FOOTBALL: A Tall Order
BC Faces Its Toughest Challenge Yet In A Matchup With No. 8 FSU Saturday
Published: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 02:09
Last time the Boston College football team dueled with Florida State, it found itself on the wrong side of a 44-point deficit at game’s end.
The 51-7 onslaught in Tallahassee last October sent a listless BC squad adrift with a 1-5 record and a third straight defeat to the Seminoles—a loss that saw the Eagle defense surrender 649 yards of total offense.
Nearly a year later, BC’s defense is preparing for a chance at redemption in this weekend’s matchup with No. 8 FSU. With a new head coach, a rejuvenated defensive attack, and a revitalized attitude, there is no room in the Eagles’ locker room for long-expired embarrassment.
“We don’t think about last year anymore,” said defensive end and senior captain Kasim Edebali. “We’re a new outfit. We’re ready to go and set a statement.”
Over the 2013 season’s first two weeks, BC’s defense stayed true to its promise. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit forced a combined eight turnovers while only surrendering 24 points. The Eagles’ demons from 2012—costly miscues and poor execution—appeared to be excised.
And then the team’s momentum sputtered in Southern California, as big plays battered BC for over 500 yards and rendered Brown’s defensive scheme vulnerable.
“We didn’t play as well as we were capable of,” said junior linebacker Josh Keyes. “This week is a really good week for us to prove to our team and to all of our fans that we can play with the best in the country.”
While the nightmares E.J. Manuel inflicted upon the Eagles left with him for the NFL, FSU brandishes a rearmed offensive arsenal build around redshirt-freshman signal-caller Jameis Winston.
The duel-threat quarterback’s eight touchdowns have pushed him into early Heisman Trophy discussions and the center of BC’s attention heading into game day.
“He’s strong and powerful,” said head coach Steve Addazio in yesterday’s ACC teleconference. “You can’t arm tackle this guy. He’s got a strong arm. He’s a competitive guy and a strong runner.”
Yet the BC defense still exhibits a confidence uncharacteristic of a unit that has allowed FSU to score 89 points over their last two meetings.
While their assertive style of defense is vulnerable to blown coverage and exploitable holes, the Eagles’ revitalized approach has the potential to wreak havoc.
The scheme’s potency was on display in week two against Wake Forest, as a balanced BC attack disrupted the Demon Deacons’ option game and immobilized veteran duel-threat quarterback Tanner Price.
With the potential to send any defender flying in to attack the ball and cut off a developing play, BC has managed to rattle opposing offenses with an aura of uncertainty. Brandishing nine sacks and 62 yards over three weeks, the Eagles’ do-or-die style of play is worth the risk.
“We just have to understand that if everyone does their job—if everyone’s locked in for that one play—we should be able to get [Winston],” said senior linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis.
In truth, Winston presents a challenge greater than the likes of Price and most other dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. Regardless of how FSU’s signal-caller has played with the poise of a veteran, however, he is still just a redshirt freshman, untested by the free-wheeling defense he’ll experience on Saturday.
Even Winston can be thrown off-balance.
“Especially with a young quarterback, you try to make him feel uncomfortable,” Edebali said. “We’re going to really try to get after him so he makes mistakes.”
As evidenced by the emphasis of “we” throughout their Wednesday morning practice, the Eagle defenders are prepared to confront FSU as a unified front. Yet Pierre-Louis spoke highly of an individual on BC’s defense that can emerge as a surprising difference-maker—his teammate Keyes.
“He’s grown a lot,” the senior linebacker said. “He’s come a long way, honestly.”
Pierre-Louis remembered calling Keyes the Tasmanian Devil when he arrived at BC. The junior exhibited the natural speed and contagious energy of a playmaker, yet always seemed to be out of position.
Recognizing unfulfilled potential, Pierre-Louis gave a piece of ironic advice in the fast-paced atmosphere of Division I college football—slow down.
“I’m not going to lie, it was weird at first,” Pierre-Louis said of his unorthodox critique of Keyes, “but sometimes you’ve just got to be honest.”
With a forced fumble on his stat line and the respect of his veteran teammates at the forefront of his mind, Keyes can serve as the extra boost BC will need on Saturday.
“I know that if I’m not on my game or if I’m not making the plays that I need to make, No. 25 is going to be there instead of No. 24,” Pierre-Louis said, “so he’s doing a great job.”
Nevertheless, the optimism that BC exuded on the practice field is countered by the No. 8 national ranking that will accompany the Seminoles as they travel north to Chestnut Hill.
Even for a unit anchored by seasoned veterans, the prospect of squaring off against an elite program on a national stage can induce jitters. With each big challenge comes a chance for glory.
“Every team wants that opportunity,” said senior linebacker Steele Divitto, “and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Yet an upset victory cannot be earned by a squad paralyzed with awe for their opponent. Regardless of national rankings, standout quarterbacks, and defensive schemes, confidence can be a great equalizer out on the playing field.
“We understand they’re a good team, but they’re very beatable,” Pierre-Louis said. “They’re guys just like us. They’re practicing like we do, they’re working just like us. They’re regular guys out there. They’re not some powerhouse that no one can touch.
“We’re definitely going to bring it to them on Saturday.”