With time dwindling in the second quarter, Boston College had the chance to pin Northern Illinois University against the ropes and deliver a devastating blow.
Head coach Steve Addazio had two timeouts at his disposal and a defense that was essentially playing perfectly. He could have significantly shifted the momentum of the game with crucial points in the closing seconds of the half.
Following a six-yard completion to bring the Eagles across midfield, Addazio had Flutie spike the ball on second down, even though BC still had a timeout remaining.
Then, with the clock stopped on third down, Addazio burned his final timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty. The Eagles squandered a golden chance, waving the white flag by handing the ball off to Tyler Rouse to drain the clock all the way to zero. Despite promising field position and ample time to make a play at the end zone, BC came away with nothing to show for it.
BC (3-1, 0-1 ACC) beat NIU (2-2, 0-0 MAC) on Saturday afternoon, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell based on the mood in the postgame press conference. Addazio and his players said the things they were supposed to—they came out and played hard, they were happy but not satisfied—but there seemed to be no meaning or emotion behind the words.
While some units, like the defense, played very well for the Eagles, most things went significantly worse. And that starts with Addazio.
The Eagles were nearly done in by their head coach’s defeatist play-calling strategy and inability to manage the clock during crucial junctures of the game. In addition to the bungled drive at the end of the first half, the Eagles nearly blew the game with mismanagement of the clock in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Since poor clock management has bitten BC before in close losses before—see State, Colorado—one would think that the coaching staff would have learned its lesson. Judging by Saturday, that is not the case.
With just over four minutes left, the Eagles were leading by three points following a NIU kickoff return for a touchdown. They lined up to begin an offensive drive on their own 25-yard line. The Huskies had previously used all of their timeouts, so a drive consisting of a few first downs would have likely ended the game.
On first down, Tyler Rouse rushed up the middle for a short gain. On second down, Rouse rushed up the middle for a short gain. On third down, Rouse rushed up the middle for a short gain. On 4th and 1, an injured Alex Howell shanked a punt to give the Huskies the ball on their own 35-yard line.
NIU got the ball back with more than two minutes on the clock, only having to go about 30 yards for a chance to tie the game. While the Huskies squandered their opportunity just as the Eagles did, this does not excuse the decisions made by Addazio.
Running the ball makes sense in that situation, but Addazio did not vary the play calls at all, giving the Huskies the same look three straight plays. Pocket passer Troy Flutie was in the game, despite the fact that run-first quarterback Jeff Smith presented much more of a threat on the ground. Given the circumstances, Northern Illinois knew to expect the run, so it loaded the box with eight or nine defenders on each play. Addazio said himself after the game that the best ways to counter an eight- or nine-man front is by running the option—Smith’s specialty—or throwing the play-action.
So if there was no intent to throw a pass, why was Flutie in the game? And once Flutie did come in, why not mix in a play action to draw the defense off-guard?
Addazio chose to counter the NIU loaded front by doing neither of his self-professed best choices. He ran the ball up the middle with Rouse—who was declared doubtful to return to the game with a head injury just minutes earlier—three consecutive times, admitting defeat by punting with only a yard to go for the first down.
These are not decisions made to win a game—they are decisions made to prevent a loss. In the final minutes of the game on Saturday, BC looked like a desperate team trying to avoid a loss, rather than a tenacious team demanding a win.
Addazio has a clear plan to win. He has no intention of deviating from that plan, and neither do his players. The Plan To Win is plastered all over the walls of the Yawkey Athletic Center for the entire team (and media) to see. The Boston College Plan To Win is to play great defense, win the turnover battle, run the football, score in the red zone, and play great special teams.
“Play great defense. Run the football,” Addazio said, slamming his clenched fist into the press conference table with each emphasized syllable. “That’s the way that we are gonna have success. We need to do what we’re doing at a much higher level.”
This plan is embodied in Addazio—the two are inseparable. If the BC Plan To Win fails, Addazio fails.
It nearly failed on Saturday because of one glaring omission to the Plan—to control the clock. It does not appear to be a mistake that it was left off.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor