Sunday, November 22, 2009

North Carolina 31 Boston College 13

The Scoreboard

                    1      2       3       4      F
North Carolina 21 0 0 10 31
Boston College 3 10 0 0 13
The Story...

In recent BC history, I struggled to think of a game as bizarre as the one we witnessed this weekend. The Eagles were down 21-0 before you'd had a chance to blink, and suddenly, what was supposed to be a great moment for the Eagle seniors, turned into a nightmare. BC rallied though forcing 3 turnovers to claw within 8 at halftime. A strong defensive effort in the 2nd half by both teams (combined with more turnovers) kept the score the same deep into the 4th quarter before Dave Shinskie was picked for the 4th time in the game resulting in the back breaking touchdown for the Tar Heels. A late field goal was added to provide the final 31-13 margin. On the day there were 10 total turnovers (6 by BC, 4 for North Carolina) and less than 400 total yards of offense. Montel Harris continued his assault on the BC record books by gashing the nations 7th rated run defense for 132 yards.

By the Numbers...

24...The number of points North Carolina scored off of BC turnovers. I mentioned this in the game preview, but it bares repeating here. The Tar Heels offense is mediocre and generally relies on their defense to help either score points for them, or put them in great position to do so on their own. The Tar Heels longest sustained drive was their opening drive in which they went 70 yards in 8 plays for their lone unassisted score. After that, the longest drive they could cobble together was 31 yards. The defense did it's job, Dave Shinskie and the rest of the offense were horrendous despite multiple opportunities.

6...The number of carries for Montel Harris in the 2nd half. With Shinskie struggling badly to find open receivers, common logic would seem to indicate that the best course of action would be to continue giving the ball to your best weapon...especially after a productive first half. And it wasn't as if he was ineffective on those 2nd half carries as he racked up 48 yards (8 yard average). If Gary Tranquill felt like they couldn't run the ball much more, they could have at least attempted to utilize the North Carolina strategy of short passes and screens rather than attacking deep.

0...The number of conversions on 3rd down for BC. Repeatedly the offense was forced into 3rd and long situations and forced to have to make plays 7 or 8 yards down the field when they clearly weren't able. By contrast, North Carolina utilized the bruising Ryan Houston (more in the 1st half) and a short passing game utilizing multiple screens and misdirections to keep the game manageable for the equally abysmal TJ Yates.

6...The number of points the Eagles came away with after turnovers provided them the ball inside the UNC 30 yard line. As was mentioned in the preview, 1 of the keys to the game would be the ability to make the most of scoring opportunities. Whereas North Carolina scored touchdowns on their opportunities, the Eagles primarily kicked field goals. If both of these opportunities were touchdowns, the game would have been 21-21 at halftime and could have turned out different.

19...The number of tackles by Luke Kuechly. The defense was repeatedly ask to keep the team in the game despite being given a short field to defend. Kuechly though rose to the challenge and was simply everywhere making plays. There's not much more that can be said of the season that this kid has turned in, as he is likely the best freshman linebacker in the country and most certainly the best freshman linebacker BC has ever had.

Thumbs Up...

Montel Harris

Despite facing the 7th ranked run defense in America, Harris turned in another stellar day with 23 carries for 132 yards for a 5.7 average. North Carolina was averaging just 90 yards allowed on the ground this season. Montel was able to break the Eagles out of tight spots many times with his tremendous vision and keep the offense moving in the 1st half. The only thing he wasn't able to do was get the ball in the end zone on the goal line in the 1st quarter.

The Secondary

Roderick Rollins and Marty Bowman in particular were spectacular. The secondary was outstanding again against the North Carolina receivers and running game. For one of the few times all season, the corners will allowed to play close to the line of scrimmage and try and cover the receivers man to man and they were very successful at it. They did a great job keeping receivers in front of them and breaking up potential big plays on the rare occasions that TJ Yates attempted to throw down the field. The coverage also produced multiple interceptions as Yates simply had nowhere to go with the football (the Rollins INT in the end zone stood out). Also, when the Tar Heels ran the ball, the safety's did a tremendous job of filling the gaps and helping the D-Line bring down Ryan Houston.

The Offensive Line

Against one of the more fierce pass rushes in the country and a tremendous run defense, the O-Line played one of it's better games of the season. They stifled ACC defensive player of the year candidate Robert Quinn after a quick start, holding him without a sack and only 3 tackles. They also kept Butkus Award semi-finalist Quan Sturdivant from being a major factor (just 7 tackles). Shinskie was given good time to find receivers, and Montel Harris was given lanes to run through. What happened Saturday was not their fault and they deserve recognition for their efforts on senior day.

Thumbs Down...

Dave Shinskie

I've been among the group that has defended him through his growing pains this season by trying to get people to put his performances in perspective. He's still a true freshman QB, playing organized football for the first time in 7 years. But, his performance yesterday was inexcusable. With ample time to throw the ball he simply could not make the throws necessary to keep the team in the game. He indicated that he had injured his thumb at some point during the game, but that still doesn't change the fact that he didn't seem to have the presence to throw the ball away or run when the rush finally closed in on him.

Wide Receivers

As bad as Shinskie was, this group wasn't any better. On the rare occasions when the beleaguered QB was able to throw a catchable ball, the receiving core struggled to actually...you know...catch it. Several drops resulted in killing drives and prevented the Eagles from establishing any kind of flow offensively, particularly in the 2nd half. They weren't the primary problem for BC, but they don't get let off the hook for this one either.

Gary Tranquill

Perhaps more than the rest, Gary Tranquill could shoulder the blame for this debacle. His play calling was questionable when it came to 3rd down situations, as the Eagles repeatedly threw on 3rd and short to no avail. Also, when it became clear that BC could not beat the UNC secondary down the field with a vertical passing game, perhaps a screen pass or short comeback routes would have been a better idea. That's assuming they should have thrown it as much as they did. They clearly were able to run against the vaunted Carolina defense but went away from it in the 2nd half (8 rushes). I mentioned this last week, the premise about getting Harris hurt because of overusage is ridiculous, as he could be hurt on 1 carry rather than on 31 carries. You can't play scared. If the game dictates Harris running it 40 times, then so be it, and yesterday, it did.

Overall...

Excluding the disastrous beginning to the game for BC, the team battled valiantly despite the uphill nature of it. I went in expecting BC to lose in much the same fashion that they did (excluding the 10 turnovers of course), but it doesn't take away the sting of "what if?". The Eagles had multiple opportunities to get back into the game and steal it despite the poor play of the offense. They need to have short memories though, as they travel down to College Park to play a Maryland team that is probably the worst in the conference. A loss there would be devastating and would serve to put a dark cloud over what, overall, has been a very positive season. Finish strong should be the motto.

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