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Five Things We Learned: Eagles Ship Has Sailed

11.21.09 at 8:16 pm ET
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CHESTNUT HILL — Every time Boston College has come up against a top-tier defense this season its offense has withered away leading resulting in a painful demise. That was the case today at Alumni Stadium where the Eagles got thumped by North Carolina 31-13 as they committed six turnovers en route to their first home loss of the year.

The BC loss hands the ACC Atlantic division crown to Clemson, who needed either a win at Virginia or and Eagles loss to claim its birth to the ACC Championship game in Tampa on December 5th.

For all intents and purposes, this game was over with 5:14 left in the first quarter. The Tar Heels initial drive of the game resulted in a a 1-yard touchdown run by tailback Ryan Houston to give UNC a 7-0 lead a with 7:33 remaining in the first quarter.

By the time the 5:14 mark came, the Eagles were down 21-0 with freshman quarterback David Shinskie left scratching his head wondering how everything fell apart so fast.

It started three plays into the ensuing BC drive. Shinskie was sacked by senior defensive lineman E.J. Wilson and lost the ball, which was picked up by Cam Thomas for an easy walk into the end zone. Before BC could even breath again Shinskie sailed a pass to the outside that was picked off by cornerback Kendric Burney who coasted to a touchdown.

Five offensive plays, two turnovers, two touchdowns. Game. Set. Match.

“You can’t come out and spot a team like that 21 points,” senior middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin said. “It starts on the defense. We game them an [11]-play drive to come out of the gates and you can’t do that.”

BC head coach Frank Spaziani likes to use the term “Master of the Obvious” when talking to the media. Well, the primary thing we learned this afternoon on The Heights falls into the realm of the obvious — do not turn the ball over and if you turn the ball over do not let them take it into the end zone.

“We have great kids who fought,” Spaziani said. “It was 21-0. It got ugly really fast. They played hard and we scrapped out way into it.”

Shinskie was all over the place with his throws, going 12-28 for 101 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions. He threw high, he threw low, he sailed balls over the middle and missed his screens. He completed as many passes in the second half (two) as he had interceptions.

After the horrendous first 10 minutes though, BC more than held its own until midway through the fourth quarter. That was because North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates was just as erratic with the ball as Shinskie and there was not much happening with the ground game. The Eagles were able to turn those turnovers into points, just not in the efficient manner that North Carolina did. On Tar Heel turnovers BC scored all 13 of its points, two field goals by Steve Aponavicius and a 2-yard touchdown pass from Shinskie to senior c0-captain Rich Gunnell.

“When we went into the half, I was excited to come back and get the ball,” Shinskie said. “I came out flat myself and couldn’t get anything behind the ball. I’m not sure if I injured my thumb or it I was just throwing off my back foot.”

So, the name of the game was turnovers. The 10 combined turnovers from both teams were the most in a BC game since December 28th, 2007 against Michigan State in the Champ Sports Bowl. The fact that UNC turned those turnovers into touchdowns and BC settled for field goals reflects the difference in the final score.

“We put ourselves in a lot of holes and we couldn’t come out of them,” Spaziani said. “Their turnovers resulted in touchdowns and our turnovers were field goals. We had an uphill battle against a good football team.”

Here are the four other things we learned today on The Heights . . . .

Left Side Of The Offensive Line Overwhelmed Early

Tar Heel sophomore Robert Quinn is a bit of a beast on the defensive line. For the year he has 11 sacks, five short of the all-time Carolina season high of 16 by Lawrence Taylor. On the second play from scrimmage Quinn busted through the left side of the BC offensive line and sacked Shinskie, causing a forced fumble that the Eagles recovered. Along with Quinn on the left side was Marvin Austin, who also sacked Shinskie and teamed up middle linebacker Kevin Reddick for another tackle for loss. Between Quinn and Austin the two they had the two sacks, six tackles for 22 lost yards.

To dump all the blame on Shinskie would not be doing justice to some of the other holes that the Eagles dug for themselves early. The offensive line was just not ready for the speed on the left side of the Tar Heel defense and it showed early. The unit would eventually calm down and play a decent game in the rush blocking category, but the damage on the scoreboard had already been done.

“I think they were probably the best defensive line we have played all year,” senior center Matt Tennant said. “I think early on we were trying to be really aggressive with them and they kind of slipped by us. We kind of wanted to establish tempo early but after Dave got hit a couple of times we pulled back and let them come to us and that helped us for the rest of the game.”

UNC totaled eight tackles for loss for 48 yards on the day, most of which were hits on Shinskie out of the pocket (he had negative 44 yards rushing on the day). So, when it comes to the passing game, it is hard to move forward when you are constantly moving backward.

