As the Boston College defense has navigated its way through an up-and-down season filled with flashes of potential followed by head-scratching inconsistency, the word “young” has often accompanied the lulls.
Following Saturday’s 38-31 home loss to Florida State, redshirt junior linebacker John Lamot acknowledged it might be time to stop using the Eagles’ youth as a buzzword for the root of their problems.
“I mean, we’ve got guys that haven’t started previously, but they’ve had enough playing time and experience to limit, I guess, that excuse, so I feel like that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore,” Lamot said. “It’s not really an excuse in the first place. So yeah, I feel like we’ve just got to play better.”
The Eagles (5-5, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) flew out to a 14-3 lead then surrendered 21 unanswered to fall behind 24-14. They responded to tie the score at 24, but the defense allowed two backbreaking touchdowns to the Seminoles (5-5, 4-4) that cemented BC’s fate.
With a dominant offensive showing in a win over Syracuse behind them, the Eagles had a chance to keep the momentum afloat. Their remaining games, against Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, are difficult ones, which magnified the stakes Saturday even more.
The offense was explosive in stretches, and the defense had its moments early, but late-game miscues ultimately haunted the Eagles as they fell to .500 once again.
“You put in a lot of work for these 12 chances,” redshirt junior wide receiver Kobay White said. “When you let one go, it hurts.”
Here are five takeaways from the game:
- 1 They were on the wrong end of an action-packed final few minutes.
- 2 The defensive issues weren’t only present late in the fourth.
- 3 One costly mistake shouldn’t overshadow a positive day for Dennis Grosel.
- 4 They dominated possession, but it ultimately didn’t matter.
- 5 They may have needed this one, but time will tell.
They were on the wrong end of an action-packed final few minutes.
The final three minutes alone against Florida State featured four touchdowns.
BC quarterback Dennis Grosel flipped into the end zone from one yard out to even the score at 24 with 2: 33 left, and the Eagles needed one stop to either force overtime or have a chance to win.
Instead, FSU quarterback James Blackman hit D.J. Matthews for a short completion, and Matthews zigzagged his way through multiple BC defenders and eventually scored a 60-yard TD.
The play was a microcosm of a trend that has plagued BC for much of the season. Tackles are there to be made, but the Eagles have trouble corralling speedy receivers in pivotal moments.
“I mean, you’ve got to tackle,” Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said. “We’re doing everything we can right now tackling. It’s been up, it’s been down, it’s been better, it’s been, it’s a roller-coaster ride with the tackling. It’s not good enough.”
50 yards in the air from James Blackman to @TT1Batman for the 74-yard touchdown! #MustSeeACC @FSUFootball #OneTribe pic.twitter.com/Qs8kteeNSr
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) November 9, 2019
Even after allowing a deflating touchdown, the Eagles still had a chance to tie the game once more. Grosel – who finished 20 for 29 for 227 yards and two TDs and executed at a high level throughout – nearly threw an interception but got bailed out.
On the next play, he had no such break, as Stanford Samuels leaped in front of his pass and picked it off with 1: 23 remaining. BC quickly called two timeouts, which brought up a third and 9 with just over a minute left. FSU had to decide between playing it safe and running the ball or airing it out and going for a first down to seal the win.
The Seminoles chose the former. Not only did they kill the clock, but they also got a touchdown out of the exchange, as Jordan Travis broke free for a 66-yard rush to make it 38-24 with 1: 03 to go.
Grosel hit White for a 20-yard TD with 14 seconds remaining, the onside kick was unsuccessful, and that was that.
“As demoralizing as some drives may feel or some games may feel, you’re one drive away from being back into it, an onside takeaway from having the ball back,” Grosel said. “So I think one positive is keeping the faith, keep driving, and if one or two plays fall our way in the last couple minutes, it could have been a completely different ballgame.”
The defensive issues weren’t only present late in the fourth.
While it was the Eagles’ defensive struggles in the final few minutes that decided the game, their woes earlier in the afternoon also put them in a difficult position leading up to that point.
BC allowed 524 yards of total offense, including 346 in the air. This marked the fifth consecutive game that the Eagles have given up at least 280 yards passing, and it’s the fourth time they’ve allowed 340 or more this season.
The Seminoles came in losers in three of their last four, winless on the road, and with an interim head coach in Odell Haggins making his debut. BC’s defense started strong, holding Florida State to three points in the first 25 minutes.
