Five Things We Learned: A Familiar Problem Grounds Eagles

December 26, 2009 - 8:21 pm

Two 8-4 teams, two freshman quarterbacks and two storied college football programs created one pretty good bowl game in San Francisco. The University of Southern California put Boston College's football season to bed on Saturday night by winning the Emerald Bowl at AT&T Park in San Francisco by the score of 24-13. The Eagles had a chance to win this game against the vaunted Trojans, but an ugly theme that has been plaguing BC all year resurfaced, as the sporadic play of freshman quarterback David Shinskie played a key role in his team's defeat. After going down 14 points early in the second quarter, BC fought back to make the score 14-13 by halftime (with the difference a result of only a missed extra point by senior kicker Steve Aponavicius). Once the Eagles got sophomore running back Montel Harris loose in the USC secondary, they were able to move the ball with Shinskie making good throws to make the chains march up the field. There was hope for BC going into the second half and then well into the fourth quarter before Shinskie did what he has done often this year. He got the yips. As he has at other times in his return to football following a seven-year minor-league baseball career, Shinskie started missing receivers and missing them badly. At one point in the third quarter he had five straight incompletions. He was 7-19 with an interception and two sacks in the second half and his struggles were directly correlated to the Eagles' offensive woes. The quarterback's final numbers were 14-33 for 218 yards with a touchdown and the interception. The pattern was familiar. In other instances where BC asked Shinskie to throw the ball every down, the opposing team typically capitalized (usually by way of a costly interception, as was the case in the Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina games). It seems odd that the Eagles have done this a couple of times throughout the season, especially on Saturday, with Harris getting hot in the second quarter. Once again, with the game in his hands, Shinskie pressed and forced errant throws that opposing secondaries just waited on. Shinskie's mistake against USC came when he tried to force a ball and was intercepted by Shareece Wright at midfield with 12:22 left in the fourth quarter. The very next play, Trojan freshman quarterback Matt Barkley (27-37, 350 yards two touchdowns, two interceptions) lofted a bomb to stud wide receiver Damian Williams who, despite triple coverage, came down with the near impossible catch at the 1-yard line. Barkley scored on a sneak the next play. And that was it. The lesson here is that despite the good feelings and gains made by the Boston College football program this year, it still has a inexperienced quarterback who has hurt as much as he has helped in his first year of college football. When Shinskie is comfortable, he can be a fine quarterback, but there were numerous occasions this year when he lost control of the position, his passes and then the entire ball game. Here are four other things we learned from the season finale . . . . Two Reviews Hurt BC's Bottom Line There were two distinct calls in the game that went against BC and ultimately proved to be the difference in the outcome. The first was when Barkley hit Williams (12 receptions, 189 yards) down the right sideline early in the second quarter for a 38-yard gain to the BC 6-yard line that would set up the second Trojan touchdown of the game. It looked like Williams was out of bounds, as he did not appear to have possession on the run by the time he hit the sideline. But the review proved inconclusive and the play stood. Two plays later, Barkley hit Stanley Havili for the second time to make the score 14-0. Then, in the third quarter, it looked like the Eagles caught a break on special teams when Trojan D.J. Shoemate was engaged with Dominick LeGrande in punt coverage and the ball was kicked forward by his feet through LeGrande's legs. Luke Kuechly fell on the ball on the USC 30-yard line and, for a second, BC had momentum and field possession in its favor. The conclusion of the review of the play was that Shoemate was "blocked into the ball," hence negating the touch and ensuing loose ball. Both plays could and perhaps should have gone the other way. But they did not. No one can tell exactly what would have happened if they did. Call it a home state benefit of the doubt for the Trojans, but those particular calls had a profound impact on the game. Not many pundits actually expected USC to lose to BC (at least before the news of the Joe McKnight suspension) and the game was hardly a blow out. On the Williams bomb it was not a foregone conclusion that the Trojans would march all the way down the field for a score, and BC