co-captain Mike McLaughlin said. “He’s one of the most accurate. He’s one of the best, if not the best, in the ACC. If you understand that and have respect for it then you are going to practice like [he's the best].”
Skinner has the acclaim. He has the arm. What he does not have? A lot of success against Boston College.
With Skinner calling signals, the Demon Deacons are 1-2 against the Eagles. He has thrown seven interceptions, with five of them coming the last two years, both Boston College victories. In total, Skinner is 57-for-88 for 482 yards with three touchdowns against BC.
The Eagles, with coach Frank Spaziani previously serving as the defensive coordinator, schemed well against Skinner. It has not been easy. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is known as a crafty manipulator on both sides of the ball, showing opponents different looks on series en route to 28 wins over the last three years. Among ACC teams, only Boston College (30) and Virginia Tech (31) have won more games in that span. Grobe puts Skinner in position to succeed on just about every play and, more often than not, the quarterback has responded. Yet, the Eagles seem to have his number.
“That’s because we have a lot of respect for him like we do all of our opponents,” senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman said. “Especially Riley, though, we know he’s a great player. Every day in practice we go out with the intent of, you’ve got to stop him first and then worry about everybody else second. We’ve been able to draw up some good game plans against him and stop him from making plays against us.”
So, McLaughlin and Bowman know they will have their hands full. It is McLaughlin who could tip the scale in the Eagles’ favor. The linebacker will be playing his first game of the season after coming back from a right Achilles injury he suffered during conditioning exercises in march and will resume his role as the quarterback of the defense, a place that true freshman Luke Kuechly has manned admirably in the first three games. McLaughlin has seen Skinner three times now and has a pretty good idea of what to suspect.
“So if you’re moving your guy, moving to your receiver thinking that, OK, Skinner is going to be back there, so this ball is going to be delivered now,” McLaughlin said. “So, preparing against the best, that’s really the best way to do it. Just to know that you are going against the best and go out on Saturday and see what happens.”
For his part, the surging Bowman seems to have spent a lot of time in the film room poring over video of the Demon Deacons’ first three games to see what kind of new wrinkles Grobe will have for Boston College.
“Every year he comes with something different. This year he’s come with kind of like a wing-T kind of offense,” Bowman said. “He’s got a lot of formations that will give you headaches, but when you break it all down, it’s all about reading the keys. The keys will tell you what to do, and you just play football from there on.”
Wake Forest is not all about Skinner, though. The Demon Deacons are an experienced team with 31 players who are either in their fourth or fifth seasons in the program. Of the 24 players on the two-deep depth chart, Wake only has four who have not been redshirted. Ten of those players are redshirt seniors. With the sneaky Grobe employing players well-accustomed to his system, Boston College will need to keep its focus to emerge with a victory Saturday.
Reading the keys and keying on Skinner. With the way the Boston College defense has been playing this year and the Eagles’ recent success against Wake Forest, they should be feeling confident they can get back to the .500 mark in ACC play.
Offense Looking For A Comeback
The Boston College offense was abysmal against Clemson last week. This week the Eagles are looking to get back on track and prove they are legit against another tough ACC opponent.
“The offense has a lot to prove,” sophomore running back Montel Harris said. “I think it was 54 total yards? It’s kind of embarrassing, so we’ve got to come out and show everyone that we have a high-powered offense.”
The key to getting back on track will be the offensive line. The highly touted group has yet to get in a rhythm this year, and it was a series of mistakes on its part that contributed to the Eagles’ long day in Death Valley.
“There were guys not blocking their assignments,” senior center and co-captain Matt Tennant said. “We still weren’t having guys target the right people, and that is somewhat my fault for not setting the offense the way it needs to be, and it sort of is guys not knowing their assignments in and out.”
Grobe and company will try to make life as confusing as possible for the group. The Wake Forest defense is known for shifting around pre-snap and taking as long as possible to commit to its positions to flummox opposing offenses. It presents a peculiar challenge for Tennant and his linemates.
“It is a little bit of pressure,” Tennant said. “You have to understand that you have to block the person in this position or if they are moved over you have to be able to block them in two different ways so the calls may be different. You may not be able to get the call, you just have to understand that if he is here you are going to block him there, if he’s not you are going to have to block him in a different way.”
The scouting report on Boston College is pretty simple: Stop the run and make rookie quarterbacks Justin Tuggle or Dave Shinskie beat you. Therefore, the goal for the Eagles offense will be to control the line of scrimmage and get Harris and fellow sophomore running back Josh Haden uncorked to take the pressure off the inexperienced quarterbacks.
This is easier said than done, of course. Every team in the ACC will be looking to overload the box, at least until Boston College proves it can throw the ball effectively.
