Football, Featured Column, Column

Eagles Reach Their Inevitable Demise Against Wolfpack

On ACC Media Day, when all records were a clean slate and, in the words of Kevin Garnett, “anything is possibo,” Steve Addazio had tempered confidence for this season.

He touted what Boston College has done each of the last two years, getting seven-win seasons and maximizing its talent as much as possible. But Addazio consistently stressed the idea of his five-year rebuilding process. And Year Three, of course, would be that turning point—when the old men were gone and the new men, Addazio’s men, would come in on offense and contribute. So, before anyone got their hopes up about making a bowl game for a third consecutive season, the fiery head coach reminded us of that.

“This year is a year that I really believe we have to play great defense because we’re very young on offense,” Addazio said, addressing the North Carolina crowd on July 21 about the future of his team. “We’re more athletic than we’ve been in the last couple years, but youth usually equates to mistakes. Mistakes equal inconsistency. Inconsistency brings about a lack of execution. That’s the battle we’re in right now.”

Well, we’re in Week 10 of Year Three. And, for now, the Eagles have lost this battle.

It’s not that it happened that has made this season so frustrating for players, coaches, and fans alike (not to mention select members of the media). It’s how it happened.

Record for the year—3-7. Record in the ACC—0-7. One of the country’s worst offenses miserably fails to complement a defense that has been no worse than the fifth-best and, for much of the year, the best.

To be fair, it’s not entirely the fault of the 18- to 22-year-olds that have to take to the gridiron each Saturday afternoon. In many ways, they were put into impossible situations. This young offensive line, featuring Chris Lindstrom, James Hendren, and Aaron Monteiro, had to be thrown into the fire at some point. They haven’t produced at the level that Addazio, a supposed master of the offensive line, feels they can—28 yards on 34 carries in Saturday’s game against North Carolina State.

That’s worsened by the fact that, by virtue of playing in the ACC, this team faces elite defenses each week. The Eagles have played the fifth (Clemson), eighth (Duke), 10th (NC State), 16th (Louisville), 24th (Florida State), 31st (Wake Forest), and 32nd (Virginia Tech) best defenses in terms of yards allowed. That wouldn’t have been easy for BC’s all-grad student offensive line last year. For this particular position, development takes a lot of time, and, frankly, this is the only way to get it.

Additionally, the Eagles have been snake-bitten by injuries in a way few teams can realistically come back from. BC lost its starting quarterback, Darius Wade, the guy Addazio wanted to build his future around, and its starting running back, Jonathan Hilliman, a man poised to make a serious run at the Doak Walker Award. It’s not impossible to succeed when you lose guys that a coaching staff simply can’t have a backup plan to replace—how many starting players has No. 5 Notre Dame lost this season and yet the Irish have STILL played like a College Football Playoff contender?—but it’s incredibly difficult.

Nevertheless, the replacements have struggled. Part of it is that waiting game, just like with the offensive line. Kamrin Moore and Isaac Yiadom, the team’s two best cornerbacks, were injured, so in stepped Gabriel McClary, Taj-Amir Torres, and Will Harris. Against NC State, that crew had flashes of brilliance—McClary broke up a couple of passes that he could have intercepted, one of which he saw daylight for miles to the end zone ahead of him and got a little too excited. But on other plays, we saw that painful youth. Harris got burned early on an 83-yard touchdown bomb by the Wolfpack’s Jacoby Brissett. Torres allowed a receiver to go up and over him on a play he should’ve broken up, but instead allowed the Wolfpack to get inside BC’s red zone.

Hilliman’s replacements—Myles Willis, Richard Wilson, Jordan Gowins, Tyler Rouse, and Marcus Outlow—haven’t gotten the job done either. At times, they’ve lacked the explosiveness that they showed flashes of against the good ol’ FCS teams (remember Maine and Howard?). But a lot of their lack of firepower has been the result of that offensive line play. So you can defend the whole unit there, too.

In the postgame press conference, Addazio not-so-subtly called out the media for looking for people to blame. Instead of deferring blame to his players, he explicitly said to blame him.

Okay, Coach, you got it.

Addazio grew increasingly defensive about how his strategy to stick to the run game hasn’t worked this season, resorting to incredible amounts of sarcasm. “We were one of the best running teams in the country the last two years. We’re not now,” Addazio said. “I know what happened, I forgot how to call the run game. You’re right, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know how to call the run game. But for the last two years, we were an elite running team.”

The head coach then took a moment to slam the podium in front of him, before continuing. “Golly, man, what a jerk, can’t call the run game anymore,” Addazio retorted. “I have a long memory, and I’ll come back at this podium, and I’ll look right here, and say, ‘I told you.’ Because that’s what’s going to happen here.”

It’s not the inability to call the run game that has made this season frustrating. Rather, it’s the inability to adjust when the offense isn’t working. It’s the predictability of the offense. Take, for example, when BC had the ball in its own territory at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Eagles had 3rd and 2, down by 21, when they went into the Power I, putting no players out wide and using as many tight as possible. Addazio has used the same play on almost every short yardage third down this season. Naturally, Wilson got stuffed.

That shouldn’t have surprised Addazio, given the ineffectiveness of the running game all day. And afterward, he touted John Fadule and his 257 passing yards—the most through the air by a quarterback against any FBS team in the Addazio Era.

But if he was going to deviate from the game plan at the end anyway, when he allowed Fadule to air it out and complete seven beautifully thrown passes on the game’s final drive, why didn’t he go to it sooner? More importantly, why didn’t he go to that game plan when the season still had a glimmer of hope? Clearly it’s the one that works.

The way the coaching staff mishandled the quarterbacks, Jeff Smith, Troy Flutie, and Fadule, by the inconsistent splitting of their playing time, by taking so long for them to realize that Fadule was “The Guy,” by not using the proper passing attack when Wade was in (not to mention not giving Wade a lot of chances to practice his arm when BC played its two FCS teams)—we’ve all documented this throughout the season. As Addazio said afterward, this gives BC viable options in the future, now that each has had considerable playing time. But that’s not as valuable as having one guy that you can solidly rely on to take each snap behind center.

We’ve started to see weaknesses even in this defense, one that should win some sort of award for how it has been so effective despite the amount of time it has to stay on the field. Teams can destroy the Eagles through the air with Moore and Yiadom sidelined. No one can run up the gut on BC, but go to the edges and you’re likely to find a hole, as the Wolfpack did on its second touchdown.

When the defense, the strength of his team, starts to rip apart, that’s the moment when a season that showed promise on Media Day begins to crumble and burn. And we’ve reached the point where this promising season of growth has resulted in a long year of pathetic stagnation, where BC’s future playmakers are either A) injured or B) being put into situations where they are suffering before they are ready to play.

Addazio may be surprised at how the season turned out, but the fact that it has been a painful one—a word he used frequently throughout the presser—was not a shock. “I knew when I took this job that this would be a five-year job,” Addazio said. “And I knew that Year Three was going to be the toughest year.”

You know what, coach? We absolutely agree. Year Three of this rebuild has been incredibly tough. And no one doubts that pain is necessary to return to glory.

But it’s how it has happened that has made it so painful—the 3-0, headset-throwing loss to Wake Forest; the offensive ineptitude, especially in comparison to the defense’s might; the referees’ poor calls at Wallace Wade against Duke. And this program, for the foreseeable future, will suffer the consequences for this lost year.

Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor

November 7, 2015