Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl preview: BC vs. Nevada
|01.07.11 at 8:29 am ET|
Just like college students face their hardest tests at the end of the semester, Boston College’s top-ranked run defense will face its toughest challenge at the end of the season when the Eagles take on No. 13 Nevada Sunday night in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park in San Francisco (9 p.m. ET; ESPN, WEEI).
The Wolf Pack (12-1) of the Western Athletic Conference rank third in the country in both total offense (535.5 yards per game) and rushing offense (305.9). Senior quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a dual threat who will be capping off a record-setting career, leads the attack.
This season, Kaepernick has passed for 2,830 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 1,184 yards and another 20 touchdowns, making him one of just two members of this year’s 20-20 club (the other is Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton).
Kaepernick also became the first player in Bowl Subdivision history with 9,000 career passing yards and 4,000 career rushing yards, as well as the first player to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.
“He is the leader of our team; there is no question about it,” coach Chris Ault told The Associated Press. “He makes plays. That’s what his legs do for us. He has done that throughout his career here. He is a pretty special guy.”
Kaepernick directs coach Ault’s often-imitated pistol offense, which features the quarterback lined up three or four yards behind the center (rather than the normal seven for a shotgun offense) with the running back directly behind him (rather than next to him like in the shotgun).
Whether Kaepernick keeps the ball or hands it off to tailback Vai Taua, BC will have its hands full. Taua ranks sixth in the country with 1,534 rushing yards and is tied for first with 22 total touchdowns, a mark matched only by Oregon’s LaMichael James.
But just like the Wolf Pack’s ground game will be the biggest test for the Eagles’ run defense, the Eagles’ run defense will be the biggest test for Kaepernick and Taua. Led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich, BC (7-5) has held opponents to a meager 80.2 yards per game on the ground.
Kuechly, a sophomore, leads the country with 171 tackles and 102 solo stops and became BC’s 11th consensus All-American. He was also the runner-up for the Butkus Award (top linebacker) and a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player).
Herzlich, meanwhile, made an inspirational return to the field after missing all of last season battling Ewing’s sarcoma. The 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year finished the season with 60 tackles and four interceptions.
“Mark’s story is truly amazing,” BC coach Frank Spaziani told the school’s website. “To fight cancer and win, then to come back and play the way he has is one of the most remarkable accomplishments I’ve ever witnessed.”
Although the matchup between Nevada’s offense and BC’s defense is the most interesting on paper, the battle when the Eagles have the ball will obviously be crucial as well. The Wolf Pack rank 23rd against the run (124.6 ypg allowed), but just 108th against the pass (252.7 ypg allowed).
That could be good news for a BC aerial attack that has struggled all season. The Eagles average just 175.3 yards per game through the air, putting them 94th nationally. Freshman Chase Rettig took over the starting quarterback job midway through the season and has not exactly been spectacular. He has completed 53.4 percent of his passes while throwing for six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
BC’s team running game has not been a whole lot better — it ranks 88th with 133.3 yards per game — but junior Montel Harris has had a great individual season. He ranks 12th nationally with 113.9 yards per game and was named to the All-ACC first team. Harris missed the Eagles’ regular-season finale (a 16-7 win at Syracuse) with a knee injury and is listed as questionable for Sunday, but he hopes to be able to play, according to an Associated Press story.
If he cannot go, freshman Andre Williams will be the go-to back. He has already proven he is perfectly capable of stepping in, as he ran for 185 yards and a touchdown against Syracuse on a school-record 42 carries.
The Eagles’ win over Syracuse marked their fifth straight victory to close out the regular season, an impressive feat considering they had lost five straight prior to embarking on the win streak.
The Wolf Pack are on a run of their own. They won six straight to close out the regular season, including a 34-31 overtime triumph against then-No. 4 Boise State. If not for a 27-21 loss at Hawaii on Oct. 16, Nevada would be playing in a BCS bowl.
Sunday marks the first-ever meeting between BC and Nevada. It also marks the Eagles’ third trip to San Francisco for a bowl game in the last eight years. They beat Colorado State 35-21 in 2003 and lost to USC 24-13 last year.
Much like last year, the game will feel like something of a home game for BC’s opponent. Nevada, which is located a little more than 200 miles away in Reno, sold more than 15,000 tickets for the game (the most in the game’s nine-year history), while BC sold just 6,000, according to The Boston Globe.
This marks BC’s 12th straight bowl appearance, the seventh-longest such streak in the country. It has lost its last two bowl games after winning eight straight from 2000 to 2007. …
Nevada is making its sixth consecutive bowl appearance. It has lost its last four, including a 45-10 beatdown at the hands of Southern Methodist in last year’s Hawaii Bowl. …
BC is 3-0 all-time against teams currently in the WAC, picking up wins against Boise State, Hawaii and Idaho. …
BC senior offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, an All-ACC first-teamer, will break a school record by starting in his 54th consecutive game. He has started every game for the last four years. …
Spaziani recently signed a two-year extension through the 2015 season. …
BC’s 43-day layoff since its last game marks the longest in-season break in program history, and the longest of any team this season.