On Saturday, Boston College will make their first trip to Wallace Wade Stadium to face the Blue Devils. With both teams riding two game winning streaks, Blue Devil Nation and Boston College Interruption exchanged questions to get reacquainted. Our answers can be found at the BC Interruption blog.
BDN: Many predicted Boston College to finish near the top of a seemingly wide-open Atlantic division this season. What were your expectations heading into this season for Frank Spaziani’s 2nd year, and how would you evaluate the season thus far? What went wrong during the 5 game losing streak, and what has been the difference the last two weeks?
BCI: Many predicted BC to finish near the top of the Atlantic Division this year, true. And because we are homers, we figured BC would actually win the Atlantic Division heading into the season. Things seemed to line up perfectly for the Eagles. We got back our All-American ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich, who missed the entire 2009 season battling Ewing’s Sarcoma. We had four home games to start the season, and an extra week to prepare for our Coastal Division rivals Virginia Tech. From the Coastal Division, BC drew both Duke and Virginia. The pieces seemed to be in place to have a run at the Division title with a record of 9-3 or 10-2.
This season has been a big disappointment. While BC can still eke out 3 more wins to finish the season 7-5, I don’t think anyone really expected us to have that record when the season began. Certainly we didn’t expect to go through a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season as recent history has certainly been kind to the Eagles.
The difference the last two weeks was a combination of things. One is the schedule lightened up a bit. The other is that BC finally settled on a quarterback after giving Dave Shinskie the keys to the offense for the first three games of the season.
BDN: After helping Boston College to 8 wins in his first year, Dave Shinskie has been replaced by freshman Chase Rettig. Can you elaborate on the quarterback situation and give us a brief scouting report on Rettig’s college career so far?
BCI: The short of it is that the BC coaching staff thought Dave Shinskie would at least be serviceable this year and that they could save Chase Rettig, arguably the future of the program, for another year by redshirting him. Through the first three games of the season, it became very clear the neither Shinskie nor Mike Marscovetra was the long-term answer for BC.
BC started Chase Rettig after the 19-0 loss to Virginia Tech, against Notre Dame on Saturday night in primetime. Basically, the coaching staff through Rettig to the fire on a week where we had a non-conference game before we entered into a stretch of five ACC Atlantic Division games that would quickly decide whether the Eagles would compete again for an Atlantic Division title. We liked what we saw from Rettig in the Notre Dame game. That is, the few snaps he took before leaving that game with an ankle injury.
Rettig didn’t play the following week at N.C. State, but did get his next start at Florida State. Rettig has played well and is slowly progressing as the week’s go by. It also helps that the competition has lessened as the Eagles have progressed through the season.
As Rettig gets more and more in-game experience, he’ll continue to develop with the offensive line and our very young, inexperienced receiving corps. He’s shown some progress and glimpses of brilliance at QB, but other times he’s certainly played like a kid who was playing high school ball last fall.
BDN: Montel Harris is obviously having an All-ACC caliber year, leading the conference in rushing yards. His workload has seemingly increased as the season has progressed, with over 30 carries in each of his last two games. How much of the offensive load is he carrying and how can anyone slow him down?
BCI: Montel Harris is indeed carrying a bulk of the offensive load. I think the combination of very tall offensive linemen and a small, shifty running back has been very successful for BC. By the time opposing linebackers spot Montel, he’s usually already broken through the defensive line, allowing him to gain 4-5 yards a run. Harris has good football instincts and can find the gaps in the line, though BC has been less effective spreading the field and running around the corner and much more effective running north-south.
Early in the season, the Boston College offensive line struggled to establish the run (or the pass, for that matter). They’ve just started to put things together. When the O-line is on their A-game, it becomes very difficult to stop Montel. The only hope opposing defenses have is to stack the box, try to take away the run and ask Rettig to beat you through the air.
BDN: Boston College is seemingly always among the defensive leaders in the ACC and the country. With talented and physical players like Albright, Kuechly, and Herzlich, how much of the success to you attribute to personnel and how much is scheme? How would you characterize the general defensive philosophy these Boston College teams seem to embrace?
BCI: There are two things that I think has made the BC defense so successful over the years. One thing is consistency. Spaziani is a great defensive mind and has been on the Heights for 13 seasons now. While he’s now HC, he still very much has his hands on the defensive side of the ball, and our new defensive coordinator Billy McGovern has been afforded the opportunity to work with Spaz for many seasons now.
Spaz has been able to build up one of the best defenses in the country over the past decade and I think that brand equity has been huge on the recruiting trail. There are clearly some inherent disadvantages to college football recruiting at a school like BC or Duke, and I think the fact that Spaz has established BC as a very strong defensive team has been huge for the program in recruiting.
The other thing I would point to is BC’s recruiting pipelines. Like I said, a BC or a Duke isn’t going to recruit the best athletes on the defensive side of the ball, but BC has been able to establish some very nice pipelines that continue to bring in very good defensive players. The Cincinnati / Ohio pipeline is one that Tom O’Brien worked to establish in the early 2000s that is still paying off to this day. (That’s where BC found tackling machine and sophomore LB Luke Kuechly). I think BC’s annual game against a MAC opponent and the ties to Catholic high schools in the area have helped develop this pipeline, too.
As for whether or not the success is a result of personnel or scheme, I think it’s a bit of both. Spaz and the Eagles D employs a ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ mentality. They give up the short-yardage plays but rarely give up the HR play. Eventually, the offense is going to get tripped up on third downs and be forced to punt. It’s been successful for over a decade now, and has been the most successful against the run. The Eagles defenses continue to rank in the Top 25 (and Top 10 this year and the past few years) in rushing defense.
BDN: Duke and Boston College last met in 2006, which is the only time the teams have played since the 1920s, so these teams do not know each other well. What do you expect to see on Saturday from Duke and Boston College?
BCI: I pretty much expect a repeat of last Saturday’s BC performance. Establish the run and control the tempo of the game on offense with a heavy dose of Montel Harris. I don’t think OC Gary Tranquill will ask Chase Rettig to do too, too much, daring the Duke front seven to stop the run first.
I think BC will get a couple of touchdowns on the ground with Montel and will probably score some points on defense too (BC is tied with Florida for a nation-best 17 interceptions on the season). I think Duke will put up more points than Wake Forest did, but I don’t think it will come anywhere close to the point total you guys have put up against the bottom tier of the ACC (read: Wake Forest and Virginia). If pressed for a final score, I’ll say BC wins 31-20.