Five Things We Learned In the Boston College Opener

September 05, 2009 - 3:04 pm
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The Frank Spaziani era has begun. It is hard to quantify what Boston College's season-opening 54-0 romp against Northeastern (recap) means for this Eagles squad. We know that they can handle their business as expected against a far inferior opponent in a game that more or less amounted to a glorified scrimmage. Northeastern (0-1) did not play a fundamentally sound game, mixing mental miscues with lack of execution to make life easy for BC all day. Spaziani hoped that this first real game would provide some clarity at the quarterback situation and to a certain extent it did. Redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle, son of former Atlanta Falcon luminary Jessie Tuggle, got the ceremonial first snap but for the most part he split time with Dave Shinskie. Tuggle finished the game 3-5 for 56 yards and a touchdown. Shinskie went 7-10 for 110 yards and added a touchdown pass as well. All in all four quarterbacks took snaps for the Eagles, with true freshman Mike Marscovetra and junior Codi Boek seeing time in the second half. "We learned that some of the quarterbacks could make some plays and once again once the pace picks up they did some good things. We have to analyze a lot of it but it gives us more data to go forward. But they performed well with their inexperience and not ever being in a game and coming off an injury, etc., etc. . . . It was a good performance for that," Spaziani said. "Having said that, we have to get a lot better." Shinskie displayed decent mobility out of the pocket and a rocket arm (as should be expected of a former minor-league pitcher), both of which were exemplified on two particular plays. The first was his touchdown pass to Billy Flutie, a rising ball that the wideout leapt high to grab before stumbling into the end zone in the third quarter. The second, also in the third, occurred when he eluded pressure and rolled out to his right before throwing back across his body to sophomore running back Josh Haden for a first down. Shinskie took a big hit on the play, a concern considering his cracked rib, but felt good about it after the game. "Well, I saw the rush coming, ducked out, threw across my body to Haden and took a hit. It was really in the mid-section so it didn't really hurt much. But, going out there today and getting hit was definitely, you know, a wake up call. I am going to be feeling it a little bit more tomorrow just cause of the adrenaline," Shinskie said. "It was great, a lot of fun going out there and just like I remembered it." Tuggle was also pleased with how the afternoon went. The highlight of his afternoon came in the second quarter when he hit sophomore wide receiver Colin Larmond, Jr., for a 42-yard strike down the sideline en route to BC's fourth touchdown. Tuggle also ran the ball three times for 16 yards. "Practice helped us to be prepared out there. Exactly what we saw in practice is what we saw out there so you've got to go out there and execute, stay with what you did in practice and just be focused on not making mistakes and managing the game," Tuggle said. Quarterbacks aside, here are four other things we learned from the Eagles' season opener. Spaziani Gets His First Notch, Runs A Tight Ship Coach Frank Spaziani is entering his 13th year at Boston College. He spent two years as the Eagles running back coach (1997-98) and the last 10 as the defensive coordinator before commencing his reign as head coach in January. After a career in the shadows, Spaziani was not quite sure even how to approach his first post-game press conference saying, "How does this work, do I make a statement first?" "I had a little bit more pre-game jitters than I thought I would have. I still showed up though. It was a little bit different. No one talks to me now. I think it was the third quarter before the officials said anything to me. It was a lot different but I've got great, great assistants," Spaziani said. Spaziani, always a little playful with the media, seemed quite content with his new role. "This is a journey that we're on and this is the first step. It was a good first step without stumbling but there's no sigh of relief. This is a long-term project," he said. "These are all firsts. Going out. The toss. We replayed all that stuff but it was the first time doing it. After that, the game started and we were ready to go." His team buoyed him, playing smart, mistake-free football. On the day, the Eagles were called for three penalties totaling 20 yards (though one was a second-unit penalty late in the game). Nor did Boston College turn the ball over, though the running backs fumbled two balls that they were able to recover. "We did put the ball on the ground twice, which was not what we wanted to. But, once again for the first game we had no turnovers, two penalties, it seemed like a relatively clean game," Spaziani said. Spaziani and Co. will strive to keep that trend going when Kent State visits Chestnut Hill next Saturday. Montel Harris Can Play Football So much has been made in camp this summer about the identity of the starting quarterback: Which freshman is the