Five Things We Learned: Montel Harris Breaks Wolfpack
|10.17.09 at 11:19 pm ET|
CHESTNUT HILL — Everybody thought this would be a breakout game for freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie.
Well, they were wrong.
Heading into this game the North Carolina State defense was atrocious against the pass. Duke’s Thaddeus Lewis had just lit them up for 459 yards on 80 percent completions and Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner had 361 yards. The run defense was supposed to be a strength for the Wolfpack. They led the conference in yards allowed and average per carry at 377 and 1.9, respectively. In terms of yards allowed, no other team was even close.
Then came Montel Harris.
The sophomore running back almost doubled NC State’s total yards allowed in the Eagles 52-20 victory as he set a Boston College record with 26 carries for 264 net yards. His five touchdowns are also a new school record.
“Well, that was a fun game,” Harris said. “That was the most I ever put up in any type of game – high school, college. It was pretty fun to be able to run free. The offensive line opened up some big holes so basically I was just running free.”
How did he do it? Let’s break down the record.
Foremost, this was the best effort of Boston College’s offensive line this season, by far. For a unit that has had some trouble clicking at times, everything was tight. Every man on the line was locking in on assignments and hitting the right person at the right time, something that has not always been the case this year. When guards were pulling, they got out clear and hit their men.
“You have to give credit to the line, I mean, they were making some pretty big holes, pulling around and hitting who they got to hit,” quarterback Dave Shinskie said.
In the unit versus unit battle of offense and defense, the trenches belonged to Boston College. Then it came down to Harris against the secondary.
“I would like to say that we were clever enough to [attack the secondary],” head coach Frank Spaziani said. “What we are trying to do is attack defenses. We are still in the developmental stages and those guys [the offensive coaches] over there felt we could do certain things and we were just able to execute and expand.”
Part of Harris’s day was just pure skill, read and react, bounce inside, bounce outside. At the same time he knew from the film that the Wolfpack secondary were suspect tacklers. His job was to exploit them.
“It was read and react,” Harris said. “On film we saw that their secondary was not too good on tackling. So if we can make it to the secondary we can make some plays. That is what happened tonight.”
Then there was the record.
The 264 yards are the most by a Boston College back since Phil Bennett had 253 on 36 carries on September 23rd, 1972. The mark also represents the ninth highest rushing total in ACC history.
“We weren’t trying to get a record or anything, we were just playing the game. I think the offensive coaches were a lot more aware of it than I was,” Spaziani said.
“I wasn’t thinking about breaking records, I was thinking about breaking tackles and getting as many yards as I could and worry about records after the game,” Harris said.
So, what does Spaziani say to a player who just carried his team to a much needed conference victory?
“What can I say? You don’t see that every day. I don’t see that in practice,” Spaziani said. “You know, 264 yards, five touchdowns. I guess I give him a sticker? That’s a sticker.”
A sticker?! That’s it?
How about a game ball coach, he deserves at least that.
Here are four other things we learned about Harris and Boston College . . . .
Wildcat With A Bazooka
The Eagles have tried to employ the Wildcat offense at times this year with Harris and Josh Haden, to varying degrees of success.
“I really like the Wildcat. We call it Bazooka, but I really like it,” Harris said.
Today it was the the Big Play Machine. On Boston College’s second series of the game Harris lined up for the direct shotgun snap, faked to Haden and busted outside for a 70-yard run down the right sideline to the Wolfpack 2 yard line. Harris would take the rock into the end zone on the next play for his first touchdown.
“Oh yeah. We don’t gave too many plays that go 70 yards average. We get one of those we try to whittle it down,” Spaziani said.
The formation was used sparingly though, perhaps for the element of surprise. On the day Boston College ran the Bazooka five times for 161 yards.
“We have practiced it a lot . . . I mean it’s not like we had not even seen it,” NC State head coach Tom O’Brien said. “We over ran things early and he cut it back. Then we hung inside and he bounced it outside . . . the kid is a good running back and once again our biggest bugger-boo is we don’t tackle.”
For a runner like Harris, the Bazooka plays to his strengths. He is a touch undersized at five-foot ten-inches but he uses his leverage and cut back ability well and has great vision. To be able to see the defense from the shotgun position and try to hit the corners is little easier for him.
“I thought we should have went back to it a little earlier,” Shinskie said. “That is just the formation we put in for him and misdirection with the other backs. It just so happened to catch those guys off guard and worked really well for us tonight.”
Part of the reason that the Bazooka may have been tempered was the fact that the counter-punch in the Double H duo, Haden, left the game in the second quarter with a right ankle injury and would not return. Without the double threat the formation loses a little potency.
