Monday, December 27, 2004

Pregame scouting report Part 4

North Carolina


I know little about North Carolina. I watched about a quarter of their game against Utah and the final quarter of the Miami game. Neither is probably a good indicator of how good or bad the team is.


As I showed in an earlier post, UNC has a poor point differential for a team with a winning record. However, they took on some of the best offenses in the country which hurt their defensive numbers. Regardless, I think we can score on them.


What scares me is that they remind me of Syracuse and it looks like they can run the ball.


Not much of a scouting report on the Tar Heels, but like I said, I didn’t see much of them.


Pregame prediction: BC 27, UNC 13

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Pregame scouting report Part 3

Special Teams


Last season’s low point – special teams – was much improved this season. By having a consistent long snapper back, the kicking game was much better. And avoiding Miami and Va Tech helped improve our kick coverage stats.


At the same time, a winnable game (Wake) was lost due to three missed field goals. Coming into the season, it was predictable that Ohlinger – a true freshman -- would have problems. But he seemed to let those mistakes go and was pretty solid the rest of the way.


Our return game was great this year. I think it is/was the result of putting more playermakers on the squad. Will Blackmon and Tribble both returned kicks this year. Blackmon also saved our bacon against Ball State with great returns. Heck, even Toal had a nice little run against West Virginia.


We blocked two punts this season and both proved meaningless…and telling. Against Pitt, a blocked punt resulted in a Pitt first down when our guys didn’t know the rule on advancing it (you’ve got to question the coaching on something like that); and against ‘Cuse we blocked a punt before half and turned it into a touchdown. We were down by 14 and I hoped it was a sign of life. It wasn’t. Overall heading into UNC, I expect the specials teams to work to our favor but not decide the game.


Friday, December 24, 2004

Pregame scouting report Part 2


Defense


Boston College runs a fairly straight forward 4-3 defense. We play a lot of zone and call on the defensive line to create most of the pass rush. Under Defensive Coordinator Frank Spaziani BC rarely blitzed this season. For the most part this formula was successful…until Syracuse. Now heading into the North Carolina game, who knows what to expect?


As mentioned the defensive line is the strength of the unit. Mathais Kiwanuka came into the season as one of the leading pass rushers in the Big East. The double
teams he drew this season slowed his stats but freed up his linemates for big seasons. Bulman and Mettling both had strong showings this year.


The linebacking core has traditionally been a weak point under TOB. This season was different. Junior Ray Henderson is a good coverage LB and does a good job
spying the opposition QB. Freshman standout Brian Toal showed an immediate impact and led the team in tackles.


The defensive backs, as usual, were a little small and slow, but played well as a unit. Will Blackmon has the most raw talent, but was pulled from his starting spot after freelancing and allowing too many big plays.


The defense did not give up a lot of points throughout the season. And played well against a variety of schemes (spread, traditional, etc.). But they were susceptible to giving up the big play – with the Wake game being the perfect example.


Before Syracuse I would have said that BC had one of the top defenses in the country. Even after 'Cuse I still feel that way. The test is can they adjust. Syracuse ran a lot of sweeps and tosses -- avoiding the line and calling on the linebackers and dbs to make plays against their tailbacks. They ran away from our strength -- the big front four to our weakness -- the tackling of our linebackers and defensive backs. The plan worked. And most frustrating of all, we could not adjust. If North Carolina comes out heavy against the run, our linebackers and dbs will have to step up.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Pregame scouting report Part 1


Offense


Offensive Coordinator, Dana Bible has been the whipping boy for many BC fans the past few years. I am a contrarian and think this has probably been his best season. How much of this year’s imagination should be attributed to Paul Peterson is debatable, but regardless, I’ve felt the play calling has been much stronger this year.


Even before TOB took over, offensive line has been the strength of BC football. This year the squad came in as a question mark. While there were injuries (Trueblood) and a rotation of playing time due to inconsistency (Cherilus), the overall performance was strong. Peterson even said that the squad kept him protected and allowed him to make plays.


