We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs with which to talk during game weeks. This week's installment of our Opponent Blogger Q&A series features our friends from Boston College at BC Interruption. Blog manager Brian Favat joined us to break down the 2011 Eagles.
TN: Much the same as Florida State, BC has battled a rash of injuries this season that has left the Eagles without key players, among them Kaleb Ramsey and Montel Harris. Talk a little bit about the injuries the team has dealt with and they impacts they have had.
BCI: There's certainly been no shortage of injuries for the Eagles this season. The only units that haven't been hit very hard by the injury bug are the quarterbacks and our linebackers.
The Eagles' rash of injuries has taken its greatest toll on the running backs, where Preseason ACC Player of the Year Montel Harris has been shelved this season with a knee injury. The school will apply for a medical hardship waiver and hopefully Harris will return for a fifth year. Behind Harris, both Andre Williams (questionable for Thursday with an abdomen injury) and Tahj Kimble (out with a head injury) have also battled injuries, which leaves us with only ... Rolandan "Deuce" Finch. Finch has done an admirable job filling in for Harris, Williams and Kimble, torching a terrible Maryland rush defenses for 243 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.
BC's secondary has also been hit hard by both injuries and early season departures. C.J. Jones is out for the season with a knee injury suffered in the UCF game, while starting BC Jim Noel is questionable Thursday with an ankle injury. Add the departures of Okechukwu Okorhora and Dominique Williams from the team in fall camp, and the Eagles secondary is left with five freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the two-deep.
Finally, the Eagles' defensive line has been hit with injuries to DT Connor Wujciak (shoulder) and DT Kaleb Ramsey (foot). The school is also applying for a medical hardship waiver for Ramsey to return next season.
BC has also lost arguably the team's best receiver for the year (Ifeanyi Momah) as well as starting guard Nate Richman. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis is doubtful for Thursday with a leg injury. Basically, there has been no shortage of injuries to this year's Eagles squad, as evidenced by the fact that half of the starting jobs on this week's two deep go to either true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores.
Hit the jump for more!
TN: BC has certainly seemed to take a step in the wrong direction this year, from an outsider's point of view. Which factor(s) has been most responsible for this? Are the aforementioned injuries the primary causal factor? Is the job of Frank Spaziani in jeopardy?
BCI: While the injuries have certainly piled up for the Eagles, I don't think that's the primary cause of BC's slide this season. I think you have to start at the top and look at the job this year's coaching staff has done. The offense continues to regress in Spaziani's third season, ranking near the bottom of Division I-A in nearly every statistical category.
BC seemed ill prepared to face Northwestern's up tempo offense in the opener and lost a close one to what's looking like a pretty ‘meh' Wildcats team. The following week in Orlando, the offense managed just 3 points against UCF in a 30-3 rout of the Eagles. Next up was a 20-19 loss to Duke at home, where BC kicker Nate Freese shanked a game-winning chip shot field goal off the left upright. You can blame Freese for that loss, but if you dig a bit deeper, you'll note that the Eagles' offense failed to manage a first down nearly the entire second half before putting together a sustained drive that ended in the missed FG. And that was against the Duke defense.
BC's offense couldn't keep up with Wake Forest the following week, nor could they keep up with Clemson or Virginia Tech for more than a half.
I think the theme in all these losses has been an unimaginative, stagnant offense. BC lost its first year offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers just two games into the season when he stepped down after the UCF loss for health concerns. TE coach Dave Brock has stepped in to take control of the offense, but it's been much the same story under Brock. Basically, the offense continues to regress under Spaz's watch - particular on the O Line - and the injuries certainly haven't helped matters. Losing weapons like Montel Harris, Ifeanyi Momah and Andre Williams only compounds the issue.
As for Spaz's job security, he can't feel safe the way this season has gone. I know a vocal majority of the fan base wants to see Spaziani gone at season's end. We'll see if they get their wish shortly.
TN: Boston College had success running the football last weekend in College Park with Rolandan Finch. What were the keys to his success and do you think the Eagles can continue move the ball effectively on the ground against the ‘Noles on Thursday?
BCI: Finch had a big, big day down in College Park. The Eagles' offensive line dominated the Terps from start to finish and put together arguably the most complete game of the season. For a guy that rushed over 200 yards on Saturday, he didn't have a lot of long runs. Instead, he rattled off 6, 7 and 8 yard runs and the Eagles offense kept going back to Finch since it was working.