Everything shifted, however, when Blackman hit Tamorrion Terry in stride down the right sideline for a 74-yard TD. Terry racked up seven receptions for 156 yards and the one TD, and the Eagles had no way to slow him down. The exchange was a sign of things to come, as three of FSU’s five touchdowns were 60-plus-yard plays.
Addazio emphasized the importance of mitigating those chunk plays, pointing out that the defense has several injured players but acknowledging that’s not an excuse. Lamot was a bright spot, with 11 tackles, and Max Richardson added eight, but BC didn’t register any sacks or turnovers and had trouble getting off the field.
“I felt during that game that we were going to have to score over 30,” Addazio said. “What happens sometimes in the course of the game is when it comes in bunches like that, it can be a little deflating, and we have to continue to bounce back from that.”
One costly mistake shouldn’t overshadow a positive day for Dennis Grosel.
While the defense struggled, the offense put points on the board once again.
White on Saturday echoed a belief he’s shared several times over the past few weeks, noting that the Eagles fully expect Grosel to produce when he’s out there. Grosel’s transition into a starting role hasn’t been seamless, but it has been smooth overall. He has command of the offense, and it’s clear the players around him trust him to make plays.
He made great decisions under duress, scrambling for a 24-yard gain instead of forcing a throw in traffic and then torpedoing into the end zone moments later to tie the game late in the fourth. Grosel was also poised as a passer, connecting twice with White for TDs and finding Jake Burt four times for 66 yards.
His lone costly miscue came at an unfortunate time, as he floated the ball up where only and FSU player could get it. It was a difficult ending to another promising showing for Grosel. It was clear after the game that he was disappointed with himself, but he was also encouraged by some of Saturday’s developments.
BC was 14 of 20 on third down, scored five of six times in the red zone, and racked up 508 yards of total offense – all in a loss.
“I think they did a pretty good job of stopping the run,” Grosel said. “But as an offense we need to be more balanced, and I think we brought that a little more today. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
They dominated possession, but it ultimately didn’t matter.
AJ Dillon has achieved such an astonishing level of consistency as BC’s all-time leading rusher that a 165-yard game isn’t particularly noteworthy.
Of course it’s still impressive, and Dillon’s production shouldn’t be taken for granted, but what stood out Saturday was that he set a career-high with 40 carries – the fifth-most in BC history.
It’s not surprising that the Eagles had the ball more than the Seminoles, but it is surprising how significant the gap was. BC had it for 38 minutes, 25 seconds, compared to 21 minutes, 35 seconds for the Seminoles. In the fourth quarter, the margin was 11: 12 to 3: 48 in BC’s favor.
Dominating possession doesn’t necessarily lead to a win every time, but it typically doesn’t hurt. In this case, when Dillon and the offense strung together long, methodical drives, the defense couldn’t build off that momentum.
“We’re putting up nationally big numbers,” Addazio said, “and that’s why we’ve got a footrace to keep developing on the other side.”
BC Football – live via https://t.co/PQFwstlJqq https://t.co/tyBreJ1BRk
— BC Football 🏈 (@BCFootball) November 9, 2019
They may have needed this one, but time will tell.
This was a difficult one to digest for the Eagles. While the Kansas and Clemson losses were more obvious gut-punches, the Wake Forest, Louisville, and Florida State games have been perhaps more disappointing for the Eagles considering they had chances to win all three.
To think that BC could be 8-2 right now is unrealistic given the fickle nature of college football, but the Eagles could easily be 6-4 or 7-3. All three of those losses were by one score, and they could have escaped with a win in each.
Now the Eagles, who are decimated by injuries, have to regroup and use these two weeks to get better. Addazio said focusing on the fundamentals is always a priority, and this stretch will be no different.
BC can still become bowl eligible, but it will take a statement win over Notre Dame, on Nov. 23, or Pittsburgh, on Nov. 30, to do so. This was one the Eagles may have ended up needing, and they couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity.
“I feel like we play with a lot of effort, and we’ve got the heart and the passion, but I feel like we have a problem with finishing at times,” Lamot said. “I feel like we get to the moment and we falter. I feel like we’ve just got to stay positive and keep encouraging each other and just stick to the game plan and just believe and finish.”