Ride The Horse, Or Don’t, At Your Peril

For the second week in a row The Horse, Montel Harris, was quietly efficient. Listed generously at 5″10′, the running back is really opening eyes on Chestnut Hill. He ran the ball 23 times for 132 net yards for an average of 5.7 yards per rush (he also caught two passes for nine yards). When he has the ball in his hands he hits the smallest holes and explodes into tacklers and drags piles down the field.

The offensive line took advantage of the Tar Hell aggressiveness on the line of scrimmage for Harris as it pushed Quinn and Wilson to the sides which let Harris find the seems in the guards for solid gains. Harris also worked out of the shotgun with Shinskie as the line stunted one way while Harris takes draw the other way across the grain.

Yet, for the second week in a row, BC got away from the run game for a significant stretch in the second half as it tried to have Shinskie pass his way out of troubles. Again, for the second week in a row, this led to big trouble. Shinskie’s fourth interception (the third by free safety Deunta Williams) was returned to the 1-yard line. Earlier this week Spaziani said that going away from the run was not a tactic used to save Harris’s bullets, but rather a scheme-oriented plan from offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill to move the ball through the air. Today Harris agreed with that assessment.

“I think it is more of a scheme thing,” Harris said. “If you keep running the ball then the defense is going to load up on the box. I think coach Tranquill was trying to throw them off by pass the ball around. Usually its effective but we couldn’t connect on the passes. Hats off to their defensive line, they were getting some good rushes. It’s tough to throw the ball when someone is in your face all the time.”

It is a sound principle, in theory — let them think you are going to mash it down their throats then hit 20 yard routes down the middle. That is essentially what happened in the Notre Dame game when Shinskie and Gunnell hooked up for big yards. It just has not been working lately because Virginia and North Carolina have some very good secondaries which seem to have spooked Shinskie.

On the day Harris became the 16th running back in BC history to rush for 2,000 yards in a career. His 1,213 yards on the year are the seventh best on the all-time list for single season. The concern comes from the lack of depth behind him. Harris’s 244 carries are the seventh most in a season by an Eagle running back and he will likely move up that list next week against Maryland.

Great Team Defensive Performance Wasted

The Eagles defense was put in a hole by the offense that was just not fair to them. After the initial North Carolina touchdown drive, the unit buckled down and traded big hits and turnovers with the vaunted Tar Heels defense all afternoon. It caused four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble recovery), stymied Yates and Houston and gang tackled very well.

“It’s very frustrating, that’s pretty obvious,” senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman said. “We all definitely believed we could win it. We were playing like it for the most part. We were playing to win, not just stay in the and be competitive. That wasn’t the outcome and I’m proud of our effort, but it wasn’t enough.”

Bowman, who recorded a career-high 10 tackles, has been an emerging leader all year and led BC in the big hits department, as he usually does. He also did his part in the turnover war by picking off Yates. Yet, it was all for naught.

“We did a really good job, actually, a great job, preparing for Yates,” Bowman said. “But, once again, it wasn’t enough.”

One of the game highlights was a sequence of plays in the third quarter that seemed like it could change momentum back to the Eagles side. North Carolina was driving in BC territory and had just completed a pass to the sideline when cornerback Roderick Rollins came through with a late-hit personal foul that that let the Tar Heels into the red zone. Then, two plays later, Rollins atoned for his sin by intercepting Yates in the end zone for a touchback that gave the BC offense a clean series to drive the field for a game-tying touchdown (with a 2-point conversion) if it could just get the ball moving.

There were two firsts for BC players. Cornerback DeLeon Gause recovered the first fumble of his career and defensive lineman Austin Giles intercepted his first pass. Normally, given their positions, that would be reversed, but being the odd game that it was that is just what happened. The Giles interception was a good looking play where he followed Yates out of the pocket, stayed with him until the sideline and reached up and grabbed the ball when Yates tried to throw.

“Kuech The Freak”

The weekly BC press packet has a section entitled “Kuech The Freak.” That, of course, refers to true freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Clark Kent doppelganger seemed to be just about everywhere today. Everywhere to the tune of 19 tackles.

Yes.

19 tackles.

That count contains eight solo tackles and 11 assisted tackles including 2.5 for loss. Has anyone ever heard of a 19 tackle game? It is like old Celtics point guard Sherman Douglas dishing out 22 assists or former Patriots middle linebacker Ted Johnson racking up tackles by the fistful — you are surprised at the eye-popping number though not all that surprised by the source.

Kuechly numbers have become comic to the point that you have to wonder if the stat guys at Alumni Stadium are just crediting the freshman with tackles on plays that he was even remotely close to. At the same time, Kuechly is rife with talent and instincts. Give him another year in defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s system and perhaps a little bit more weight on his frame (he was knocked flat on his back by Tar Heel tight end Zack Pianalto at one point but still made the tackle) and he has a chance to be one of the greatest linebackers in the program’s history.

Read More: Boston College, dave shinskie, luke kuechly, Marcellus Bowman
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