The usual beneficiary of BC O-line play is whoever is lined up at tailback. But this season we entered with an unproven backfield. Injuries allowed us to see significant carries from three backs – redshirt freshman L.V. Whitworth, redshirt freshman Andre Callendar and true freshman A.J. Brooks. All showed flashes of brilliance and plenty of impatience. BC’s schemes call on the running back to wait for holes, read and react to the defense and occasionally make a play. This season all three struggled within the offense and we shifted to a pass-first mentality. Going into the bowl game, Whitworth will probably get the majority of the carries. He showed strength and burst. Callendar is probably more graceful and elusive. I liked the way Brooks played but we will probably not see him next season as TOB and staff try to recoup his redshirt season. In the past, I would say we could run at will. This season we struggled and I honestly have no idea what to expect in Charlotte.


An overlooked aspect of our struggles with running the ball, was the play of our fullback and tight ends. Last season’s pairing -- Sean Ryan and Greg Toal -- were both very strong run blockers. This year I can’t tell you how many times plays seemed to get blown up when a linebacker clogged the holes by overwhelming our fullbacks, Palmer and Lee. Lee showed more ability as the season progressed and will probably start against UNC. There were also more than a few occasions when some end was able to fling out his arm and trip up a running back because he was not sealed off by our tight ends. Dave Kashetta has been the main culprit. He is a captain and made a few big catches this year, but for all the hype surrounding his arrival, I have to say he has been a disappointment at the Heights.


The passing game was another frustrating aspect of the offense. Peterson is a playmaker. He is good scrambling around, manages the game pretty well, is not afraid to make big throws and fights back after mistakes. Yet he is surrounded by mediocre wideouts. Grant Adams and Joel Hazard had big games in the Motor City Bowl two years ago. At the time, I thought this would be a sign of things to come. Yet the past two seasons have seen Adams drop a ton of catchable balls or Hazard get ignored. They both are reportedly good citizen. I wish they were better receivers. Larry Lester has good speed but lacks size and fumbled against Pitt in overtime. Reserves, like Gonzales and Challenger, showed ability this year, but had few balls thrown their way. My fear is that they were overlooked due to the staff’s extreme loyalty to seniority. We’ll see next year when Hazard and Adams are gone.


The other element of the passing game is our backs and tight ends. As mentioned earlier, Kashetta has been a let down. Miller showed some promise. Palmer caught a lot of balls early but was pulled due to his poor blocking. Lee stepped in and never missed a beat.


Now it is time for me to gush. Paul Peterson is my favorite BC player since Doug Flutie. I think he is gutsy, tough, smart and most of all, fun to watch. With many other BC QBs I felt they had tension in their play and body language. I rarely felt that we could comeback on their arms. With Peterson it is different. I truly believe we are in every game when he is under center. Plus he makes plays that other QBs have not. Not because he has a great arm. But because he can see things and anticipate where the play might breakdown to our favor. And he keeps things alive with his feet. He is far from perfect. He has made bad throws. And occasionally takes a bad sack, but overall, I love him. He’s a gamer. Some of it might be his background in a passing JUCO offense, some of it might be his maturity (he took a two year Mormon mission) and some of it might be the little guy always having to prove he belongs. But what ever ‘it’ is, he has it…in spades. I wish him the best after he graduates. By some miracle he might catch on with an NFL team. If not, I hope TOB does what he can to keep him around. I would love to see him as part of this coaching staff. Reports are that his hand is healing and that he could play tomorrow if needed. Because he will be under center, I feel good about our chances in the Tire Bowl. You’ll have to read the other parts of my scouting report for the final pregame prediction.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Point differential

As BC started tacking on wins midseason, “they’re only 6 points away from being undefeated” became a familiar refrain. But if we had pulled out narrow wins over Wake and Pitt, we still may have not been as good as our record would have looked if you examine point differential. In the Pros, point differential is meaningless because things are settled on the field and the inevitable parity that comes from having just 32 teams. But in college it is a great indicator of how good or bad a team is playing and if they are playing over their heads or are underachieving. If you look back at the past ten years you’ll find most National Championship teams have very strong (+200) point differentials.


