Football, Top Story

Refs, Special Teams Miscues Plague BC Against Duke

“We needed to make one more play, and we didn’t make one more play.”

-Steve Addazio

DURHAM, N.C. — ’Tis the season to get into the Halloween spirit. October rolls around and it’s time to go crazy for Hocus Pocus, corn mazes, and begging elderly neighbors for candy while receiving nothing but dental equipment. Line up your best costume for that big night that ends this long month. Make it out of a cardboard box, do your makeup like a Hollywood artist, or just grab some cat ears. Whatever it takes, try to get in the mood for this time of year.

Boston College head coach Steve Addazio already has his costume. He’ll be going as a pumpkin. It doesn’t take much for him to get his costume on—all he has to do is watch his offense and special teams.

For every failed run up the middle, Addazio stomped his feet. For every incompletion, he shook his head. And for every call made by a line judge, he clenched his fists, charged down across the bench, screaming profanity, enraged at the calls they blew.

Really, the only person he should be mad at is himself.

With rain coming down hard on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium, home of Duke University, the Eagles (3-2, 0-2 ACC) had the upper hand. They had the perfect opportunity to employ the run-heavy scheme Addazio loves so much, even against a front seven as fearsome as David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils (4-1, 2-0 ACC).

Yet for all the heart Don Brown’s defense put into this game, BC showed its youth in a 9-7 loss. And Addazio’s staff, which emphasized special teams all week in practice as the key to the game, didn’t appear to have a game plan that was up to the challenge of playing against the ACC’s best teams.

At the outset, the Eagles looked outmatched. Cutcliffe quickly realized that his team would find no holes through BC’s defensive line, so he trusted his quarterback, Thomas Sirk, to exploit the passing defense. Though almost as elite as the run defense, BC’s defensive weakness comes from short passes over the middle, when linebackers such as Steven Daniels and Connor Strachan are forced into covering speedy receivers.

Following a first quarter drive that ended in a Reed Martin field goal, Sirk was on the move again, before Daniels got back to what he does best: rushing the passer. A seven yard sack gave Duke a 3rd and 17, reasonably out of a college kicker’s field goal range.

At that point, Addazio’s face began to shade into that orange tint.

Sirk connected with Max McCaffrey for what initially appeared to be an 18-yard reception. BC corner Isaac Yiadom emphatically waved his arms to signal no catch, prompting a booth review. Although replays made it appear that McCaffrey dropped the ball, the zebras stuck with their call, leading to a second Duke field goal. Later in the first half, Martin crushed a 53 yarder to put up a 9-0 Blue Devil lead.

But once again, BC’s offense and special teams couldn’t bail out the few mistakes the defense made. In the first half, the run game barely mustered any momentum, gaining only 100 yards. Even worse, Addazio’s quarterback tandem of Troy Flutie and Jeff Smith combined for no completions on nine attempts.

It’s hard, however, to blame the quarterbacks on one of those incompletions.

Facing 3rd and 12 in Duke territory, Smith lofted the ball up to Thadd Smith, who clearly caught the ball and went to the ground after crossing the plane. Smith the receiver began his celebration, showing the ball to the line judge.

Then Addazio burst into a burnt orange inferno, fired by the ghosts of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and all the famous Blue Devils who college basketball fans believe got every call to go their way.

The refs called it an incompletion on the field, claiming that Smith didn’t have possession as he went to the ground. That incited an outrage from Addazio, one that he’d have to be restrained by assistants for and that he’d still be chirping about when the Eagles headed to the locker room at the half. He didn’t outright blame Thadd, but at least provided his hypothesis.

“Never present the ball [to the refs],” Addazio said. “When you catch the ball, bring the ball right back to you.”

Whether the line judge blew the call or not, it doesn’t excuse the botched snap on a field goal attempt by Colton Lichtenberg immediately after that play. Nor does it excuse BC’s seemingly neverending parade of special teams miscues.

Sherman Alston, a surprising option given Addazio’s qualms with the return team throughout the whole season, muffed a punt at BC’s own 14-yard line, slamming his hands against his helmet in disgust after he did. That didn’t end up hurting anything but the clock, thanks to a Herculean effort by the defensive line. Eyeing 4th and 1 at the goal line, Cutcliffe decided to go for the kill.

Kill, meet Kevin Kavalec and Matt Milano and their incredible ability to stuff the run. That stop seemed to spark BC—a couple of drives later, Flutie hit Smith on a 66-yard touchdown pass into the wind to cut that lead to 9-7.

And yet we come back to the special teams unit. An impressive drive led by Flutie and Marcus
Outlow set up a 4th and 3 in Blue Devil territory. Normally, this would be a chance for a 45-yard field goal. But this is a story the Eagles have already written—last year, Alex Howell, a more experienced kicker than Lichtenberg, missed a 42-yarder that could’ve tied BC’s game against Florida State.

Addazio decided to send out his true freshman—the only option, considering Howell’s injuries rendered him unavailable for placekicking—thinking history couldn’t bite him twice and acting conservative was the way to go. He felt it’d be “absolutely crazy” to do anything but trust his kicker—”He doesn’t lack for a leg,” Addazio claims.

But today, Lichtenberg did, coming up well short of the goalposts.

With one more chance at midfield after a bad punt by Duke, the Eagles couldn’t make that one more play.

Addazio pointed out that his team did outgain the Blue Devils 305 to 228, which, by all respects, is a positive sign for this offense. Even he couldn’t avoid mentioning the team’s blown opportunities. “We had seven taken off the board and two missed field goals,” Addazio said. “That’s 13 points off the board.”

Yet he kept coming back to one crucial point: this is still a young team. This is a team that will make mistakes, especially given the banged up offense down Darius Wade, Jonathan Hilliman, and Myles Willis.

And while that’s fair, to credit his team’s miscues on a young offense filled with many players that have been thrust into starting roles for the first time it’s worthwhile asking: When will Addazio stop making mistakes of his own?

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

October 3, 2015