September 25, 2007
CHESTNUT HILL - Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan spent the week leading up to the Eagles' Sept. 22 game against Army getting the kind of attention players get when they're in the Heisman Trophy picture.
He then went out and had the kind of game that can help take someone right out of that picture.
BC, which had risen to No. 14 in the country after its 3-0 start in the ACC, beat Army 37-17 in a sloppy performance. The Eagles won the game, but for the second time in three games, Ryan was anything but at his best.
His skill-position teammates, just as they had done against N.C. State, failed to help him much, at least in the final stats. Tailback Andre Callender dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, and wide receiver Kevin Challenger fumbled the ball away at the Army three-yard line.
For his part, Ryan again was just a tick off. Still, he was 35-for-51 for 356 yards, three passing touchdowns and one on the ground.
"Matt's a good football player, and I don't think we were as sharp as we could be out on the perimeter again," said BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who blasted his team at halftime before a better performance in the second half.
Earlier in the week, Ryan's teammates had expressed little shock in having their leader being talked about in the race for the Heisman.
"To me, he was always a Heisman guy," offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus said. "I think he's as good a quarterback ... all these other guys get all the Heisman attention and everything, but us being at BC, he's underrated. But after that game on Saturday, I'm sure he's not going to be underrated anymore. I think he's as good as any college quarterback we have here in America."
Linebacker Jolonn Dunbar, who has been going against Ryan in practice every day, said he was thrilled that his fellow senior was getting the attention.
"He deserves it," Dunbar said. "He deserves every bit of it. I've said that for years.
"He is one of the most competitive people I have ever met in my life and that's hard, just because I'm very competitive and I kinda scale everybody based on my competitiveness. He's definitely one of the most competitive guys I've ever met in my life. He's skilled, he works hard at it, and he takes care of business, so I'm glad to see that he's getting the attention he deserves, and it's about time that he's getting the attention he deserves."
Through the first four games, Ryan had 10 touchdown passes, giving him 35 for his career. The 356 yards passing in the Army game moved him into third place on BC's all-time yardage list, with 6,147.
But is he really a Heisman candidate? That remains to be seen. He needs to put up big numbers in the next three games against softer opponents, needs to have BC win those games to go to 7-0, and then needs to play well against the big-time competition that awaits down the road.
Jagodzinski wasn't thrilled with the performance against Army, but you had to think the coaches didn't mind it all that much that the team struggled in a letdown game played with the field temperature over 100 degrees.
The Army game was the first of three straight BC was expected to win, four if you count the trip to Notre Dame after I-AA Massachusetts and Bowling Green come to The Heights. Having the Black Knights hang around for most of the day was probably just what the coaches needed to get the players' attention.
"The first half, that's not what Boston College football is supposed to look like," Jagodzinski said. "They know that. I know that. The people in the football program know that. I am happy that we won. Don't think that I'm not. But we have a lot of work to do. To get to where we want to be, we can't play football like that."
INJURIES TAKING THEIR TOLL
One real problem is the growing injury list on defense, a battered group that continued its bend-but-not-break job despite the absence of key personnel.
The Eagles started this season with two of their best defensive players - linebacker Brian Toal (shoulder) and tackle B.J. Raji (academics) - out for the year. They then lost valuable end Nick Larkin to arthroscopic knee surgery. (He should be back soon.) Against Army, defensive backs Wes Davis and Roderick Rollins also were out.
The injuries weren't confined to the defense. Tailback Jeff Smith, who burst onto the scene with those kick returns against Clemson last season, has yet to play because of a concussion, and with each passing week the chances grow for a medical redshirt. Smith also was said to be having some trouble with his grades, and the time off could help there, too. He said he hoped to play against UMass, but he had been optimistic on previous occasions, too.
Fullback James McCluskey injured his right leg in the Army game. He got hurt carrying the ball, the second time this year a BC fullback carried out of the two-back set, after Tom O'Brien's Eagles hadn't done it since 1998.
The BC special teams were not so special in the Army game. The Eagles had an extra point blocked after a bad snap, saw Steve Aponavicius badly miss what would have been a career-long 43-yard field goal, had two bounced snaps on punts, gave up a 24-yard play on a fake field goal that led to a touchdown, and yielded a 61-yard kickoff return.
Signs seem to be pointing to freshman Billy Bennett becoming the starting kicker for this team, but no announcement has been made.
One of the earlier problems - the kickoffs themselves - seems to be getting solved. Bennett averaged 63 yards per kickoff against Army.
The win over the Black Knights was BC's 14th straight home triumph and also gave the program its first 4-0 start since 1992. The last 5-0 start was in 1954, and the last 6-0 opening was in 1942.