Take a look at the some of the top teams and their point differential heading into the bowl games:
USC  (12-0) +292
Oklahoma  (12-0) +269
Auburn  (12-0) +266
Utah  (11-0) +283
Boise State  (11-0) +283
Louisville  (10-1) +358

Now take a look at teams with similar records to BC. (I selected two schools from BCS conferences that people would assume were stronger than Big East teams.)


Boston College  (8-3) +79
Pittsburgh  (8-3) +65
Texas A&M  (7-4) +45
Ohio State  (7-4) +80



So it looks like BC is inline with its pears. And if we play the “what if" game and add 8 points (4 each for a potential win at Wake and Pitt) and even add another 30 points (call it a shoot out win over ‘Cuse) BC still would have come up way short in point differential when compared to other undefeated teams.


And just to reinforce point differential as a college indicator, I randomly selected two bad BCS teams.


Mississippi St.  (3-8) -108
Washington  (1-10) -180



Oh, and for what it’s worth:

North Carolina  (6-5) -51

Woody Durham and Wes Durham

Driving home listening to Wes Durham on the Georgia Tech pregame show, I came up with one real regret about not traveling to the Tire Bowl -- I won't be able to listen to his father Woody call the BC-UNC game (in person, in the stadium, that is). Wes is great on 790 The Zone and I never miss his Thursday show with Tony Barnhardt. His father is a legend and the "voice of the Tar Heels." I suppose that if I get pissed at the ESPN 2 talking heads, I can turn down the volume on the TV and listen to the UNC radio stream over the internet. However, my wife would probably ask two questions: "what are you doing?" and "if you're going to do that why not listen to the BC stream?" Anyway I don't think either Durham would simple regurgitate the BC talking points.

Georgia Tech 51, Syracuse 14; TOB in print

Tech killed Syracuse last night. The game had me shaking my head in disgust again about our loss to 'Cuse.

Also, Mrs. ATL_eagle and I are going to be out of town for Christmas so instead of traveling with our presents, we did an early exchange. One of her gifts to me was Every Week a Season. It is a episodic behind the scenes look at nine programs, including BC. I read the TOB chapter right away. Interesting insight which I'll include in my TOB series. (For what it's worth, all the talking points were worked in.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Talking points part 3

Another talking point. The third in the series. Listen for it on Dec. 30 on ESPN 2.
  • Talking Point: “Tom O’Brien and staff have a disciplined team.”
  • Reality: It all depends on how you define discipline. If you mean doling out punishment for bad behavior, then yes, TOB does have a disciplined team. But if you define it by lack of penalties and fundamental football, then the discipline is sorely lacking.

    Being a Marine and gameday stoic, the TV announcers usually buy the disciplinarian line. And yes, TOB does graduate his players (future talking point) and will suspend or kick players (regardless of ability) off the team for indiscretions. However, when I think of discipline I broaden the definition to include mistake free football – an area that has been in the decline of late. While a holding call here or there is understood, the number of unsportsmanlikes, personal fouls and late hits is maddening. Heading into the Tire Bowl, BC is the 32nd most penalized team in DIA. Last season they were the 16th in most penalized team in DIA. If you look at the other teams near the top you’ll see there is no direct correlation between penalties and wins and losses. However, I think BC could have beaten Pitt and Wake with fewer mistakes. And if you include poor tackling and dropped passes as lack of discipline, then the Syracuse game was Exhibit 1 in the problem. (Readers can tell I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the Orange debacle.)

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Talking points part 2.

This is the second is the Talking Points series. As I said, this is my response to the things the announcers are sure to mention.
  • Talking Point: "Boston College has the longest bowl winning streak in the nation" or some variation there of "Boston College winner of four straight bowl games."
  • Reality: While we have won four straight, the reality is that these games were not the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange Bowls. Yes, it is an accomplishment to win a bowl game. But not the Herculean feat it is and will be portrayed to be. As any fan of college football knows there are too many bowl games. This has allowed BC to get into third and fourth tier games. Of the four victories, only the 2002 Music City Bowl provided a worthwhile opponent -- Georgia. As further proof of these overrated accomplishments, only once in those four years has BC finished in the final Top 25 rankings.


