September 11, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL Before leaving Boston College for N.C. State, Tom O'Brien told people he thought the 2007 Eagles would be his best team.
Part of being a good team normally, anyway is having depth. Indeed, a deep depth chart was as big a reason as any why BC started this season with a pair of home conference wins, one of them over O'Brien and the Wolfpack.
The Eagles began preseason camp knowing that their best linebacker and perhaps their best player Brian Toal, also the short-yardage guy on offense, wouldn't play this year. He instead would continue rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder, with an eye on coming back for his senior year.
The feeling was that there was enough depth at the linebacker position for this not to be a major hit. The coaches also were confident that the other runners they had (and a 6-5 quarterback) could handle the short-yardage stuff.
BC then went through the opening victory over Wake Forest with defensive tackle B.J. Raji out for academic reasons. He had spent the summer slimming down, but an academic snafu left him out of the opener. The Eagles later found out that Raji, an NFL prospect, also would be gone for the year.
In addition, the Eagles played the opener without running backs L.V. Whitworth and Jeff Smith, the latter the No. 1 kick returner, and without starting linebacker Robert Francois and tight end Ryan Thompson.
Nevertheless, they won the game, beating Wake for only the second time in the last five years. Then O'Brien came to town.
Steady defensive end Nick Larkin, who also has pro aspirations, got off to a good start (sack, fumble recovery) against the Wolfpack, then suffered a knee injury that left his 2007 future in doubt. BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski quickly ruled Larkin out for at least the Georgia Tech game.
"He's a good football player," Jagodzinski said. "Some guys are going to have to step up."
Asked about the injury problems, Jagodzinski said, "That's all part of it. I don't think anybody's really any different than we are."
Still, BC was 2-0 as it headed to a third straight conference game against a very tough Tech team in Atlanta.
In both of their opening wins, the Eagles fell behind early and came back to take control. You had to figure depth had a lot to do with that, too.
HEISMAN TALK FUN BUT UNLIKELY
During the opening win, BC radio play-by-play man John Meterparel began referring to quarterback Matt Ryan as "Matty Heisman," a takeoff on the "Matty Ice" nickname Ryan picked up after walking away from a thunderous hit at Clemson that knocked his helmet off.
Ryan threw for five touchdowns in the opener, with the announcer clearly doing what he could to advance a longshot candidacy for college football's top prize.
With lots of big names, many of them star quarterbacks, already out there, Ryan needed a miracle to get into the Heisman picture. He needed games like the Wake contest week after week, and he needed his unranked team to start the season 6-0 and climb up the rankings. Perhaps then, and only then, would people start talking about him for the Heisman.
In week two, Ryan took a step back. He wasn't sharp. His numbers dipped to 15-for-34 and only one touchdown pass. His receivers didn't help him out, dropping no fewer than six passes that would have made the numbers much better. But Ryan just seemed a tick off all day.
He won the game the BC defense produced six turnovers, and its special teams added another and his performance was as gritty as ever, but Ryan did nothing against N.C. State to advance his candidacy.
As far as the dropped balls, Jagodzinski said, "That was not good. We're going to get that addressed, and that will be fixed before we go down to Georgia Tech next week. We left a lot of yardage, and I think some points, on the field."
Brandon Robinson, who had nine catches in week one and three more against State, dropped three against the Pack. Kevin Challenger had two drops, and freshman Ifeanyi Momah had one.
PUNTING EXCELLENT, KICKING NOT
In his post-game briefing to the media, O'Brien lauded the work of BC punter Johnny Ayers, who had his second straight booming game.
"The player of the game has to be Johnny Ayers," Ayers' former coach said. "You look at our field position."
Ayers averaged 42.1 yards on seven punts, with a long of 62 and five inside the 20. The total return yardage on those punts was eight yards.
The Eagles aren't having as much success with their kickers.
With teams now kicking off from their 30, Jagodzinski shook his head in frustration as Steve Aponavicius, the Cinderella story of last season, had fits, kicking three balls out of bounds against Wake.
Jagodzinski, who had been hoping to redshirt touted freshman Billy Bennett, opened the competition for the second week. He then named Bennett the kickoff man, with Aponavicius still handling field goals and extra points.
But Bennett, asked to squib and pop the ball up to keep it away from N.C. State's Darrell Blackman, also kicked one out of bounds, causing Jagodzinski to shake his head on the sideline. Bennett did boom his final kickoff of the day, down to the one-yard line.
Bennett, heavily recruited out of San Diego, recently revealed that Notre Dame came after him last year after he had committed to the Eagles. He said the contact came even before O'Brien left for Raleigh.