EVANSTON, ILL–It is difficult–and also grossly unfair–to pinpoint one play as a flash point for an entire season, especially when that play occurs on a sunny afternoon in September, rather than a blustery day in November, December or January.
Yet when the synopsis of the 2012 Boston College football season is written, the critics of BC coach Frank Spaziani, as well as his supporters, will talk about a TD that wasn’t scored on Saturday against Northwestern.
It wasn’t scored because the Eagles didn’t have the ball when everyone at Ryan Field, including most of Northwestern crowd of 32,597 as well as the Wildcats themselves probably thought they would have.
It wasn’t scored because Boston College fumbled away the ball at the Northwestern 4 yard line at the start of the third quarter in a game in which the Eagles looked like they were going to score their second touchdown of the afternoon and take a 17-12 lead.
None of that happened when BC RB Duece Finch coughed up the ball.
What did happen from that point on was the worst version of Ground Hog Day for BC as Northwestern not only maintained its lead, but later sealed in posting a 22-13 victory.
BC needed to win this game. Just like the Eagles needed to win their opener against Miami. Neither happened and for the next two weeks, the Eagles will have to deal with being a 1-2 team, rather than a 3-0 or a 2-1 team.
They will have to ponder how they should have beaten Northwestern, just as they think about how a 14-0 first quarter lead against Miami turned into a 42-31 loss after the Eagles’ self-destruct button appeared to be stuck in the “on” position.
Finch’s fumble–his second red zone fumble in the last two weeks–was merely a symptom of what is ailing the Eagles.
Even following the fumble, which came when BC was driving, after recovering a Northwestern turnover, the Eagles had more than enough time to turn the game in their direction. They didn’t do it
They didn’t do it in the first half when the Eagles scored their first TD of the game and took the lead for the first time on a 19-play 94 yard drive which was more than aided by a series of brain freeze mistakes made by a well coached and normally intelligent Wildcat team.
They didn’t do it in the second half after Finch’s fumble when they made their own mistakes in the red zone.
“”Woulda, coulda, shoulda,” said Spaziani, whose margin for error in keeping his job is shrinking with each loss. “We need to stop making these mistakes. We can’t win like that. It’s my job to make them play better.”
What will be tough for the Eagles is having to wait two weeks to get the taste of Saturday’s loss out of their mouths.
“I told the team in a meeting on Thursday that if we win this game on Saturday we will be 2-1 and be able to taste it the way to the Clemson game,” said linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis who could have made a game-changing play when his sack of Northwestern QB Kain Colter took the Wildcats out of field goal range in the final two minutes of the game. “”Now we need to the taste out of our mouths as quickly as possible.”
The Eagles made enough good plays–KPL’s sack, a school-record tying 24 tackles by MLB Nick Clancy.
But they also made enough plays to lose games–allowing Northwestern to convert 12 of 19 third down conversions, showing a softness from the 20 to the 20 that couldn’t overcome the toughness they showed in holding Northwestern to five field goals before the defense finally allowed a game-clinching TD at in the final minute of the game.
“”The game is going to come down to scoring touchdowns, not field goals,” said BC QB Chase Rettig, who threw only one against Northwestern.
None of the details will matter much by the time the Eagles gather again on Sunday and talk about the task ahead.
It looks like a steep climb now. Three winnable games turned into two losses. After the bye-week, there will be a road game at Army (which should be winnable) and the back to back road games at Florida State and Georgia Tech (not looking good right now).
Each loss will increase the howls from the peanut gallery that the new athletic director BC will hire in the next several weeks will have to make one of their first priorities finding a new football coach.
The frustrating part for Spaziani and for the Eagles is that they seem to be close to putting everything together, not just for one game, but for a string of games which could and should get BC back into the bowl business and competing for division titles at the very least.
The game against Northwestern was going to be a launching point for the Eagles to start to soar. Fly home from Chicago, feeling good about their 2 game winning streak and feeling good about the direction they were going.
Take a week to recover and then knock off Clemson and Army and go into the heart of the ACC season as contenders, rather than pretenders.
It will take a leap of faith for even the most optimistic BC backer to keep the negative thoughts from spreading.
All of this because of one play? One mistake?
Not all of it, but a good part of it.
How it all plays out remains the question.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.