“[Clemson's defenders] knew what they were going to do, they knew they were going to try to stop the run and force us to pass,” Tennant said. “It is what any team would do, you know, young quarterbacks that haven’t taken a lot of collegiate snaps. That is what any team would do.”
To get the ball moving again, BC will have to cut back on its mistakes. The Eagles are not too worried, at least not yet. They feel that if they can focus on the task ahead of them, everything will work out just fine.
“I definitely feel like every [mistake] that was made is correctable,” Tuggle said. “It’s more like little focus mistakes. You just have to go out there and there are things you know you just can’t do. Sometimes things just happen and you keep moving on.”
|09.22.09 at 11:25 am ET|
NCAA organizers can only hope Boston delivers them another another thrilling performance after it was announced on Monday that TD Garden has been chosen as the East Regional site for the 2012 men’s tournament.
In March, in one of the best games ever played in the building, Villanova beat Pittsburgh, 78-76, in the East Regional final on a last-second, length-of-the-court drive by Scottie Reynolds, helping the Wildcats reach the Final Four for the first time since winning it all in 1985.
This marks the fourth time Boston College has been chosen as the host institution for the East Regional, set for March 22-24, 2012. BC also served as the host institution for the 2009 East Regional, as well as the 1999 and 2003 first and second rounds.
“We are extremely pleased that the NCAA has decided to return to Boston for college basketball’s showcase event,” director of athletics Gene DeFilippo said in a statement. “This decision is a tribute to the outstanding cooperation Boston College has received from Mayor Menino’s office, the city of Boston, the TD Garden, the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau and the local business community. We are grateful for their support and excited to have this opportunity once again.”
|09.19.09 at 10:43 pm ET|
Boston College had questions. Clemson had answers.
The Tigers claimed the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy as they proved to be too much for the Eagles en route to a 25-7 victory in Death Valley (recap).
The game was delayed twice in the second half due to torrential rains and lightning in the area of Memorial Stadium, the first time a 55-minute delay in the third quarter and the second a 48-minute delay in the beginning of the fourth.
At least half of the questions for the Eagles have been answered. The young defense that pitched shutout ball for the first 117 minutes and 45 seconds of the season proved it is for real. Against a dynamic Tigers offense, the Eagles played “bend-but-don’t break” for most of the game as they held Clemson to six field goals despite great field possession and favorable matchups.
The other half of the equation? Well, pure and simple, the BC offense may not yet be ready for big-time football.
That goes especially for the quarterbacks. For the third straight week, redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle got the start. He struggled through the entire first quarter and into the second before coach Frank Spaziani brought in his platoon-mate, Dave Shinskie, to try his hand at igniting the offense.
It did not go well.
On his second snap of the game Shinskie pulled away from center too quickly, causing a fumble that Clemson recovered on Boston College’s 8-yard line. The defense, as it did all day, kept Clemson out of the end zone, forcing the Tigers into a field goal that made the score 13-0.
Shinskie’s second series was only slightly less disastrous. He dropped back on third down looking for a pass upfield before getting sacked from behind by defensive lineman Da’Quan Bowers, leading to a fumble that was squatted upon by Eagles offensive lineman Emmett Cleary to save the turnover.
That was the last we saw of Shinskie. The 25-year-old quarterback has been stressing in recent weeks the need to make quicker decisions on the field and to do a better job of recognizing pressure. It appears he will need a little bit more seasoning if he hopes to be the on-the-field leader for the Eagles in the near, or distant, future.
For his part, Tuggle was erratic. He completed only 4-of-20 passes for 23 yards and was picked off three times. That said, if there was any momentum generated by Boston College all day, it was Tuggle who provided it. He used his legs to put together a couple first downs late in the third quarter and early into the fourth and, for a moment before the second lightning delay, looked as if he had gotten momentum back onto the side of the Eagles. It was short-lived, however, as the drive fizzled out when Tuggle was sacked by Bowers, forcing the Eagles to punt.
For now, it appears that the quarterback controversy is over. As bad as Tuggle and the rest of the offense looked, he was the man who was able to maintain any semblance of composure under center. Tuggle will need to work on his deep-ball skills (two of his interceptions came when he underthrew deep targets) but, for now, he is the best option Spaziani has in his cupboard.
Here are four other things we learned from BC’s first loss of the season.
THE DEFENSE IS LEGIT
Off the field, Luke Kuechly looks every bit of the 18 years, five months and 29 days old that he is. On the field? He is a beast.
Kuechly and the rest of the defense had their hands full going against the speed of the Clemson skill players. Yet they did not break. Not once. Every time it seemed that the Tigers would turn it into a blowout, Kuechly and company came up with the big stop. They were able to contain the corners against running back C.J Spiller (17 rushes for 77 yards) and stifle wideout Jacoby Ford (six catches for 36 yards) while holding Clemson to 252 total yards. The Tigers could not go for the kill and the offense never saw the end zone as they settled for six field goals (a new Clemson record) from place-kicker Richard Jackson.