Now the Florida State rush defense is slightly more talented than the Maryland rush defense, and is on the complete opposite side of the statistical spectrum (4th best against the run vs. 118th). In order for the Eagles to have success in the ground game on Thursday, OC Dave Brock is going to have to call for a more balanced attack. If the ‘Noles defense doesn't respect Rettig and the Eagles' passing game, they aren't going to have success running the ball as FSU can simply stack the box and force Rettig to beat them through the air.
Consider that the Eagles threw the ball just 12 times against Maryland ... and rushed the ball 62 (62!) times. Obviously the weather conditions called for more reliance on the ground game, but BC is going to have to have a more balanced attack on Thursday if Finch and the Eagles' O Line is to be successful against a stout run defense.
TN: Chase Rettig has followed up a promising freshman campaign in 2010 with a less-than-spectacular sophomore season, thus far. How will Rettig and the BC offense try to attack the FSU defense and what will be the keys to their success?
BCI: Rettig wasn't asked to do much of anything in the win over Maryland as the weather played a big factor in that game. He finished just 5-12 for 32 yards and an INT (that was on a Hail Mary to end the half). However, I'm not sure I would characterize Rettig's freshman campaign as "promising" and his sophomore season as "less-than-spectacular."
Across the board, his statistics are nearly identical than they were a season ago:
Completion percentage: 51.5% (2011) vs. 51.3% (2010) TD:INT: 7-7 (2011) vs. 6-9 (2010) Rating: 106.1 (2011) vs. 105.5 (2010)
It's probably a little more accurate to say that Rettig hasn't progressed as well as Eagles' fans would have liked. Rettig suffers from many of the same problems that plagued his freshman year - not putting enough touch on passes, not going through his progressions and not tucking the ball and running when things break down. It's that third point that has really killed many a BC offensive drive. Rettig is far from a mobile QB, but there have been a number of third downs where Rettig could seemingly tuck the ball and pick up the first down on the ground. Yet just when he looks like he's going to make a run for it, he maddeningly throws the ball resulting in an incompletion and a punt.
If Rettig is going to progress further, he needs to work on his decision-making, particularly when it comes to escaping pressure. There's one stat though that it telling of both this and the continued struggles of the offensive line.
Sacks: 18 (2011) vs. 16 (2010)
BC has given up two more sacks of Rettig through one less game (Rettig didn't start until the fourth week of the 2010 season). A lot of that is on Rettig, but a good bit of the blame also falls on the shoulders of the Eagles' O Line.
TN: Has BC's defense suffered as a result of the offensive woes? How do you rate the performance of the Eagles' defense to date, typically a team strength?
BCI: The usually reliable BC defense has been a shell of itself. A lot of that has to do with injuries and inexperience in both the front four and the defensive backs. Another bit probably is related to the fact that the defense is always on the field. For a unit that lead the nation in rush defense last season, the Eagles' usually stout run defense is way off this season (75th nationally). The passing defense is worse (96th nationally), but the drop off in production in rush defense is stark (1 to 75, vs. 76 to 96th in pass defense).
If pressed to give a grade to the defense as a whole, I'd probably give them a C to C-. Both the defensive line and the secondary would get around a C letter grade, while the BC linebacking corps would get an A.
TN: Luke Kuechly is an outstanding player at the middle linebacker position for Boston College. Which other players should ‘Noles fans be wary of during Thursday's contest?
BCI: Look out for the aforementioned Rolandan Finch. With injuries to Montel Harris, Andre Williams and Tahj Kimble, Finch looks to be the feature back this Thursday. If Rettig and the receiving corps can move the ball through the air, Finch has good enough vision and moves to break a long run here or there.
Also keep an eye on Spiffy Evans in the return game. BC's kick return units have been unspectacular the last few seasons, but Evans looks like he has the ability to break off a long return. Still waiting for this to happen, but the emergence of Spiffy on kick returns has been a welcomed sight.
TN: How do you see this game playing out? Score prediction?
BCI: Obviously on paper this game looks very lopsided in favor of Florida State with the Noles more than a two touchdown favorite over the Eagles. But I think that given it's a Thursday night game on national TV with the Eagles gaining just a bit more confidence after notching their first I-A win over the season over Maryland, this game can be competitive. This team's defense has struggled this season, but Spaz's D's have seemingly got the better of Florida State's QBs the past few seasons (2 TDs vs. 6 INTs). I'm expecting a competitive, back and forth game with FSU coming out on top, but with BC comfortably covering the 14.5 point spread.
Final score: Florida State 30, Boston College 24
Thanks to Brian and BC Interruption! Our answers to their questions are here.