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Five Things We Learned: Eagles Ugly But Effective

11.14.09 at 6:15 pm ET
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It was not pretty. The Eagles played a game filled with mistakes, penalties and turnovers but in the end they got what they needed.

A win.

The Boston College football team claimed victory  on the road for the first time this season and kept its ACC Championship game hopes alive by gutting out a 14-10 win against the University of Virginia, Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.

For the Eagles, it was live or die with freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie. In the end it was the denizens of Chestnut Hill who were able to stay above water despite their quarterback’s erratic play that involved a plethora of missed passes early in the second half and two interceptions, one a “pick-six” that led to Virginia’s only score of the game.

Shinskie will remember this game. Foremost, of course, because it was the first time in his collegiate career that he was able to lead his team to a victory away from Alumni Stadium, but also for the fact that he played poorly for significant stretches of the game yet was still the deciding factor in the final score.

After a shaky start in the first quarter, Shinskie was able to get the offense rolling a little bit in the second by stretching the Cavalier secondary and forcing them into mistakes. On a 3rd-and-6 Shinskie was able to hit senior co-captain Rich Gunnell for a 35-yard gain to keep the chains moving. Then he went for the deep to the end zone for Colin Larmond, Jr. who was able to draw a pass-interference call on Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield to put the ball on the 5-yard line. A false start set BC back to the 10, but on the next play Shinskie was able to step up into a throw and hit senior Justin Jarvis at the goal line for the first score of the game.

It would not get much better than that for the rest of the game.

In the third quarter the BC coaching staff must have thought it could beat the Virginia secondary, the strength of the team, down field and let Shinskie loose to carve it up.

Well, in theory anyway.

Shinskie threw seven passes, completed one and then was intercepted by senior cornerback Chris Cook who took the ball back 58 yards for the touchdown.

The Eagles got back to basics again in the fourth, giving Montel Harris the ball and letting Shinskie make throws only when needed. Almost immediately, that was the case. The offensive line committed two penalties in a row –a block in the back by Rich Lapham and a false start Emmett Cleary – that set BC at a first-and-25 near midfield. Shinskie went to work, hit tight end Chris Pantale for 10 yards then Larmond for 13 yards. Harris then took two plays for the final two yards and the drive continued until BC faced another fourth-and-1 . . . this time from the 1-yard line. The offensive line pushed and Shinskie squeezed through for the game-winning score.

Shinskie’s numbers on the afternoon were not great — 12 for 26 for 147 yards with the touchdown and two interceptions. Yet, he picked his team up and led them to the victory. What we really learned today is that the Eagles are good enough to claim a victory, no matter how narrow and error-prone that it was, against a weak ACC opponent on the road despite their quarterback. Yet, in the end, it was him that led  the way after all.

Here are four other things we learned from Boston College’s first road win of the season  . . . .

Defense Made The Plays

The Virginia did not break the goal line the entire game (its lone touchdown was courtesy of Shinskie) with its only score via a 38-yard Robert Randolph field goal in the third quarter.

Now, there are two reasons for this: Foremost, the Cavaliers just do not have many play-makers on the offensive side of the ball. Their quarterback, Jameel Sewell, is mediocre at best, a poor man’s Tyrod Taylor. Their best mover, Vic Hall, pretty much plays out of position on every snap (he is listed at wide-receiver, quarterback and gets some time at tailback) and their primary running back, Rashawn Jackson, is a lumbering full back with big play potential but better suited for short yardage.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for the Eagles, is that they continued their general theme of the season on the defensive side — do not break. Especially at the end.

BC gave the ball back to Virginia with 2:22 left in the game, basically banking on the defense to hold up against the Cavalier offense. For head coach Frank Spaziani this was a logical gambit. It became a little hairier than he probably wanted as Sewell and company moved down the field at a pretty good rate, setting up a fourth-and-long with :26 seconds left with Virginia needing to gain the 12-yard line for the first down. Sewell dropped back but went straight for the quarterback draw and the first down marker. He was gang tackled near the first down line but a measurement and subsequent replay showed that he was two chain links shy of the first.

This has been a theme for the Eagles this year. Goal line stands and holding opponents out of the end zone at the end of the game. More than anything else it has been this ability by the BC that has led to its surprising 7-3 record. A slip here or a break there and the Eagles could easily be 4-6.

But that is not the case.

O-Line Holds Up Well For Harris

The offensive line drove the offense for BC all day. Early in the game it was able to give Shinskie plenty of time to look downfield and connect (when he could) for first downs. On run block it tore the Cavalier defensive line to shreds making way for a big day by Montel Harris (38 carries for 158 yards).

The Horse earned his nickname today. Perhaps one of the reasons that the Eagles went to a pass first offense in the third quarter was to spell Harris, who was in the vicinity of 25 carries at the time. Shinskie could not hold it up so BC went back to the ground in the fourth with Harris picking up the bulk of the yards in the final drive that was capped off by Shinskie’s touchdown sneak from the 1.

Harris went over the 1,000 yard mark on the day to end with 1,058 for the season. His 38 carries were a career high, topping his previous high of 27, which he has done twice with the last time in the previous game against Central Michigan. It looks like the diminutive running back is holding up but depth at the position could become a concern if Harris is to go down with injury.

Gunnell Reaching For Records

With only three receptions today its look like senior co-captain Gunnell’s quest for the all-time receptions mark at BC will fall short. He started the game with 161 career catches, 29 behind Pete Mitchell’s (1991-94) 190. Gunnell did move into a tie for second place with former standout tight end Mark Chmura (1987-91) with 164.

Gunnell’s quest for the all-time receiving yards mark was did not take a significant blow on the afternoon. His 75 yards moves him past Brian Brennan (1980-83) for third place on the career list with 2,207 yards. He is now a very attainable 161 yards short of the yardage mark. One decent game from the senior will give him the record.

Penalties Hurt And Help

BC entered the game as the second least penalized team (behind NC State) in the ACC, averaging five penalties for 39.8 yards per game. Yet, the Eagles continually tried to shoot themselves in the foot with more than double their season average with 10 penalties for 85 yards. Shinskie and the offense were called for two delay-of-game penalties and the offensive line was called for two false starts as well as an illegal man down field and block in the back.

As bad as it was for BC, Virginia hurt themselves equally on the penalty front. On both touchdown drives the Eagles were helped by pass interference calls in the end zone that brought the ball within the 10-yard line. The Cavaliers were flagged 8 times for 97 yards on the day.

Read More: Boston College, dave shinskie, montel harris, Rich Gunell
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