Challenges Await Eagle Offense in 2012
With the 2012 college football season fast approaching, the Boston College Eagles are trying everything they can to forget a disastrous 2011 campaign. After 12 consecutive years qualifying for bowl games, BC failed to finish .500, slipped to fifth place in the Atlantic Division, and was eliminated from postseason contention with four games remaining. And although they won three of their final five games, including two of their last three with a win over Miami, on the road, in the season’s final week, the red-hot spotlight fell on the fallen yet proud program.
The biggest bone of contention for all Eagle fans fell on the anemic and, at times, lifeless offense. Hindered by injury, the offense sputtered in the early weeks of the season, and BC scored 20 points just three times in 12 games, one of which was against a team from the championship subdivision. Derided as listless and criticized as unimaginative, there were bright spots along the offensive line and in the running game, but the passing game ranked in the lower 10% of the entire bowl division.
For Boston College’s offense, the season couldn’t have been more of a nightmare. After an opening week loss to Northwestern, they lost their offensive coordinator for personal health reasons. They got creamed on the following Saturday at Central Florida, then lost to Duke in one of the most embarrassing moments in recent Eagle history. Halfway to bowl ineligibility, they rebounded against FCS-opponent UMass, but then lost three more to fall to 1-6. In need of a perfect remainder of the season in order to avoid ineligibility, the Eagles were eliminated by Florida State two weeks later in a national television debacle. On Thursday night football, FSU took a 28-0 halftime lead, emptied Alumni Stadium before it ever filled, and rolled to a 38-7 victory. Yes, BC turned it around somewhat after that game with wins over North Carolina State on Senior Day and the final game of the season at Miami. But they were smoked in South Bend against Notre Dame, and by then none of it mattered.
In addition to losing their coordinator, the Eagles lost key personnel within the first few weeks. Any potential hookup between Chase Rettig and 6-feet-5-inch wide receiver Ifanye Momah was lost when Momah tore his ACL early in the year. Bobby Swigert established himself as BC’s best possession option, and Colin Larmond rebounded from his own injury to lead the team in yards and touchdown receptions. That remained the only highlight of a season where Rettig threw just 12 touchdown passes, was intercepted nine times, and had an average of under 10 yards per attempt.
On the ground, the Eagles saw a four-headed monster rear its head. Owing to a gameplan of ground-and-pound, Taj Kimble, Deuce Finch, and Andre Williams performed admirably in the face of an injury sidelining Montel Harris for much of the season. Harris returned to become the all-time leading rusher, then shut down the year late due to lingering knee issues. BC ran over 100 more running plays last season than passing plays. Still, it wasn’t enough to help BC average 300 yards of total offense per game.
As the corner turns to 2012, we take a look at the personnel and what needs to happen for BC to vastly improve and get back to bowl contention:
Let’s put it this way – BC didn’t have a passing game last year. Chase Rettig was completely shackled by a gameplan revolving around ground-and-pound, triple tight ends, and down-and-out pass patterns. If Rettig was passing the ball at any point in the game, it was usually through play action, with a roll out to a side, and a pass either at a guy running towards the sideline or turned towards him. He didn’t uncork the ball downfield because, well, he wasn’t allowed to. And for that reason, most of the blame gets placed on a coaching staff that never adapted, never allowed a guy with physical ability to showcase it, and stymied any and all creativity.
Fast forward one season. Gone are Kevin Rogers, who coordinated one week of the offense before leaving for health reasons, and Dave Brock, who took over on an interim basis after coaching tight ends. In place is Doug Martin, a 49-year old young coach who spent last year at New Mexico State after a few years as the head coach of Kent State. He’ll bring a spread offense not dissimilar from the one Matt Ryan ran during the Jeff Jagodzinski era.
Martin’s offense from Kent State revolved around a mobile quarterback with a cannon arm. During his senior year, quarterback Julian Edelman (now a kick returner and wide receiver for the New England Patriots) fell three yards short of throwing for 5,000 while running for 2,400 more. His West Coast offense will allow Rettig to actually throw the ball downfield, as opposed to the last two years when he either handed the ball off or dumped it to a receiver or tight end. And even though this is Rettig’s fourth offensive coordinator in three years, Martin’s style differentiates from anything the QB’s played at the college level.
