September 26, 2006
CHESTNUT HILL -- To say that Boston College was playing with fire in running up a rather misleading 3-0 record and a No. 20 national ranking would be one of the great understatements of the year.
To review, the Eagles barely survived a late Central Michigan charge but beat the mighty Chippewas 31-24 in the opener. Then BC got a blocked extra point in overtime and a major replay overturn to score a huge win over Clemson in double overtime. Third, there was another double-OT win, this one over a BYU team that passed for 436 yards and gained 547, another victory sealed with an important replay change.
You couldn't take the 3-0 away from the Eagles. But this living-on-the-edge thing had to catch up with them sooner or later.
Heading to play an N.C. State team that was desperate for a win after going 1-2 in non-conference games, BC quarterback Matt Ryan said, "I think we have to do a better job of closing out games and putting teams away." Then, his team went out and failed to put another team away, and this time it resulted in one of the most disappointing losses in the 10-year Tom O'Brien era.
"We've been living close to the edge, but it caught up to us," the coach said, after Wolfpack QB Daniel Evans hit John Dunlap with a 34-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to keep the Eagles from advancing further in the rankings and likely from having a shot at doing something special.
This one should have been over before State even had a chance to march down the field with the ball and very little time. Even after BC messed up a chance to ice it, after having a third-and-one and then a fourth-and-two at the Wolfpack 36, the defense, which had bent and broken only some in the first four games, broke -- big-time.
It cost the Eagles a shot at doing something historic. A win at State would have lifted BC to 4-0 for the first time since 1999, and it would have set up a
5-0 start, with Division I-AA Maine coming to town. The last time BC was 5-0? 1954. The 1992 team started 7-0-1 but tied the fifth game and thus wasn't 5-0.
Had they survived the wild ending, the Eagles would have been a wacky 4-0 -- with real chances of losing all four. Instead, they coughed up a game that could have huge ramifications down the road.
Just look around the conference, and it's easy to see what a 2-0 ACC start would have meant. The Eagles already had beaten Clemson, who then turned around and beat Florida State. The league looks down in general, and a 5-0 start with two league wins would have put BC in prime position to get to Jacksonville.
It still, of course, could happen. BC has had a penchant for losing to teams it should beat, then beating teams it shouldn't, but the loss in Raleigh really hurt.
WORRIES: DEFENSE, KICKING GAME
The N.C. State game also allowed people to focus more on the flaws of this team. Most center around the defense and kicking game.
The BC defense just continues to miss tackles. Cornerback DeJuan Tribble, whose interception with three minutes left looked like a game-clincher, was beaten in the corner of the end zone for the final score. You didn't need to watch the game film to see all the missed tackles along the way.
The kicking game may be a far more serious matter. Ryan Ohliger pulled two extra points wide left in the BYU game, then had an overtime field goal blocked. Against NCSU, he hooked the first PAT and left the score 6-0. It haunted the Eagles later because, after going ahead 15-10, BC had to go for two. With a kicker who's automatic on PATs, it would have been 16-10 after Brian Toal scored, and the kick would have made it 17-10. That would have meant overtime, after State pulled off its late magic.
"I feel like the game was on me," Ohliger said.
He was right, and the same could be said for the rest of the season.
It already had become obvious that this BC team would be involved in close games in 2006, and that the kicking game was going to be a factor. The Eagles didn't need a guy booting 50-yard field goals, just someone who could handle extra points and simple field goals. Ohliger came into the season having missed four extra points in two years. Then he missed three in two games.
On the roster behind Ohliger is walk-on Steve Aponavicius. Behind him is freshman Bill Flutie, who also is the backup punter and third-string quarterback. O'Brien wants to redshirt Flutie, obviously not wanting to waste a year for extra points, especially with BC having recruited a promising kicker for next season.
What's wrong with the defense? O'Brien warned coming in that there would be a ton of on-the-job training for a group that lost current New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and other key leaders.
The front has supplied little pass rush, leaving the defensive burdens on the linebackers and defensive backs. There aren't many Division I-A quarterbacks who can't pass when not being harassed. Toss in the shoulder injury to star linebacker Toal, which has limited his number of plays and effectiveness, and you don't get a pretty defensive picture.
Ryan, twice voted the ACC offensive player of the week in September, barely missed his third 300-yard passing game at State, finishing with 297. But the effort left him with 1,188 yards passing in the first four games, making him the first BC quarterback since Doug Flutie's dream 1984 season to pass for more than 1,000 yards through four games. Ryan had seven touchdown passes and three interceptions.
While Ohliger's extra-point failure and the defense's collapse were obvious reasons for the loss at State, a subtle one was caused by injury. With starting center Kevin Sheridan out with a neck burner, All-ACC guard Josh Beekman made his first career start at center. His bad snap on that key third-and-one play couldn't be handled by Ryan, who had to fall on the ball, losing a yard. BC then gave the ball back, and the rest became history.
The rest also kept O'Brien from his 70th win at BC. He had tied and passed Joe Yukica with the pair of double-OT wins, then watched his team hand him one of his most painful losses. This one also snapped Ryan's eight-game winning streak as a starter, handing him his first loss since the final game of 2004, when he was forced to start against Syracuse in a disastrous game for BC that cost the Eagles the Big East's BCS spot in their final year in that conference.
Funny thing, though. If you look at the remaining schedule, BC already has all but qualified for an eighth straight bowl bid. The Eagles still have Maine, Buffalo and Duke coming in, to all but guarantee the six wins needed.
Until that bitter loss at State, of course, there was a strong feeling that this BC team could do something more, perhaps much more, in the end.