Northeastern running back John Griffin began his season by taking the ball from his quarterback and meeting Boston College defensive lineman Alex Albright and linebacker Luke Kuechly, who tackled him for a two-yard loss. Two more plays and BC had forced its first punt of the season after allowing just three positive yards. The Eagles’ defense formed a wall that the Huskies simply could not penetrate, giving up only 131 total offensive yards.
BC will aim to maintain the momentum and put on a similar performance against Kent State Saturday. The offense remains volatile; quarterbacks Justin Tuggle and David Shinskie will continue to compete on the field as coaches determine who will be the permanent starter. As a result, the Eagles will look to the veteran defense to remain the solid force of recent seasons to relieve some pressure and keep control of the game.
“[The strong defense] definitely helps,” Tuggle said. “You aren’t going to be sitting on the sidelines hoping and praying for drives to end so you can get out there and play again. You know you’re going to be back on the field quick.”
In last year’s season opener at Cleveland Browns Stadium, BC shut out the Kent State 21-0. The Golden Flashes managed just 260 yards offensively and did not see the inside of the 45-yard line until the fourth quarter. The Eagles once again find themselves studying tape of Eugene Jarvis, who was the nation’s leading returning rusher in 2008. They held him to 51 yards on the ground in last season’s match-up, short of his 102 yard-per-game career average.
“He seems to be a very good player,” Kuechly said. “He is very quick.”
Kuechly, the only freshman starter, led the team in tackles against Northeastern. He shared the first tackle of the game with Albright, followed up immediately with one of his own on the second play, and continued with five more throughout the game. In addition, he recorded one and a half tackles for a loss and the only broken-up pass of the day.
The Cincinnati, Ohio, native has stepped up nicely into an injury-ridden linebacker corps. Mark Herzlich, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, announced last year that he would sit out a year to battle Ewing’s Sarcoma, which abruptly took out a physical presence and defensive leader on the field. Mike McLaughlin and Will Thompson have also been forced to sit out with injuries, though not as dire of circumstances; McLaughlin is recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered in March, and Thompson is dealing with a shoulder injury. This left an opening for a freshman that no one really expected to see the field.
Opening against Northeastern provided Kuechly and other newcomers with a game that was less challenging than some of the ACC foes down the road. It was “a game to get the jitters out,” Kuechly said, admitting that there is still “a long way to go.”
BC’s pass defense will face a young quarterback in Giorgio Morgan, who redshirted last season but played in two games the year before as a true freshman. Last week against Coastal Carolina, Morgan completed 21 of 31 pass attempts and threw two interceptions. The Eagles did not record an interception against Northeastern, but allowed only eight completed passes for 49 yards. BC has been first, second, and third nationally in interceptions in the past three years. The team also ranked second in non-offensive touchdowns last year and have already recorded one this season on a punt return by wide receiver Rich Gunnell, who took a kick back 46 yards for a score.
The Eagles’ wall has thus far stood firm on third downs, which proved to be an issue for Kent State in its first game of the season. The Golden Flashes managed only one of 13 attempts in the first game of the season, and BC allowed just two of 15 attempts by Northeastern.
BC will face its second non-conference opponent in its second game of the season Saturday, with the goal of continuing to hammer down the specifics before opening conference play the following week. Kent State should provide more of a challenge than Northeastern but will not have the athleticism or discipline that many ACC teams boast. Playing a squad they shut out last year does not hurt the Eagles, either.
The defense simply needs to continue playing as it has in the past year and as it did last week in order to provide the Eagles with not only some stability but also legitimate reasons to believe they can quiet the analysts who slated BC for a last-place finish.