Defense Avoids Second Half Letdown
The past two ACC homes games at Alumni Stadium had similar story lines: Boston College goes up by multiple scores then has to cling to them in the second half for the win. This game played out quite differently as the Eagles scored 28 second half points while only allowing a garbage time touchdown to the Wolfpack.
The domination really started right before the end of the first half. With Boston College up 21-13 NC State was driving down the field in their two-minute drill. Quarterback Russell Wilson was taking the underneath routes and the Wolfpack were moving the ball well enough to assume at least a field goal to end the quarter.
Then came the turnover. The Eagles had their hands on a couple balls in the first half but could not hang on. It seemed like an inevitability that Wilson would eventually lay one up that a member of the Boston College secondary could pull down.
It turned out to be junior Wes Davis with 1:02 remaining. He was in the right place at the right time and picked off Russell and returned it to the Boston College 42 yard line. Shinskie and company drove for a field goal as time expired to make the score 24-13 with the Eagles receiving the ball to start the second half. That is a lot different than 21-16.
Davis was not so sure that was the turn of the game though.
“I think the turning point of the game was the first drive of the second half by our offense,” Davis said. “Every time that it seems that we get up we come out and have a let down in the second half defensively and offensively. To see our guys punching it in like that kind of took the wind out of their sails and energized us.”
The offensive performance, in turn, focused the defense enough to keep the game from turning into a gunslinger’s party.
“It was feeding off the offense but we knew what we had to do,” senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman said. “The last couple games they [the opponents] made their changes to light us up. To be a championship team, we can’t have that. We just did what we did in the first half but just did it better. We just honed in on our assignments and just made the plays we need to make.”
Defense Adapts To Confront Challenges
With guys like Alex Albright, Damik Scafe and Alexander DiSanzo seeing limited to no playing time becaus of injuries, it was time for Spaziani and company to adapt the defense. Part of Boston College’s problem this season has been putting pressure on the quarterback which in turn causes problems for the secondary.
The Eagles tried to fix that problem by using the secondary, which is a relative strength on the team, to their advantage. More specifically they called in Bowman to be a human rocket with delayed blitzes from the safety position.
“Yeah, we felt that was part of our game plan, to get some of the guys moving. We felt that was what we had to do and fortunately some of it worked. We missed him a couple times,” Spaziani said.
Bowman did sack Wilson once and pressured him a couple times, enough for the quarterback to tread carefully when his eyes read number 8 in red.
“I see the holes just opening up and the running back step up for protection. I just gave him a move and the coverage was good enough where he held the ball down and made a play,” Bowman said. “I wasn’t really sure we were going to run that many blitzes but I guess the coaches seen something and dialed them up. But, they worked pretty well.”
The Wolfpack were able to move the ball against Boston College. They put up 394 yards of total offense (315 passing, 79 rushing) but, for the most part, it was not on big, game breaking plays. Wilson (and later Mike Glennon) took what they could get in the soft underneath of the defense.
“I think they took what they can get,” Spaziani said. “Every defense has holes in it and we try to cover them up and don’t let them find them too often. We’re happy to do that, especially in certain circumstances. If that was going to hurt us then we would do something else.”
Well, it did not hurt them in the end, considering the final score.
Shinskie A Proficient Game Manager At This Point
Yes, it was supposed to be Shinskie’s day. He did play well, Harris just had a much, much bigger day. Overall, Shinskie’s numbers point to two facts: he can bounce back from getting a thorough beat down (as he took against Virginia Tech) and, when he is composed and within himself, he is a reliable game manager.
Shinskie threw for 187 yards on 13-25 passing and two touchdowns, one a 59 yard bomb to Colin Larmond, Jr. down the right sideline that made the score 14-7 in the first quarter. The completion rate shows that he is not yet as accurate as he would like to be but he did not fumble the ball and was not really close to being picked off.
For Shinskie, it is a matter of letting the game play around him, that is when he works best. If he tries to force it or do too much, that is when he gets into trouble. Today, the game, or, more appropriately Harris, ran around him.
“Montel sure made it easy on me,” Shinskie said. “I don’t know what to say about him. He had a career day and I loved watching him.”
The key for the 25-year old freshman will be to take the steady approach he had today and transport it to the road, where his struggles have been terrible.
“I just have to watch film this week. I have watched a lot of film,” Shinskie said. “We worked hard in practice and I just have to do the same thing. Just get on the plane and have the same mentality that we do coming into a home game. Even though it is tougher on away trips, it’s still something I have to do.”
Easier said than done. Especially when the Eagles next trip is to a little place called Notre Dame.