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Endangered Eagles: Football Misery at The Heights

Chase Rettig, and Boston College, has struggled so far in 2011. (Associated Press Photo)

The Boston College Eagles have gotten off to a terrible start this season. With close losses to smarty-pants institutions Northwestern and Duke sandwiched around an evisceration at Central Florida, it is already time to write the season off.

This is a bad team, and there’s little reason for hope.

To start, the team’s two best offensive players, Ifeanyi Momah and Montel Harris, are injured. During a fantastic season opener in which he had eight catches for 171 yards, Momah tore the ACL in his left knee, knocking him out for the season. Harris, the ACC Preseason Player of The Year, has yet to play this season after having arthroscopic knee surgery in the offseason.

While there is a chance he may make his debut in the next few weeks, head coach Frank Spaziani had made comments alluding to the possibility that Harris may miss the entire season.

Now, you might be thinking that the team is thankful to at least have Luke Kuechly terrifying teams on the other side of the ball. After all, he led the country with 183 tackles last year, 20 more than the nation’s second most prolific tackler. He is first in the nation again this year, and his 58 tackles are 19 more than the player with the second most. He was a consensus first team All-American last year and is obviously a great player, but don’t be swayed by those numbers.

They are not indicative of a good defense. Tackles are a very misleading statistic, and players who record them in high numbers often play for mediocre defenses. Generally speaking, bad defenses stay on the field longer, and that increase in plays means there are more opportunities for tackles. Linebackers also get considerably more tackles than any other position, and there is the fact that Kuechly is just that much better than everyone else on this defense. He has to fix all of his teammates’ mistakes, so he just gets to the ball that often.

If one player is getting to the ball that much more than anyone else (Kevin Pierre-Louis was second on the team last year with 93 tackles), then that indicates a real breakdown. Football is most certainly a team sport, and a defense should not be that reliant on a single player. Each time Kuechly gets a tackle that a defensive end or a safety should have picked up, that’s a few extra yards the opposing team gets. Those yards add up quickly.

The dearth of defensive talent and the injuries to skill position players are not the most worrying positional development though. For the last decade, BC has prided itself on being O-Line U. Much like Penn State produces linebackers and the University of Miami produces tight ends, BC has a rich history of producing NFL-caliber offensive lineman.

For years, they were seemingly able to make any running back successful. In the last decade, they have sent players like Jeremy Trublood, Gosder Cherilus, Anthony Castonzo, Chris Snee, Dan Koppen, Marc Colombo and Damien Woody to the NFL.

Regrettably, they may no longer be able to make that signature claim. According to CBS Sports, BC’s two senior starting linemen are light years from the draft. Guard Nathan Richman is projected to be the 414th player chosen, while center Mark Spinney is projected to be the 695th player chosen. Since there are only about 250 picks in the draft, they will be waiting a while. Meanwhile, the other three offensive linemen are first time starters. That inexperience shows.

The team’s overall deterioration is stark, and they have fallen a long way from being ranked as high as No. 2 in the country in 2007. Now, they look like they could struggle to win two games this season. Analyzing their schedule, the only presumed win comes this week against UMass, an FCS school.

After that, there is not much hope.

Their best chances to win will come in home games against Wake Forest and North Carolina State, but even those games will be difficult. After all, Duke has been the ACC’s doormat as long as I’ve understood football, and they outclassed BC. 1-11 seems like a real possibility, which would be their worst season since the Eagles went 2-9 in 1989. The last team to be worse than 1-11? That would be the 1978 team, when Doug Flutie was a sophomore in high school.

In order for a team to be truly terrible though, it needs to have a terrible quarterback. Chase Rettig is that guy. This is painfully obvious when you watch him.

His signature move is running back into the pocket during a scramble to take a sack. He doesn’t seem willing to stray far from the pocket, even though he barely accomplishes anything when is in it. He often looks lost, and the numbers back that up. He has only completed 51 percent of his passes, and in three games has one touchdown to go with three interceptions.

The offense he leads is understandably just as bad. Out of 120 teams, BC is 94th in the country in total offense, 106th in rushing yards per game, and 112th in points per game. Their 13 points-per-game is the worst among schools in BCS conferences.

In case you were still holding out hope for the special teams, they are also terrible. Punter Ryan Quigley is averaging 39.9 yards per punt, good for a decidedly mediocre tie for 69th (out of 147 qualifiers) in the country. For reference, the national leader averages 52.5 yards per punt.

Kicker Nate Freese is even worse. He’s only made 57 percent of his field goal attempts this year, good for 67th (out of 96 qualifiers) in the country. Lest you think, “At least he’s money on extra points,” he’s already missed one of those this season. While it is not as statistically relevant, his 75 percent success rate on PATs is 92nd in the country. Those numbers do not do justice to how demoralizing his presence is for Eagles.

There is an almost hopeless acceptance that no matter how close the ball is to the uprights, Freese will find a way to miss at the worst time. He was so bad against Duke that his missed PAT was only his second worst miss.

Ultimately, all of this comes down on Coach Spaziani. He has not done a very good job recruiting, and the team has declined since he took over in 2009. Now in his third season, this is the first team that really represents who he is. Most of the players are his, and his system is firmly in place. Everything this team does is a reflection of who he is as a coach.

He was an assistant for a long time, and never seemed like a great fit as a head coach. As defensive coordinator, he was supremely effective, and no one had any doubts about his schemes. He never had the profile of a head coach though, as evidenced by Jeff Jagodzinski’s hiring in 2007. Spaziani had been the interim head coach, and seemed very content to return to his coordinator role when he was not given the promotion.

When he was eventually hired as head coach two years later, it almost felt like he was the default choice. Gene DeFilippo has passed over him once, but risked losing him if he passed over him twice. He would have been a terrible loss as a coordinator, so it almost felt like he had to be named head coach. That was obviously a bad call, and it seems very possible that he won’t make it through the season.

Think he’ll stay on as defensive coordinator under the next head coach?

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