Five Things We Learned: Eagles' Offense Not Ready For Flight

September 19, 2009 - 6:43 pm
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Boston College had questions. Clemson had answers. The Tigers claimed the O'€™Rourke-McFadden Trophy as they proved to be too much for the Eagles en route to a 25-7 victory in Death Valley (recap). The game was delayed twice in the second half due to torrential rains and lightning in the area of Memorial Stadium, the first time a 55-minute delay in the third quarter and the second a 48-minute delay in the beginning of the fourth. At least half of the questions for the Eagles have been answered. The young defense that pitched shutout ball for the first 117 minutes and 45 seconds of the season proved it is for real. Against a dynamic Tigers offense, the Eagles played '€œbend-but-don'€™t break'€ for most of the game as they held Clemson to six field goals despite great field possession and favorable matchups. The other half of the equation? Well, pure and simple, the BC offense may not yet be ready for big-time football. That goes especially for the quarterbacks. For the third straight week, redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle got the start. He struggled through the entire first quarter and into the second before coach Frank Spaziani brought in his platoon-mate, Dave Shinskie, to try his hand at igniting the offense. It did not go well. On his second snap of the game Shinskie pulled away from center too quickly, causing a fumble that Clemson recovered on Boston College'€™s 8-yard line. The defense, as it did all day, kept Clemson out of the end zone, forcing the Tigers into a field goal that made the score 13-0. Shinskie'€™s second series was only slightly less disastrous. He dropped back on third down looking for a pass upfield before getting sacked from behind by defensive lineman Da'€™Quan Bowers, leading to a fumble that was squatted upon by Eagles offensive lineman Emmett Cleary to save the turnover. That was the last we saw of Shinskie. The 25-year-old quarterback has been stressing in recent weeks the need to make quicker decisions on the field and to do a better job of recognizing pressure. It appears he will need a little bit more seasoning if he hopes to be the on-the-field leader for the Eagles in the near, or distant, future. For his part, Tuggle was erratic. He completed only 4-of-20 passes for 23 yards and was picked off three times. That said, if there was any momentum generated by Boston College all day, it was Tuggle who provided it. He used his legs to put together a couple first downs late in the third quarter and early into the fourth and, for a moment before the second lightning delay, looked as if he had gotten momentum back onto the side of the Eagles. It was short-lived, however, as the drive fizzled out when Tuggle was sacked by Bowers, forcing the Eagles to punt. For now, it appears that the quarterback controversy is over. As bad as Tuggle and the rest of the offense looked, he was the man who was able to maintain any semblance of composure under center. Tuggle will need to work on his deep-ball skills (two of his interceptions came when he underthrew deep targets) but, for now, he is the best option Spaziani has in his cupboard. Here are four other things we learned from BC's first loss of the season. THE DEFENSE IS LEGIT Off the field, Luke Kuechly looks every bit of the 18 years, five months and 29 days old that he is. On the field? He is a beast. Kuechly and the rest of the defense had their hands full going against the speed of the Clemson skill players. Yet they did not break. Not once. Every time it seemed that the Tigers would turn it into a blowout, Kuechly and company came up with the big stop. They were able to contain the corners against running back C.J Spiller (17 rushes for 77 yards) and stifle wideout Jacoby Ford (six catches for 36 yards) while holding Clemson to 252 total yards. The Tigers could not go for the kill and the offense never saw the end zone as they settled for six field goals (a new Clemson record) from place-kicker Richard Jackson. It seemed like it could have been a lot more, given the score, but it is a testament to the talent of this defense that it was able to keep the Eagles in the discussion despite the efforts of the offense. Spiller still ended up with 219 all-purpose yards, a fine day, but he matched his rushing performance on one break-away play in the first quarter when he returned a punt 77 yards for Clemson's only touchdown. One particular sequence told the story. After Shinskie's lost fumble it looked like Clemson was in for an easy score as they lined up at the Boston College 8 yard line. The drive