showed on more than one occasion that it could stop the vaunted USC offense. Add that to the knack of the BC defense this year to come up with big stops at opportune times and the game from could have assumed a very different complexion had either call gone in favor of Boston College. On the punt fumble that was not a punt fumble, BC needed that turnover. The only way the Eagles could get back in the game was for something to happen on special teams or defense that propelled it past the Trojans, especially considering that the Eagles offense did next to nothing in the second half. If there was a point in the night where the wind came out of the BC sails, it was when it did not get that call (. Kuechly's Mortal Moments Were Costly All-ACC First Team and Defensive Rookie of the Year freshman linebacker Kuechly did what he normally does -- make tackles. The nation's second leading tackler had 13 for the game and was his normal disrupting presence as a bane to would-be ball carriers. Yet two of USC's touchdowns could be laid, at least in part, on the young man's feet. Both of the touchdowns were by fullback Havili coming out of the backfield into the Will linebacker's territory, where he was the responsible man on the coverage. The first of Kuechly's mistakes was when Barkley ran a play-action rollout to the right and hit Havili for a screen pass. Kuechly had the running back lined up but his dive missed Havili's feet and he was gone to the the tune of 53 yards and six points. Kuechly does not miss often, but this particular whiff proved painful as the Trojans took an early lead that they would never relinquish. The second mistake was in the second quarter when Barkley hit Havili from five yards out to make the score 14-0. The linebackers are normally supposed to be the ones to cover running backs and tight ends coming off the line or out of the backfield, but Havili was not picked up on the play and Barkley found him. The play was to Kuechly's side of the field so at least part of the blame goes to him. With all of his accomplishments, it is easy to forget that Kuechly is still just a freshman who acts on instinct much of the time. At times on Saturday he had trouble getting through traffic in the middle of the field and was exposed in the passing game on at least those two occasions. Rich Gunnell Makes Some History Senior captain wide receiver Rich Gunnell was voted the MVP of the Eagles earlier this month. That is a fine honor for the soft spoken Gunnell, but Saturday provided him with a piece of history he will probably never forget. His six catches for 130 yards gave him 2,489 career receiving yards for BC, the most in school history. He entered the game eight yards shy of Kelvim Martin for second place and 59 short of Pete Mitchell for first. He broke through both of them on one play. The Eagles' second touchdown was the result of Gunnell running a slant, making the quick reception and then outpacing the USC defense for a 61-yard score. It was fitting for the man who has been the most consistent performer for BC this year to make one final big play in his last game in maroon and gold. The score brought BC back into the game and at that point it looked like the Eagles had a chance. That chance was not meant to be, but it was not for lack of effort on Gunnell's part. The last time he was thrown the ball in his BC career was a sailing pass from Shinskie as Gunnell crossed the middle of the field. The receiver went up to get a ball that was high and almost behind him; he reached one arm up and snagged it and was almost able to make the spectacular catch before he lost control of it. If Gunnell was able to make that play it would have been remembered on The Heights for a long time. As it is, Gunnell's career will be recalled both in memory and in the BC record books for some time. Lack Of Depth Behind Harris Finally Proves Painful Late in the third quarter, Harris went down with an injury while trying to save Shinskie from being sacked on a broken play that almost resulted in an interception. The sophomore running back took a helmet hard to his upper buttocks and suffered a deep contusion. He would stay in the game but he was not the same type of shifty yet bruising back that he has been. For a guy who had 37 carries twice this season, his 23 for 102 yards seemed paltry, especially considering Shinskie's second half struggles while the Eagles were still in the game. Senior running back (though mostly kick returner) Jeff Smith made an appearance or two in the Bazooka formations and fullback James McCluskey had one carry, but the offense was Harris' show again. The Eagles should hope that next year freshman Rolandan Finch or a new recruit can pick up some of Harris' slack because when he went down this year, the BC offense became more or less nonexistent.