Football, Featured Column, Column

Can BC Make A Bowl Game Despite Injury-Riddled Offense?

This may be the last football column I will write.

This team has brought me from complete optimism to cautious hope to questioning whether the whole year is a bust, all since the season started less than a month ago.

One minute Darius Wade is coming off spring and fall camps ready to lead this team, the next minute the offense is putting up a goose-egg against the Seminoles and Wade is out for the season. Now the doomsday clock has struck midnight and Jonathan Hilliman, finally flashing his talent against Northern Illinois, is out indefinitely with a broken foot. Starters Wade, Hilliman, and center Frank Taylor are all out, while kick returner/running back Myles Willis is questionable.

I’m mad. I was excited to see this young team come together. I was excited by all of Steve Addazio’s talk about having the most athletic and explosive team yet.

So for yet another time, after only four games, I’m slamming on my keyboard with a scowl on my face, wondering, “Well, where do we go from here?”

Coming into the season, Boston College needed seven wins to make a bowl for the third consecutive year. Those seven wins, in theory, should come from Maine, Howard, Northern Illinois, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Syracuse. Historically, these are all teams that BC always has a chance to beat, year in and year out. This year, at the start, was no different. Barring an upset against the top ACC teams or Notre Dame, these are the games BC has to win to make a bowl.

Maine was a quick check mark off the list, Howard was never anything but a win, and Northern Illinois—a historically strong program—was defeated, just barely. That leaves four teams that are always seen as beatable. But now, amid the crumbling of the offensive foundations, are these games still winnable?

Given the current state of the defense—as in, they’re all superhumans—I’m not so quick to chisel in the final words of the epitaph on BC’s tombstone. Take out the abomination of the Howard game, and the D still has given up the fewest yards per game in the country by 50. The front seven is stacked. Steven Daniels bowls over linemen with ease, Harold Landry bursts off the edge, Mehdi Abdesmad clogs the middle, and it all adds up to a pile of turf stuck to the QB’s helmet. Even the young secondary is shaping up quickly.

As a whole, they’re special enough to somehow keep the Eagles’ hopes alive, despite everything possible going wrong on the other side of the ball. A defense this good can lift even a mediocre offense to bowl eligibility, which would be an incredible feat in another “rebuilding” year.

With a healthy Hilliman, I’d be soaking in a bubble bath of pure unadulterated optimism. I’d say that the run game—in spite of the dubious two-quarterback system—and the defense combined can win all those games, no question.

But his injury is a potential season-ruiner. No one had as much value to a team with a completely inexperienced and tentative passing game as he did. And he was the main reason BC put up 17 points last week.

Now, the burden falls on the corps of backup running backs.

As it stands, Willis is questionable, so he’s a big “if” in the equation right now. That leaves Outlow and Rouse. It’s a fair point to say these players don’t have the skill or experience to fill the void left by Hilliman.

The thing with college athletes, however, is that we know nothing about them until they play considerable minutes. We can analyze the crap out of them in recruiting and we can talk all we want about their NFL potential, but the truth is that we know absolutely nothing substantial about them until they get their moment. We know, per Addazio, that Rouse has the motor and the mindset to go 100 mph every game, and he has shown some good stuff this year. Outlow, who has also been hurting, has been used less, but BC can still hope for a breakout from him. And that’s all if Willis, a viable option that has had success in the past, isn’t ready for this weekend.

Wake Forest and Syracuse are the worst of the four, and two of the worst teams in college football—those should be wins. All BC has to do in these games is continue its dominant defense and do just enough on offense.

“Just enough” is not a high goal. Against NIU, the defensive unit gave up seven points (and even those came as a result of the offense throwing a pick), so Flutie, Smith, and co. only had to get 10. They ended up with 17. Similarly, they should have enough to beat Wake Forest and Syracuse, especially since both teams are without starting quarterbacks John Wolford and Terrel Hunt, respectively.

If BC wants any chance to beat NC State and VT and make a bowl, though, they’re going to have to fix the special teams. They can afford some mishaps against the Deacons and Orange, but this is a big swing factor against the two tougher opponents.

Sherman Alston has not been great. His decision-making has been poor. At times, he has tried to do too much, like pick up a bouncing punt at the 6-yard line. At other times, he makes too many fair catches. This is very fixable problem—either you could make Willis, who has been great on kickoff return, the punt returner, or you focus on Sherm in practicing by giving him extra reps and coaching him up.

So all the Eagles have to do is correct their special teams play (not a terribly difficult task), do enough at quarterback (which they’ve done once already), have a breakout year from some RBs, and then hope for some health. Playing at home against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and NC State will be a much-needed bonus, and late bye week might just help the Eagles regroup offensively for a late-season bowl push that will come down to the last week.

Things look bleak, but there’s a shimmer of light at the end of the Alumni Stadium tunnel, and if the Eagles reach it, I’ll live to write another football column.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

September 30, 2015