Sports, Football

Notebook: Tackling, Special Teams Once Again a Concern in Loss to Seminoles

After an emphatic blowout win over Syracuse, things were set up perfectly for Boston College football against Florida State. In the final home game of the year—and the sixth-annual Red Bandana Game no less—an Eagles win against a Seminoles team with an interim head coach would have secured BC bowl eligibility for the fourth season in a row and perhaps set the table for a four-game winning streak to end the year.

Instead, for the second straight year, FSU handed BC a heartbreaking loss. After the Eagles surged to an early 14-3 lead, the Seminoles scored 21 consecutive points before holding off a late BC rally, beating the Eagles, 38-31, on a frigid day in Chestnut Hill. Here are some observations, “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” style, from the disheartening defeat. 

Thumbs Up

Grosel is a Gamer 

Last week against the Orange, Dennis Grosel undoubtedly put on his best performance as a starter, completing 8-of-10 throws for 195 yards and three touchdowns. He might not have been as efficient as he was against Syracuse, but Grosel was nevertheless still impressive, both throwing and running the ball. 

It started on the opening drive of the game. The redshirt sophomore calmly rolled out of the pocket and completed his first throw of the day to Korab Idrizi for nine yards, before displaying his athleticism and picking up 22 yards on a quarterback draw on 2nd-and-19. Then, after a botched snap backed the Eagles up into 3rd-and-Goal from the 17, Grosel dropped back to throw and briefly scanned the field before finding a wide-open Kobay White on a go route for a touchdown.

Grosel didn’t slow down. The Willoughby, Ohio, native, who finished the day 20-of-29 for 227 yards and two touchdowns, made a pair of clutch throws on third down to White just before halftime to help get the Eagles in field goal range. Then, in the fourth quarter with BC facing a 10-point deficit, Grosel upped his game once again. 

First, there was a clutch third-down throw to Ethon Williams that set up a 30-yard Aaron Boumerhi field goal to cut the Seminoles’ lead to 24-17, but the redshirt sophomore’s finest moment arguably came the drive after. With BC backed up to its own 10-yard line, Grosel orchestrated a 13-play, 90-yard drive to tie the score with 2:33 to play—a series that featured a 17-yard completion on an in-breaking route to Williams on third down and a 24-yard scramble on 2nd-and-7 that gave the Eagles 1st-and-Goal on the two-yard line. 

Fittingly, that drive was finished off by Grosel, who tumbled into the end zone on a rollout to tie the score. Unfortunately for BC, he couldn’t repeat the feat on its next drive, throwing an interception while on the run to effectively end the Eagles’ chances, but that was arguably Grosel’s only mistake of the day. 

Dillon the Workhorse 

Entering the contest against the Seminoles, AJ Dillon’s career high in carries was 39, a mark he hit in 2017 against Louisville in a 272-yard performance that put the national spotlight on him for the very first time. Saturday, Dillon finally set a new career-high mark in carries, in large part due to the fact that David Bailey didn’t play in the second half due to an undisclosed injury. 

Even though he rarely got a chance to rest, Dillon still gave the Eagles everything he could. The junior grinded out 165 tough yards, often facing an incredibly crowded box. The tone was set from BC’s first possession, when Dillon bounced off multiple tackles before gaining six yards on the first play of the game, before breaking the attempted tackle of linebacker Amari Gainer behind the line of scrimmage and gaining nine more yards. 

Against an FSU defense that made stopping the run a priority, the junior rarely busted big gains—his longest run was 19 yards, and he picked up more than 10 yards at a time just twice in total—but he also lost yards on just two of his carries, helping the Eagles’ offense stay on schedule and put up more than 30 points for the fourth time in five games. 

Thumbs Down 

Terry Strikes Again 

Last year in Tallahassee, with BC clinging to a 21-16 lead with 1:49 to play, Deondre Francois spotted Tamorion Terry streaking down the field, with only Brandon Sebastian trailing in single coverage. Francois promptly threw a pinpoint deep ball to the then-redshirt freshman for a 74-yard touchdown. The score, which turned out to be the game-winning touchdown, handed the Eagles their second straight defeat and cost them their best chance at an eight-win season.

No one would have faulted BC fans for experiencing déjà vu Saturday. With four and a half minutes left to play in the second quarter and the Eagles up, 14-3, Terry—who racked up 156 yards and a touchdown—found space down the right side of the field, once again gaining a step on Sebastian, and for the second time in as many years, found himself on the receiving end of a 74-yard touchdown pass. The score was crucial for the Seminoles, who had punted on their previous two possessions, and sparked a run of 21 straight points. 

Field Goals 

After Colton Lichtenberg graduated following the 2018 season, BC netted a big grad transfer in the form of Boumerhi, who entered the season having made 31-of-43 career field goal attempts. After four years of inconsistent field goal kicking, it appeared Steve Addazio had finally found the answer at the kicker position. 

The problem is, Boumerhi has been anything but consistent for the Eagles this season. He missed his first field goal attempt of the season—a 38-yarder against Virginia Tech—and missed a 31-yarder against Kansas two weeks later. Against FSU, Boumerhi failed to connect on not one, but two kicks. First, with BC nursing an early 7-3 lead in the first quarter, he hooked a 37-yarder well wide of the left upright. Then, just before halftime, after the Eagles had maneuvered themselves into field goal range, Boumerhi was sent on to attempt a 46-yarder, but this time pushed it wide right. 

Those six points didn’t by themselves lose BC the game, and Boumerhi did make a 30-yard try in the fourth quarter that made it a one score game, but it’s once again incredibly concerning that the Eagles again don’t have a kicker that they can trust to make any field goal, much less a pressure kick. BC’s kicker woes simply won’t resolve themselves. 

Tackling Woes 

BC’s defense, which is now giving up 486.9 yards per game, has had its fair share of issues this year. Chief among them, certainly, has been tackling. The Eagles have consistently taken poor pursuit angles and failed to properly wrap up on all manner of receivers and running backs. Saturday, tackling was once again an issue for BC. 

All day long, the Eagles struggled to bring down FSU skill players—especially star running back Cam Akers—on first contact. On one particularly notable completion in the third quarter to Akers, he turned what should have been a two-yard loss into a 26-yard gain, running through the attempted arm tackle of Max Richardson. That missed tackle helped set up a 13-yard touchdown run from Akers in which he again broke free from the grasp of Richardson. 

BC’s tackling woes were most apparent, however, on what eventually became the game-winning score. After Grosel’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter tied the game at 24-24, the Seminoles got the ball back and faced 2nd-and-11 from their own 40-yard line. FSU quarterback James Blackman dropped back to throw and found D.J. Matthews over the middle short of the first down marker. Matthews squirmed free of the tackle of Tate Haynes, before causing Mehdi El Attrach to slip on a simple cut to the right and diving just inside the pylon for a touchdown. 

That kind of play simply can’t happen to any defense. What makes it even more baffling is that this has been happening to the Eagles all season, with no apparent fix on the way.

Featured Image by Ikram Ali/ Heights Editor

November 9, 2019