September 13, 2005
CHESTNUT HILL -- As soon as the 2005 Boston College schedule came out, the focus of the fans and folks around the school was on week three -- and the ACC debut against Florida State.
But with that new focus came one clear danger: Would the Eagles overlook their first two opponents and look ahead to the Seminoles?
The answer was a resounding no. It wasn't perfect, except record-wise, but the Eagles got the preliminaries out of the way. After recording a 20-3 victory at Brigham Young, BC, which rose from No. 22 to No. 19 in the AP poll after the opener, shook off an early Army touchdown and hammered the Knights 44-7.
"We knew Florida State was ahead of us, but we had these two tests before Florida State," said quarterback Quinton Porter, who returned from an absence of almost two years by going 42-for-55 for 438 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in the two victories. "We feel like we passed (the tests), so we're going into Florida State with a lot of momentum."
With the two wins in the books, it was on to FSU, in what could have been the most anticipated college football game ever played in this professional town.
"It's in the back of your mind," Porter said. "But we're veteran enough to know we need to focus each week."
BC coach Tom O'Brien didn't think that focus was there in the first half against Army, when the Eagles gave up a long touchdown drive to start the game but still used their talent for a 30-7 halftime lead. He liked the attitude much more in the second half, when his team turned it up even though there was no more real need to score.
Will Blackmon made a smooth transition from full-time defense and special teams player to starting wide receiver, nickel back on defense and returner. He caught eight passes for 100 yards in the win at BYU, then made one of the great plays seen around Chestnut Hill in years against Army.
With the Eagles at the Knights' 41, Porter threw the ball all the way across the field to Blackmon at the 31. Catching the ball on the right sideline, he made a move or two and then headed back across the field, running past five Army players and making it all the way over to the left sideline before running in for the score.
"I was trying to be brave on that one," Blackmon said.
Meanwhile, the "second" Brian Toal era began at BC in the win over Army.
Second era? Yes. The sophomore, brought to The Heights as a highly touted linebacker a year ago, finally got his chance to be a running back in the Army game, entering for a fourth-and-one situation from the Knights' nine-yard line in the first quarter. Running out of a one-back set, Toal, a star runner in high school with a reputation for holding onto the ball, ran for seven yards on his first carry. He then came back in on third-and-goal from the two and scored his first career touchdown.
In the second half, Toal came in on a third-and-three from the Army four and ran for three yards and the first down on one play, then scored on the next. The totals: four carries, two first downs, two touchdowns.
"I was a little nervous on the first one," said Toal, who rushed for 32 TDs during his senior year in high school. "I'm pretty certain I could have broken that one for a touchdown. But Coach O'Brien doesn't like guys who fumble, so I just tried to hold onto the ball."
Toal's defensive buddies weren't about to let the event go unnoticed.
"We're always busting him about it over there on the offensive side," linebacker Ray Henderson said. "We tell him he's too fat (only 223) to play offense. But he proved us wrong. It was good to see him run the ball a little bit. Anything he can do to help the team, we're all for."
Despite waiting anxiously, Toal never entered the game as a runner in the team's four fall scrimmages. Then, at BYU, there was one third-and-one situation, and the call came. Toal put his helmet back on, but the decision was changed and he was grabbed by assistant coach Jason Swepson as he tried to run onto the field.
The old adage in college football says that the biggest improvement in a team is between weeks one and two. O'Brien's teams have followed that well, going 8-1 in week two during his tenure.
But O'Brien didn't like that TD drive by Army, which included three penalties called on All-American end Mathias Kiwanuka and a pair of missed tackles and a key Army gain. Kiwanuka was benched for two plays.
"That's the one thing O'Brien does," Henderson said. "He doesn't care how good you are, what press clippings you're getting or anything. If you're making mistakes, he's going to sit you down until you clear your head and get back in there and play the way you're supposed to play. He doesn't give anybody passes, just because they know who you are, you know?"
Notes: On Parking, Miller, Porter
The new parking plan at the school seems to have helped get people into Alumni Stadium earlier. In the past, because of neighborhood restrictions, vehicles weren't allowed into parking lots until two hours before gametime. With only two hours to tailgate, the fans took their time getting into the stadium, often irking O'Brien and neutralizing the Eagles' home-field advantage.
The new set-up allows entry two and a half hours before games, with sweeps done of the lots 30 minutes before kickoff. So the fans still get their two hours, and now more of them are in their seats for the opening play. The results for the Army game were clear.
"There were more people in here at kickoff than most any time in recent memory," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said. "I think the plan worked exceptionally well."
Last year, tight end Chris Miller, then a backup, caught the first touchdown of the BC season. This year, Miller, now the starter, caught the first two TD passes, taking in the Eagles' only touchdowns in the win at BYU.
Linebacker Ricky Brown suffered a broken bone in his right hand in the opener, returned in that game, then had surgery on Thursday of the Army week. He didn't start against the Cadets, but he appeared in the first quarter.
The Eagles, as they normally do, have been spreading the passes around among the receivers. After 10 players caught passes in the opener, 12 were involved in the Army game.
With the outcome clear, Porter was pulled from the Army game with more than three minutes left in the third quarter. Backup Matt Ryan, who will take over as the starter next year, completed seven of eight passing attempts for 83 yards.
Backup wide receiver Tony Gonzalez has three touchdowns in his career after scoring against Army -- one in each season. All have been for at least 30 yards. The first two? A 37-yarder from Porter two years ago in a big win at Penn State, and a game-winning 30-yarder at Notre Dame last season. The catch against Army came on a fourth-and-nine play from the Black Knights' 34. Gonzalez broke off his original pattern and went deep as Porter was given a world of time.
"I just get really excited," Gonzalez said.
That play also was another sign of Porter's new-found patience.
"I'd say in 2003 I probably would have run out of bounds," Porter said, "or thrown it out of bounds or something."