It seemed like it could have been a lot more, given the score, but it is a testament to the talent of this defense that it was able to keep the Eagles in the discussion despite the efforts of the offense.
Spiller still ended up with 219 all-purpose yards, a fine day, but he matched his rushing performance on one break-away play in the first quarter when he returned a punt 77 yards for Clemson’s only touchdown.
One particular sequence told the story. After Shinskie’s lost fumble it looked like Clemson was in for an easy score as they lined up at the Boston College 8 yard line. The drive went backwards. On first down Kevin Distaso was able to round up Spiller as he tried to turn the corner and was helped with some good gang tackling. Second down was a pass to the flat from Clemson backup quarterback Willy Korn to Ford, who was met with a strong hit by senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman for a loss. Third down had Korn trying to make up for it himself on the ground before getting jarred by Kuechly at the line of scrimmage. Three plays, negative eight yards, field goal.
The Eagles only score was set up by the defense as it forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore cornerback Donnie Fletcher on the Tigers 13-yard line. Tuggle took one play to convert, looping a pass to a wide open Justin Jarvis for the score.
That turned out to be the theme of the day. Clemson threatens, Eagles buckle down, field goal. If there is a silver lining in a frustrating loss, the grit showed by the BC defense would be it.
NO PUSH UP FRONT
It would be unfair to pin all the offensive woes on the shoulders of Tuggle and Shinskie. For a team that refers to itself as “Offensive Line University,” the boys in the trenches were certainly not up to the task on Saturday.
The 51 total yards of Boston College offense were mostly a mirage. Tuggle created 20 of those with his feet and another 13 on his touchdown pass to Jarvis. Other than that? Nothing brewing.
Bowers and Ricky Sapp had their way all day with a combined three sacks and multiple tackles for loss. It sometimes seemed that when the Eagles tried to run the ball, Sapp or Bowers could have taken the handoffs from Tuggle to running backs Montel Harris or Josh Haden themselves.
Over the past few weeks Spaziani has alluded to the fact that the offensive line has not been in sync, has not been able to get as good a push as he would like. And that was against the inferior competition of Northeastern and Kent State. Perhaps it was a lack of concentration but against a team the caliber of Clemson the offensive line full of future Sunday stars should have been able to create some momentum for the offense. Instead they led an offense that averaged 0.9 yards per carry (Harris leading the way with 12 carries for 13 yards).
With the quarterbacks struggling the offensive line will need to be able to create some room for the backs for the Eagles to move the ball.
FIELD POSSESSION TELLS IT ALL
Look at this list of starting field possession for both teams (own yard line unless otherwise specified):
Clemson: 35, 48, 8, 30, BC 42, BC 8, 45, 41, 47, 47, 15, 8, 43, 25, BC 17, BC 31
Boston College: 25, 23, 39, 32, 20, 16, 29, 24, 23, 28, 23, 27, Clemson 13, 33, 1, 28
Outside of Fletcher’s fumble recovery, the furthest down the field that the Eagles started all day was their own 39. That will just about always spell trouble. Senior running back Jeff Smith led the Eagles in all-purpose yards with 148 by default. With all the field goals for Clemson, he was busy on the kick return averaging 21.1 yards per attempt with a long of 26. On punts Boston College only had one return, eight yards by Rich Gunnell (his only touch in any form in the game), though he did have a few opportunities had he not elected for fair catches instead.
On the flip side, Spiller was consistently able to put the Tigers on or near the 50-yard line, enabling the short field for the chip shots that Jackson made all day.
Ryan Quigley, who had been touted for his growing prowess as a punter in recent weeks, averaged a season low 39.6 yards on 10 attempts. Even when he did kick it long on his longest punt of the day, a 59-yarder, Spiller was able to take it to the end zone.
EAGLES SECONDARY UNDERRATED
Kuechly has been getting a lot of the press for the Eagles defense as the heir apparent to Mark Herzlich, and rightfully so given his performance. At the same time, this is a complete defense. The defensive line and linebacking corps are young, which leaves the secondary as the veteran backbone of the squad.
Against Clemson, the group came to play. Fifth-year senior Bowman was the leader, coming up to stifle the run when necessary and coming over the top to frustrate Tigers’ receivers. The proof is in the pudding. Ford, one of the best wideouts in the country, was limited to nominal yards on six catches and the rest of the Tigers’ receivers were held to eight catches for 66 yards (tight end Michael Palmer had three for 21). Part of this was due to the youth of Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker but when a big hit was needed it was a member of the secondary who did the deed.
Junior Wes Davis came up with an interception in the first quarter while linebacker Dominick LeGrande also pulled down a pick.