    There is something to be said for big game preparation. But I don't attribute BC's bowl success to TOB and staff firing up the troops and providing unbeatable gameplans. Sure that is part of it, but I also think the bowl wins have been a cases of underachieving BC teams finally playing to their potential against flawed mid-major teams ('02-'03 Toledo and '03-'04 CSU) or weak BCS teams ('00-01 ASU and '01-'02 UGA). This year's Tire Bowl is more of the same. BC lost its shot at a real bowl game by getting pounded at home against Syracuse (underachieving: check). Our poor travel record led to a Gator Bowl snub and a trip to the Tire Bowl (third tier bowl: check). Where we will face UNC (weak BCS squad: check). If formula holds BC should win. I'll give my prediction closer to kick off.

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Breaking down the talking points

The unfortunate thing about rooting for a team with a limited following is that every time you watch a game on national TV you usually know more about the team than the announcers. Sure, they have access that I don't have, but most read the Sports Information talking points and have pat interviews with the coaches. Like any profession, some announcers work harder than others and some are spread thin on other assignments (other games, local sports, etc.). I remember when I was at BC, former radio play-by-play man Sean Grande used to watch tapes of all the opponents games. While Gary Thorne (who I usually like) was really unprepared for the BC-WVU game this season. So for anyone watching the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 30 at 1 PM ET on ESPN 2, I will breakdown the predictable talking points in a series of posts as we lead up to the bowl game.

  • Talking point: "BC Head Coach Tom O'Brien rebuilt this program after it was 'rocked' by a gambling scandal."
  • Reality: The gambling scandal was bad. A major black eye and the second one to hit the school (the hoops squad was involved in a point shaving scheme in the early '80s). BUT, the actual damage to the football team was minimal. There were 13 players suspended and all the suspensions took place in 1996. No loss of scholarships. No TV penalties. And as a bonus it was the final nail in the coffin for unpopular coach Dan Henning. This also came at a time when our President Father Leahy was in his first year on the job. He along with some important alums forced out unpopular AD Chet Gladchuk. The uncertainty led to a series of people turning their nose up at the job (many of whom are now out of jobs -- I'll address this in later TOB posts). There was also confusion as Chet was offering the job to people without authority. Regardless, BC ended up hiring Virginia Offensive Coordinator Tom O'Brien. O'Brien came in totally under the radar to most at BC. He was a long-time assistant to George Welsh. But he connected with Leahy and seemed to provide the disciplinarian, steady ship background that BC needed. Now outsiders might say the scenario I just described constitutes 'rocked.' However, Tom O'Brien (TOB for short) inherited many advantages when taking over including: a premium of talent and future NFLers like both Hasselbecks, Mike Cloud, Damien Woody, Frank Chamberlain, Chris Hovan, and others; as mentioned before -- no NCAA penalties; Miami on probation; and after Henning, the scandal and the new administration -- he had lower expectations. There was no pressure on Tom O'Brien to win when he arrived. Many schools would gladly be 'rocked' like BC was when TOB took over.

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Friday, December 17, 2004

Baby Steps

As you may have noticed, I have started adding links to the right-hand column of the blog. The goal of this outpost really is to focus on BC and provide BC resources to any reader. Hardcore topical/diary-style bloggers like the Kid or Evil A may scoff at this limited path, but both know how little BC info is out there. Also, there are hundreds of hardcore fans here in the Dirty South that know little to nothing about my alma mater. When football season kicks up and fans from FSU or Clemson begin to figure out that there is a difference between BU and BC, the Eagle in Atlanta will provide some background and insight on the team. And if I have something interesting to say about other topics, then maybe the scope of the blog will change. As I say to my wife when there is doubt about an outcome of a chore -- "we'll see."

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Coming Soon

You'll read all about BC football from a fan's perspective. Look for new info after Christmas.


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