went backwards. On first down Kevin Distaso was able to round up Spiller as he tried to turn the corner and was helped with some good gang tackling. Second down was a pass to the flat from Clemson backup quarterback Willy Korn to Ford, who was met with a strong hit by senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman for a loss. Third down had Korn trying to make up for it himself on the ground before getting jarred by Kuechly at the line of scrimmage. Three plays, negative eight yards, field goal. The Eagles only score was set up by the defense as it forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore cornerback Donnie Fletcher on the Tigers 13-yard line. Tuggle took one play to convert, looping a pass to a wide open Justin Jarvis for the score. That turned out to be the theme of the day. Clemson threatens, Eagles buckle down, field goal. If there is a silver lining in a frustrating loss, the grit showed by the BC defense would be it. NO PUSH UP FRONT It would be unfair to pin all the offensive woes on the shoulders of Tuggle and Shinskie. For a team that refers to itself as "Offensive Line University," the boys in the trenches were certainly not up to the task on Saturday. The 51 total yards of Boston College offense were mostly a mirage. Tuggle created 20 of those with his feet and another 13 on his touchdown pass to Jarvis. Other than that? Nothing brewing. Bowers and Ricky Sapp had their way all day with a combined three sacks and multiple tackles for loss. It sometimes seemed that when the Eagles tried to run the ball, Sapp or Bowers could have taken the handoffs from Tuggle to running backs Montel Harris or Josh Haden themselves. Over the past few weeks Spaziani has alluded to the fact that the offensive line has not been in sync, has not been able to get as good a push as he would like. And that was against the inferior competition of Northeastern and Kent State. Perhaps it was a lack of concentration but against a team the caliber of Clemson the offensive line full of future Sunday stars should have been able to create some momentum for the offense. Instead they led an offense that averaged 0.9 yards per carry (Harris leading the way with 12 carries for 13 yards). With the quarterbacks struggling the offensive line will need to be able to create some room for the backs for the Eagles to move the ball. FIELD POSSESSION TELLS IT ALL Look at this list of starting field possession for both teams (own yard line unless otherwise specified): Clemson: 35, 48, 8, 30, BC 42, BC 8, 45, 41, 47, 47, 15, 8, 43, 25, BC 17, BC 31 Boston College: 25, 23, 39, 32, 20, 16, 29, 24, 23, 28, 23, 27, Clemson 13, 33, 1, 28 Outside of Fletcher's fumble recovery, the furthest down the field that the Eagles started all day was their own 39. That will just about always spell trouble. Senior running back Jeff Smith led the Eagles in all-purpose yards with 148 by default. With all the field goals for Clemson, he was busy on the kick return averaging 21.1 yards per attempt with a long of 26. On punts Boston College only had one return, eight yards by Rich Gunnell (his only touch in any form in the game), though he did have a few opportunities had he not elected for fair catches instead. On the flip side, Spiller was consistently able to put the Tigers on or near the 50-yard line, enabling the short field for the chip shots that Jackson made all day. Ryan Quigley, who had been touted for his growing prowess as a punter in recent weeks, averaged a season low 39.6 yards on 10 attempts. Even when he did kick it long on his longest punt of the day, a 59-yarder, Spiller was able to take it to the end zone. EAGLES SECONDARY UNDERRATED Kuechly has been getting a lot of the press for the Eagles defense as the heir apparent to Mark Herzlich, and rightfully so given his performance. At the same time, this is a complete defense. The defensive line and linebacking corps are young, which leaves the secondary as the veteran backbone of the squad. Against Clemson, the group came to play. Fifth-year senior Bowman was the leader, coming up to stifle the run when necessary and coming over the top to frustrate Tigers' receivers. The proof is in the pudding. Ford, one of the best wideouts in the country, was limited to nominal yards on six catches and the rest of the Tigers' receivers were held to eight catches for 66 yards (tight end Michael Palmer had three for 21). Part of this was due to the youth of Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker but when a big hit was needed it was a member of the secondary who did the deed. Junior Wes Davis came up with an interception in the first quarter while linebacker Dominick LeGrande also pulled down a pick.