Two games into the season; one thing is clear. Boston College's unique brand of “bend but don't break” defense could potentially cinch the ACC. The Eagles return eight players to a unit that ranked 14th in the country in rushing defense and 19th in scoring defense.
In their first two games, the Eagles defense had four interceptions while allowing only 108 yards rushing. Combined, they have forced five fumbles while recovering four. Senior leaders like DeLeon Gause and Alex Albright and a linebacking core that includes possible first round pick Mark Herzlich and the ACC's reigning tackle leader Luke Kuechly, bring a treasure trove of play makers to this Eagles D. My question? What about the offense?
The Eagles looked feeble during a six point first half against a Kent State team that went only 5-7 last season. In fact, starting QB Dave Shinskie was pulled during the second quarter to give way to fellow sophomore Mike Marscovetra.
Alas, M&M's effort proved even more futile as he completed only one of three passes for four yards and an interception. The resulting quarterback rating was a negative number! Quite frankly, I was unaware that was possible.
Chase Rettig, a high school All-American, is currently hidden on the depth chart as the third string quarterback. As much as I would love to see what this talented freshman is capable of, it seems unlikely that coach Spaziani will give him any reps. If there was any opportunity to let Rettig play, it was during two cupcake games at home.
Unless something dramatic happens, expect Rettig to redshirt before challenging the incumbent starter next preseason. The 6'3 quarterback from California was ranked as the nation's tenth best QB by ESPN, choosing BC over perennial powerhouses USC and Tennessee. Rettig is considered the future of this ball club -- I just wish the future started next Saturday.
Anybody who has read my previous articles has learned of my disdain for Dave Shinskie. Despite being 26-years old, the man known to teammates as "Uncle Dave," shows little maturity on the field. Blessed with a strong right arm, Shinskie often tries to force balls into double coverage rather than scanning the defense.
Teammates and coaches have praised Shinskie's improvement from last season, and the statistics justify that. During last season's match-up against Kent State, Shinskie completed only 9 of 16 passes for 73 yards with a touchdown and an interception. This year against the same opponent, those numbers skyrocketed. His 214 yard performance came on 18 of 27 passing with two TD's and no picks.
The biggest difference? Justin Tuggle was the starter for the Kent State game, with Shinskie coming in as part of a timeshare. So how did Tuggle fair against that Golden Flashes defense? With 150 yards on 6 of 12 passing, I'd say much better.
Kent State is an undersized team that stacks the line against the run. Montel Harris and his 2.8 yards per carry can testify to that. So with a less athletic team stacking the box and inviting the pass, Shinskie still needed stellar performances by his receivers (re: his touchdown pass to Clyde Lee) to put up 200 yards on a weak MAC team. Color me unimpressed.
If Boston College wants to win the ACC, they will need improved quarterback play whether it be from old man river or not. The one offensive weapon they do have is Montel Harris, however if early games are any indication, teams will game plan around the crafty 5'10 back.
After a 1457 yard sophomore season, many were anticipating astronomical numbers. With only 195 yards in his first two games, some of those expectations have been tempered, but Harris is still the key to BC's success. If Harris can eat up yards and kill the clock against the ACC's elite teams (and after last Saturday I don't think that's a long list), BC might just have a shot as winning their division.
The Eagles are lucky enough to avoid playing Miami and Georgia Tech, but in order to knock off the likes of Florida State and Virginia Tech (still a talented team), they will need a big showing out of Harris.
As Montel Harris goes, so go the Eagles. Last season against Virgina Tech, MH2 managed only 43 yards as the Eagles fell behind early and were decimated by a score of 48-14.
If the Eagles are to claim victory, they'll need to avoid playing from behind. In a win over the (crimi)'Noles last season, Harris burst onto the national scene with 25 carries for 179 yards and two scores. That success allowed BC to use Shinskie far more sporadically and effectively.
With a Seminole defense swarming the line of scrimmage, Uncle Dave completed 12 of 21 passes while accumulating 203 yards and two scores. Unfortunately, of those twelve completions, ten came to the duo of Colin Larmond and Rich Gunnell. Here's hoping he can find that type of relationship with his new receivers.
Rich Lapham. Thomas Claiborne. Emmett Cleary. Anthony Castonzo.
These four returning lineman anchor the Boston College offense and are the foundation to the team's success. With the help of new starting center Nathan Richman, they will be needed more than ever if BC hopes to take down the ACC Atlantic.
Whether it be giving Shinskie that extra second to make a decision or creating an opening for Montel Harris to explode through, the O-line is integral to the team's success. That's what makes the Kent State game so baffling. Against a much smaller defensive line, these five behemoths struggled. Even potential first round pick Anthony Castonzo looked overwhelmed.
In 13 games last season, Dave Shinskie was sacked a mere 14 times. A previously unheard of running back exploded for almost 1500 yards. This is a massive offensive line that is on average a little over 6'6 and 305 pounds. They compare very favorably to many NFL lines, and should be able to steamroll their opposition. Their ability to control the line of scrimmage is crucial. If they are able to do their jobs, everything can start falling into place. The running game will thrive. Receivers will have more time to get open. Opposing schools will be forced to send pressure from other places and the Eagles coaching staff will be able to exploit the openings created.
Despite being over a week away, the Virginia Tech game will be a terrific barometer for this offensive line. Even with an unexplainable loss to James Madison, Tech is scary as they start a large and athletic front four. If the Eagles line can contain them, they can contain almost anybody in the ACC.
Game in, game out, the Eagles strategy will involve smash-mouth football. Pound the ground game while judiciously attacking through the air.
This will be run-heavy team, but that hardly reduces the burden on this young Eagles receiving core. If you disregard Billy Flutie and Ifeyami Momah, the Eagles are led by two freshmen and a sophomore. With that level of inexperience, opposing teams will try to exploit that mismatch by taking away the running game and forcing the Eagles receivers to make plays.
Johnathan Coleman may have only been playing organized football for four years, but already looks like he may be ready for prime time. At 6'4 205, Coleman makes for an ideal target. In only two games, he has shown a terrific ability to avoid the jam at the line of scrimmage and utilize his size after. His 43 yard catch and run against Weber State displayed good burst and shifty moves. As it happens, Coleman leads the team in both receptions and yardage with seven catches for a buck fifty.
Alongside Momah, Coleman provides the Eagles with two towering big play receivers. If Clyde Lee can contribute as a possession receiver and freshman Bobby Swigert can adequately work the slot, this Eagles receiving core could be a lot better than previously anticipated. And if stud freshman Shakim Phillips stays healthy and avoids a redshirt? Well, that would just be gravy.
Last season the Eagles called almost five hundred rushing plays. After losing their top two receivers from a year ago, it's apparent that Boston College will have to rely even heavier on their ground game -- if that's even possible. This is a team who allowed a minuscule 19.8 points per game last season, but scored an exiguous 24.8 points per game (good for 78th out of 120 FBS schools).
Once again, the defense will carry the team. Nevertheless, the offense must produce. Many times last season, the Eagles turned the ball over in their own territory only to be bailed out by the D. Shinskie has to cut down on the fourteen interceptions he threw last year as BC will need to take a cautious offensive approach. It's a sad day when instead of telling an offense to win you the game, you ask them not to lose it.
This is an Eagles’ team that will have to be patient and grind it out. A team that will struggle to play from behind. A team that lacks an explosive offensive weapon. Nonetheless, this is also a team that can win the ACC. Even if it's not always pretty.