September 27, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL -- The road proved friendly to BC again on Sept. 24.
After losing an emotional ACC opener to Florida State at home, the Eagles outplayed Clemson in Death Valley, almost let the game get away because of penalties, but pulled it out in overtime, gaining their first win in their new league.
"I think it's important because, obviously, there's a lot of people out there who don't think we ought to be in this conference or who don't think we can play in it," BC coach Tom O'Brien said after Brian Toal's game-winning plunge raised O'Brien's coaching record to 60-40. "The longer you went without a victory, the more people were going to say, They shouldn't be in it.' So, from that standpoint, it's great."
He's right. There are a lot of people who think BC doesn't belong in this league. Losing the first two in the conference and then beating Ball State would have produced a 3-2 record and everyone yawning. Now, that's all changed.
The previous week, BC took a quick 14-0 hit against FSU (the first touchdown came seven seconds into the game), then roared back to a 17-14 lead. Eventually, a series of misfortunes, led by the loss of starting quarterback Quinton Porter to an ankle injury, produced a 28-17 defeat.
With the road awaiting, and Porter likely out, signs pointed to an 0-2 ACC start and a 2-2 overall record. But the road was again a happy place to be, as BC recorded its 15th win (counting bowls) in the last 18 games away from Alumni Stadium (including six in a row) dating back to 2002. Two of those losses were by three points, and one was in overtime.
In the last four seasons, BC twice has won in front of over 80,000 at Notre Dame, saved a season with a win before 65,115 at Virginia Tech, won before 106,445 at Penn State, before 58,113 crazies at West Virginia and in front of a powder blue-and-white North Carolina-loaded crowd of 70,412 at the Continental Tire Bowl. This year, the Eagles went to the rarified and steamy air at BYU and won. Now they also have taken care of steamy Death Valley, the rock and 79,000 Clemson fans.
Offense/defense/special teamer Will Blackmon is among the BC players who openly says, "I love playing on the road." He and his team certainly have a way of proving it.
By coming through the first four weeks 3-1, the Eagles set themselves on their way to a seventh straight bowl game and perhaps more. Creampuff Ball State begins a three-game homestand that also includes a middle-tier Virginia team and so-so Wake Forest.
"We're starting to figure out what kind of team we are," All-American defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "We played Florida State well last week, but we still lost. We're not looking for moral victories. We had to come here and win."
The Eagles almost gave the game away on penalties alone, and they almost lost their quarterback for a second straight week. Backup Matt Ryan actually missed one play after a devastating hit by Clemson's David Dunham but returned. BC kept Clemson out of the end zone in OT despite and third-and-short play inside the five. And the Eagles won, basically because, for the second straight win, they dominated an ACC opponent up front.
In the opener, BC ran 90 plays to FSU's 57. At Clemson, how about a repeat -- 90 plays to 57 by the opposition. O'Brien hoped his "Clydesdales" would be able to use their size and strength against the "thoroughbreds" of the ACC, and so far it has worked out that way.
"Yes, those guys (on BC's offensive line) are big," Kiwanuka said, "but like I've been telling people, they can all move. You look out there and see (guard) Josh Beekman 20 yards upfield, looking to hit someone."
Amazingly, BC won this game with Kiwanuka unofficially credited with just one tackle. Clemson came up with a plan to shut him down, but that takes bodies, and that means his pals on the line and the linebackers have to pick it up. They did, in a balanced effort that included three sacks of quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
Other important developments in the first ACC games:
* Fan favorite Andre Callender, the No. 2 tailback, had a break-out game at Clemson, running for 121 yards on 22 carries. Starter L.V. Whitworth, the better blocker of the pair, had 36 yards on 11 tries.
"He got that hitting yardage," Ryan said of Callender, a redshirt sophomore. "He would fall for three or four extra yards, turning and spinning."
* After going seven-for-11 for 89 yards in a relief effort, Ryan was 24-for-42 for 221 yards and a rushing TD at Clemson. He also had a costly interception in the end zone. The redshirt sophomore QB of the future lived up to his nickname of "Matty Ice" when he took the huge hit from Dunham and returned.
"We didn't know what was going to happen, but we were hoping for the best, and thank God he came back and finished the game," tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "He's a warrior." Added Kiwanuka: "That's the character of our team right there."
Third-stringer Karim El Nokali took the one snap with Ryan out. Porter may or may not return against Ball State. He appeared to try to enter the game when Ryan went down, but he was stopped by the coaches. He practiced only one day before the game.
* The loss to Florida State, in which BC played the Seminoles evenly in the toe-to-toe sense but lost mainly because of turnovers and special teams, somehow dropped the Eagles nine spots and out of the Associated Press poll. They were No. 27 and visiting No. 26 Clemson when they won on Sept. 24.
* BC also lost wide receiver Jason Lilly to an ankle injury during the FSU game, and he was unavailable at Clemson. With Lilly down, redshirt freshman Brandon Robinson caught two balls in each game, totaling 59 yards.
* In one of the more incredible stats of the year, BC shut Clemson down on all 11 third-down situations.
"We've been keeping that stat since 1978," Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret said, "and that's the first time we've never converted a single first down." Said O'Brien: "That's a heck of a deal by this defense."
* With two road games in the first four, BC has only one away game in October. The Thursday night (Oct. 27) clash at Virginia Tech starts a closing run of three of the last four on the road.