Friday, November 20, 2009

BC football vs. North Carolina Preview

Who: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-3, 3-3) vs. Boston College Eagles (7-3, 4-2)

Where: Alumni Stadium -- Chestnut Hill, MA

When: 12:00pm EST on ESPN2 and WRKO-AM680

Last We Saw Them...

The Eagles were holding on for dear life as they struggled to put away the lowly Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Dave Shinskie had thrown 2 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown) and nearly several more. He did connect with Justin Jarvis in the 2nd quarter for a score, and then with the team trailing 10-7, he converted a 4th and goal from the 1 to put the Eagles ahead. On the final drive of the game, Virginia drove from its own 21 to the BC 17 with 30 seconds remaining. On 4th and 2, Cavaliers QB Jameel Sewell scrambled but was stood up just in front of the first down marker by Mike Morrissey to preserve the 14-10 win. It was the first road victory of the season for Boston College.

Know Thy Enemy...

North Carolina is riding a strong wave of momentum into the Heights for this weekends game. They've beaten 2 nationally ranked teams in the last 3 weeks, including a 17-14 win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The Heels rely on a stifling defense that is among the fastest in the country. They rank 8th in the nation in total defense (268 ypg) and are particularly stingy against the run (under 90 ypg allowed). They're led defensively by middle linebacker Quan Sturdivant (64 tackles, 10 for loss) and DE Robert Quinn (10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles). If the Eagles are to compete in this game, they will especially need to get a handle on Quinn. When Quinn and Sturdivant are factors in the pass rush, it makes their secondary that much more dangerous. Kendrick Burney will be the man in that secondary looking to do the most damage (3 INT's last week against Miami). However, the UNC secondary has shown vulnerability when the QB has had time to see the field. Protection will be key for the Eagles.

Offensively the Tar Heels have struggled this year and at times have been just downright awful. 3rd year QB TJ Yates still leads the UNC attack, but has been inconsistent since returning from off season knee surgery. He has shown improvement over the last few weeks though. The rushing attack was powered by a dual combo of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, but the former is lost for the remainder of the year thanks to shoulder surgery. Houston is a straight ahead power back (6'2, 245), and has enough athleticism and speed to make defenders miss at times. BC will need to have multiple bodies in to stop the run, requiring a better effort for the D-Line than we've seen this year.

Go-No Go...

Nothing really new for the Eagles in terms of injuries. Backup RB Rolandan Finch will again miss the game as he continues to recover from his battle with mono, he could be available next week. DE Alex Albright remains questionable with a lingering ankle problem along with fellow lineman Jim Ramella. The only real change to the report is the addition of James McCluskey who is listed as questionable because of a leg issue. McCluskey missed the first 6 games of the season with a torn achilles.

For the Tar Heels, only the aforementioned Shaun Draughn will be out of action in terms of key players. FB Devon Ramsay is listed as question with an ankle sprain he suffered during last weeks win over Miami.

What To Watch For...

BC's Offensive Line

I mentioned this earlier, but it bares mentioning again. The North Carolina defense is absolutely frightening, particularly in the front 7. The secondary is full of ball hawks, but it may be the weakness in the unit. Individually, they struggle in man to man coverage, especially when plays are given time to develop. With BC's stable of good receivers, they can exploit this. But it will take a supreme effort from the offensive line to provide Shinskie the time he needs to find the open receivers, and for the receivers to run their routes. Also, it will be important for BC to keep some semblance of balance in their offense by utilizing some creative ways to get Montel Harris going in the run game. Slamming the ball up the middle will not get it done. If these things happen, BC's chances of winning increase exponentially.

Ryan Houston

The bruising tail back may well be the key to the game for both teams. Houston is a load in the backfield weighing in at nearly 250 pounds. He also is nimble enough to avoid tackles and extend plays. BC must not let him bounce off tackles and get those 2nd and 3rd effort yards. This will require the defensive line to turn in perhaps its best effort of the year. They'll need to make the stops at the point of attack and force the Tar Heels into passing situations. North Carolina does not have that Hakeem Nicks or Brandon Tate level of receiver this year, and as such BC should be able to contain the passing game, particularly in 2nd/3rd and long.

Special Teams

With 2 stout defenses and 2 offenses that have been prone to mistakes and long stretches of ineffectiveness, it's not unreasonable to assume that this could be a low scoring game. This means that special teams could end up playing a huge role in the outcome of this game. The team that wins the field position battle (punts inside the 20, kickoff/punt returns, etc) could well win the game.

Red Zone Efficiency

Again, the game could be low scoring so it will be CRITICAL for both teams to capitalize when the opportunities present themselves. In the red zone it will be completely unacceptable for either team to leave points on the field via turnovers, missed field goals, etc. The team that makes the most of the (potentially) rare opportunities to put up points could end up winning the game.

How It's Gonna Go Down...

I won't lie. This game makes me very uneasy as a BC fan. Teams with dominant defensive lines have been the teams that have frustrated the Eagles the most this season (read: Clemson). I can see the effort and execution on the offensive line being better than in that game, but ultimately I think they'll struggle to contain Sturdivant and Quinn. Expect a low scoring game where Carolina racks up yards but not points and BC struggles to move the ball. Late in the game Quinn will pick up his 11th sack of the year resulting in a fumble or he'll force an errant throw by Shinskie that will be picked off. Carolina will score late to torpedo the undefeated home season.

The Line: BC -3
The Call: UNC 17 BC 9

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