Midterm Grades at The Heights
|10.15.09 at 12:16 am ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — Boston College is not looking back after it got blown away against Virginia Tech last Saturday. The veterans are making sure of that.
Senior linebacker and co-captain Mike McLaughlin called a players meeting on Sunday evening after the team returned from Blacksburg to make sure the Eagles did not get too down on themselves after the humbling experience against the Hokies. With a division opponent in N.C. State coming to Alumni Stadium this weekend, McLaughlin wants to make sure the team remains focused on what lies ahead rather than look back.
“Anytime you go down to a place like that and play a team like that and, unfortunately, get beat like that, I think you kind of need to regroup a little bit,” McLaughlin said. “[The meeting] was more focused on this weekend, N.C. State … You want to stay positive. You don’t want to focus on the negative. A good team moves on.”
The second half of the season starts this weekend. The Eagles are 4-2 (2-2 ACC, 2-1 Atlantic) and have had an up-and-down year so far. They are 2-0 against ACC teams at home (Wake Forest, Florida State) and 0-2 on the road (Clemson, Virginia Tech). Another Atlantic Division crown and trip to the ACC championship game in Tampa Bay is still a possibility if they can win out in the division and get a little help along the way.
No other team in the Atlantic yet has two division losses (though that will change with Wake Forest and Clemson playing in Death Valley Saturday). In addition to N.C. State, the Eagles just have Maryland to play in the division in the regular season finale on Nov. 28.
“This is kind of a must-win game. This is a championship game,” McLaughlin said. “There is no doubt about that.”
If he is referring to the division championship, then yes, McLaughlin is right. A second loss in the division will probably eliminate the Eagles from ACC championship contention.
“Crazy things happen all the time in our conference,” senior wide receiver and co-captain Rich Gunnell said. “Last year we lost two in a row in the same way and we still made it to the ACC championship game. So, we let them know that there is still a shot to make it down there.”
From here on out the Eagles alternate games at home and on the road — N.C. State, at Notre Dame, Central Michigan, at Virginia, North Carolina, at Maryland. The key for Boston College will be to capitalize at home and get its offense together on the road to steal victories from Virginia and Maryland (the Notre Dame game always is a toss-up, while Central Michigan will be a tough opponent no matter where the Eagles play them).
While the Eagles are looking forward, WEEI.com takes a moment to look back at the season at the midterm mark and hand out our grades. The players may have their eyes forward but that does not stop us from assessing what we have seen before we look ahead.
“Here’s what we know,” coach Frank Spaziani said of the midseason review, “We have some players that have some potential. We know the areas that need a lot of work and we need to work on them. We know we are nowhere near where we have to be to compete in the level that we want to compete at. So, that’s what we know.”
Spoken like a true coach — not too high, not too low, did not really give away his opinion at all.
On to the grades …
The group of freshman quarterbacks on this team has not been an utter disaster. At the same time, it has not exactly been a rousing success. The performance has been very up and down, as is fitting for a group that, collectively, had not thrown a single pass for Boston College heading into the season. Dave Shinskie, a 25-year-old true freshman, has taken over the starting role at this point, beating out redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle and true freshman Mike Marscovetra. When Shinskie has been up he has been decent — 18-of-29 for 228 yards and three touchdowns against Wake Forest and 13-of-22 for 211 yards and two touchdowns against Florida State. When he has been down he has been horrible — three snaps, two fumbles (one lost) against Clemson and 1-of-12 for 4 yards against Virginia Tech. It is probably not a coincidence that Shinskie’s poor performances have come on the road (where he said the offense has “lost focus”) but that trend will probably even out down the stretch. Overall, BC quarterbacks are ninth in the conference with a 126.3 passer efficiency (Georgia Tech leads with 169.2). There is nowhere to go but up.
Running Backs: B
The Double H: Horse and Hound duo of Montel Harris and Josh Haden has not exactly been as good as advertised, but it has been pretty decent. Like the rest of the offense, Harris and Haden have done nothing on the road, but otherwise have been pretty good. Harris, the Horse, had a career-high 25 carries and 184 yards to lead the Eagles in their win against Florida State. Haden, the Hound, set a career high with 17 carries for 93 yards against Wake Forest. Overall, the running game is seventh in the conference in yards per game, but even mediocre performances on the road would probably set them in the top four.
Wide Receivers: C
The fate of the receivers lays in the hands of the quarterbacks. Gunnell and sophomore Colin Larmond Jr. are the leaders of this group (17 catches, 218 yards, 3 touchdowns for Gunnell; 16 catches, 309 yards, 3 touchdowns for Larmond), though it seems at times that they get lost in the mix as the young quarterbacks find their ways.
Offensive Line: B
“O-line U” has not exactly lived up to its name this year. Though the unit has two preseason All-ACC members in Anthony Castonzo and Matt Tennant, the group has not gained much traction this year. They are tied for third in the conference (Miami) in sacks against with 10 total for 69 yards lost (Georgia Tech leads with 4 for 19 yards). The Eagles are middle of the conference in rush yards per game and the inability of the unit to put the offense on its back on the road is a mark against the group. Yet overall, the group has played reasonably well.
Defensive Line: C
B.J. Raji and Ron Brace are plying their wares in the NFL and this group has suffered for it. The inability of the defensive line to put pressure on the quarterback has led to problems for the secondary, as passers have had time to wait and go through their progressions. Boston College is last in the ACC in sacks with eight (10 behind leader N.C. State). Five of those have come from the defensive line.
The strength of this defense has definitely been with the linebacking corps, which is amazing if you consider that Will Thompson has not played a down all year, Butkus Award finalist Mark Herzlich is recovering from cancer and McLaughlin missed the first three games coming back from an Achilles injury. True freshman Luke Kuechly has taken charge, leading the team with 55 tackles, and Alexander DiSanzo is tied for third with 25. The linebackers are a big reason why Boston College has managed to be fourth in the conference in rushing yards allowed (with 741) and sixth in total yards despite being a relatively young group.
Senior Marcellus Bowman, junior Wes Davis and sophomore Isaac Johnson have done their best to hold the secondary together despite the plethora of quality quarterbacks BC has seen this year. Bowman is second on the team in tackles with 28 and has really stepped up his game as a player and a leader in his last year on The Heights. Johnson is tied with DiSanzo for third on the team in tackles. The group is middle of the conference in both passes broken up and interceptions, but the bend-but-don’t-break quality of the defense has a lot to do with the play at the back end.
Special Teams: A-
Place kicker Steve Aponavicius is a perfect 26-for-26 on his kicks this year (21 PATs, 5 field goals). Punter and kickoff specialist Ryan Quigley has been decent with a 41.2 average yards per punt (36.5 net), which is good for fifth in the conference. Quigley has been in a bit of a slump of late but in the beginning of the year he was quite proficient at putting the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, at one point going 5-for-11 in that department.
The returners have not had much of a chance recently with Jeff Smith and Chris Fox handling most of the kick off returns while Gunnell and Harris have mostly handled the punts. The Eagles are third in the conference with a 13.9 yard average in punt returns while they are ninth in kickoff returns with a 21.3 yard average.
Not much was expected of Spaziani’s boys this year, but the first-time head coach has done well in bringing his young group together. Boston College is two wins from being bowl eligible and it has found ways to win despite a young defense and a trio of freshman quarterbacks.