flavor of the week? When will we know? Perhaps lost in this shuffle is the fact that Boston College has two good running backs anchoring the offense, taking pressure off the men in the middle. One of those backs, sophomore Montel Harris, showed the nation what he is made of. On Boston College's first play from scrimmage of the year, with the focus on the fact that Tuggle was the "starter," Harris snapped the eyes of the 33,262 in attendance from the quarterback to him. Harris took a handoff from Tuggle . . . and was gone, racing 48 yards down the left sideline into the end zone. "Those guys are good backs," Spaziani said in reference to Harris and Josh Haden. "They are going to have to be good for us to keep going on this journey. They showed what they can do." Harris finished the day with 15 carries for 113 yards for an average of 7.5 yards per carry. He scored two touchdowns on the ground and one on a reception, a six-yard strike in the second quarter. The Special Teams Were, Well, Special It was hard to ignore the fact the Eagles' special teams were impeccable in this game, something that, unlike other aspects of the game that came against the inferior Northeastern team, should translate well when BC takes on tougher opponents. Center stage goes to senior receiver Rich Gunnell, who led the team in all-purpose yards despite not making a catch. Gunnell kept BC on the doorstep in the first half via the punt return after the Eagle defense forced Northeastern into a string of three-and-outs. Gunnell brought his first return 56 yards to the Eagle 29-yard line, where it was five simple plays before Haden punched the ball in for the second touchdown. "On the first one I had I know that the punter got a good kick on the ball and he kind of out-kicked his coverage, so I caught the ball and we had a middle return on," Gunnell said. "I see some seams and they made some blocks and next thing you know I am in the open field." Gunnell worked in tandem with his own punter, Ryan Quigley, to produce perhaps the second most exciting play of the game (after the electric season-opening touchdown by Harris, of course). Quigley, who averaged 49.4 yards on five kicks, pinned Northeastern inside their own five. The defense did its job and Huskies punter Ron Conway kicked from the very back of the end zone. The rest is history; 45-yard punt, 46-yard return. "Second one was definitely a big thing. They were kicking out of their own end zone and are probably in a tight punt situation so I have a lot of space to work with," Gunnell said. "We had a sideline return and they punted the ball right to where the wall was, so I just thought I would get into the end zone." That he did. Quigley repeated the feat in the third quarter, once again putting Northeastern on their own two, but this time the defense got to the Huskies for a safety that made the game 40-0. Luke Kuechly Fits In Nicely As The Main Man On Defense With Mark Herzlich out for the year, Spaziani's hand has been forced with his roster. The absence of the veteran linebacker has forced BC to go young, really young, to fill out its linebacker corps heading into the season. Yet, the transition may be somewhat less painful than anticipated. True freshman Luke Kuechly, who looks like he just came from his high school senior prom (because he more or less did) led the the Eagles with seven tackles (six solo, one assisted), of which one-and-a-half tackles went for a loss. Kuechly was not exactly the first choice. Or second, or third. In descending order the choices above him have gone down to injury: Herzlich (bone cancer), Mike McCaughlin (Achilles) and Will Thompson (shoulder). The kid stood up to the challenge, however, and came through with his first stripes. "It was a lot of fun," Kuechly said. "It was kind of weird to be out there with my teammates that I had met over the summer, but it was definitely a lot of fun." Kuechly, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, downplayed the game speed, saying that the adjustments came quickly. It remains to be seen how he will hold up but it looks like the freshman has a good football IQ that could translate to success as his body matures. "We had a couple of scrimmages during camp so I was able to get adjusted before the game, but obviously the game is a lot faster than any scrimmage that we could have done," Kuechly said. "I think that since it's my first game, I'm going to remember it pretty well. It's definitely a step up from what I am used to." That it is. Spaziani did not seem worried about his young linebackers, with redshirt freshman Alexander DiSanzo also seeing a fair amount of time (three solo tackles) along with sophomore Dominick LeGrande (three solo, one assist). "I saw a couple of real nice plays," Spaziani said. "I couldn't comment much more about that. Obviously it didn't stick out as much to me as the quarterback position. Maybe I wasn't too worried about it. That's Billy [McGovern's] problem." That sounds like a nonchalant endorsement of his young linebacking corp. It may well prove that Spaziani has a legitimate group of talents who will simply need some time to be molded. Saturday suggested that the group may have a steeper-than-expected learning curve.