If Rettig falters for any reason, the beneficiary might actually be the player best suited for the West Coast, run-and-gun offense. Josh Bordner backed up Rettig last year, entering a game against Florida State, and running an option up and down the field. He was able to rifle the ball up the middle after opening the field up with his legs. After a helter-skelter couple of drives against FSU, BC used Bordner only as an option, Wildcat-style QB, which shackled his ability as well. But he showed flashes of being able to move with the ball in addition to throwing it. If Rettig isn’t quick enough or lacks the ability (or gets shell-shocked), it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Bordner get in there and challenge for playing time.
Receiving-wise, nobody really knows what to expect. Swigert is going to be a possession receiver, and he lacks the downfield, breakaway speed of any type of game-changing wideout. He can catch the ball, which is great, but he can only be as good as the threats around him. Last year, that was Momah until he was hurt, then it was Larmond until the passing game took a four-week vacation. Someone will need to step up, whether it’s Alex Amidon, who had a great freshman year then disappeared for stretches last year, or someone else. Chris Pantale, a pass-catching tight end with underrated talent, is already out for the first several games.
The running game is solid. It’s something of what college running games should be in a sense that it’s good but not great. In college football, only a handful of teams have game-changing running games. It’s been proven in the NFL that guys who come out of college to lead their teams in rushing usually aren’t high-caliber guys. For every Ladanian Tomlinson or Adrian Peterson, there’s an Arian Foster who flies under the radar by being great in college but not Heisman.
The running game at BC has always been good thanks in no small part to a mammoth and athletic offensive line. The O-Line, which produced first rounder after first rounder, opens up holes in the middle for smaller backs to chew up five or six yards per carry. Even last year, when every defense in America knew the Eagles would pound the rock up the middle, three backs averaged four yards per carry.
Leading the pack is Rolandon “Deuce” Finch. Deuce finished with 700 yards on the ground last year as a sophomore, a breakout season as the unit transitioned away from the Montel Harris era. It’s not out of the stratosphere to expect Finch to carry the ball for 1,000 yards given his performance and potential to break one off every now and then. Of course, there’s only one problem with this whole thing – Finch got hurt in preseason practice. He’ll most likely be back by the time the bulk of the season picks up, and he might not even miss a game. But he still got hurt, and everyone remembers what that did to Harris last year.
Ah yes, Montel Harris. Harris returned just long enough to gain the all-time leading rusher record from Derrick Knight in the annals of Boston College athletics. He then reaggravated his knee injury, got shut down for the season, medically redshirted so he’d have another year of eligibility, got thrown off the team in spring practice, and transferred to Temple. And if that doesn’t explain 2011 in a nutshell, nobody knows what will. Guy starts injured, guy returns, guy breaks all-time rushing record, guy gets hurt again, guy gets thrown off team, guy transfers to Temple. Welcome to Boston College.
The running game shouldn’t be a problem. But, like anything else, if the passing game doesn’t show up this year (which it sort of did after everything was over last year in the last couple of games), it won’t matter when nine guys are in the box.
Anyone can tell it was a bad season in 2011 when the best player on a season ticket was the punter. It’s a bad season to begin with any time a punter is prominently featured for anything. It’s the one player a coach doesn’t want to see unless it’s absolutely necessary because it means the offense failed. Guess who was the most consistent player on the 2011 Boston College football team…
Ryan Quigley finished fourth in the nation with 28 punts inside an opponent’s 20 yard line. He was twice ranked as the Atlantic Coast Conference Specialist of the Week, and he had an All-ACC team selection after becoming Boston College’s career leader in punt attempts (also a sure-fire indicator of how BC football’s been the last couple of years). Quigley graduated, leaving a void in the one position where there shouldn’t be an issue with a void. But if the BC offense stalls and sputters, BC will need a decent punter to get the ball inside an opponents red zone. Nothing’s worse than stalling, shanking a punt, setting up a short field, and giving up points. Most likely candidates are Gerald Levano and Alex Howell.
On the other side, Nate Freese is back for another year of kicking. Freese became the first person to be automatic from outside the 40-yard stretch but shaky from inside the 30-yard attempt last year when he booted field goals from 47 and 43 against Duke, then shanked a virtual extra point off the goal post as the Blue Devils won behind a record-breaking quarterbacking performance, 20-19. Freese hit only 10 of his 16 field goal attempts, and he hit barely 50% of his field goals in the 30-yard range. He went 1-for-3 against Northwestern, shanked the game winner against Duke, went 0-for-2 in brutal conditions against Maryland. He did go 4-for-4 (including a 52-yarder) against Wake Forest, though, and he hit 20-odd field goals two years ago. This doesn’t make any sense, other than that as a kicker at the Division I level, he probably shouldn’t be going 10-16 and shanking game-winning chip shots from inside 25 yards.