September 26, 2006

Opinion: Coaches or Players?

Eagle Action writers John Boyle and Sean Stanton go head-to-head on the biggest question Boston College fans have this week. Was the 17-15 loss to NC State the fault of the coaches or the players? Each defends their on.

It's On The Coaches

By John Boyle

Tom O'Brien is good for Boston College. In fact, Tom O'Brien is good for college football in general. He runs a clean, tough program that understands the spirit of college athletics and should be the shining star that the NCAA points to every time it talks about its mission.

However, from a purely football perspective, he has a tendency to drive the fans of Eagle Nation batty. The Eagles have seemingly been on the precipice of greatness for three or four years now, and while the recruiting has clearly improved the level of talent on the Eagles squad, Boston College has not been able to take the preverbal "next step".

One could argue that these are college aged kids, most still teenagers, that this is a young squad, that Coach O'Brien is breaking with tradition and playing younger kids and that the mistakes they make are due to youth and kids being kids, and there might be something to that. Kids are more prone to mistakes than professionals because they lack experience and tend to have a lot more going on in their lives (mainly an education to garner).

However, when one peels back the onion a bit on the ongoing saga that is BC football, one sees over a longer period of time, almost a decade now (Coach O'Brien gets a mulligan on the first two years), one sees that the mistakes that are holding the program back this year are eerily similar to those made in the past by a completely different set of kids under the same regime.

The hallmarks of this coaching staff are words like toughness, hard working, conservative and disciplined. Unfortunately, on the flip side of the coin, stubbornness, mental mistakes, uninspired play, special team's gaffes, coaching game-day breakdowns and inexplicable losses also ring true.

Year in and year out, we have seen special teams cost Boston College critical games. This past weekend was no exception. The defense had finally found it's rhythm but the offense was struggling against a good defense. The quarterback was having an off night. It happens. After carrying the team to two overtime wins against quality opponents, it was understandable. One also has to give credit to the WolfPack defense. Tank Tyler was simply unstoppable.

However, in the end the offense did its job. 17 points against a team that had recently lost to a 1-AA team and starting a brand new quarterback should have been more than enough. But football is the ultimate team game and all three aspects of the game must be successful for a team to win.

So take your pick from the list above. This time it was a combination of special teams gaffes and coaching miscues so let's start with Special Teams.

Overall, the special teams are not bad. BC has a devastating kick returner in Jeff Smith and he had a nice return on his second chance. Punting is pretty good. Johnny Ayers is right in the middle of the pack in the ACC in terms of net average. Kick coverage is also pretty good. However, the single most important aspect of special teams is the extra point and the ability to kick field goals and both of them cost the Eagles the game.

The missed extra point, which was so bad it went under the cross bar, caused the Eagles to go for two on the second touchdown and it failed. At the end of the game, when Boston College had a chance to extend the lead to 18-10, which would have forced the WolfPack to go for their own two point conversion had they scored, Tom O'Brien had no faith to even attempt a 43-yard field goal and the Eagles were forced to go for the first down.

Taking a look at the coaching on the final drive, we see a total break down. On NC State's final drive, Boston College went in to its infamous prevent defense. There are three points to a prevent defense.

1. Force the receiver to run outside-in routes and do not let the ball get out of bounds. (remember NC State had no timeouts on this drive). Keep the ball in the middle of the field and force the clock to run.

2. Never, ever let a receiver get behind the defensive backs. Ever.

3. Never, ever get caught in single coverage. Ever.

Boston College failed on all three of those points on the final drive. Remember, the WolfPack moved 72 in 38 seconds with no timeouts. They were able to run a deep middle route that got the ball out of bounds that got them in range for the final play. On that pattern, the receiver was able to get behind the cornerback. Granted, it was a perfect throw by Daniel Evans but the receiver never should have gotten behind the cornerback and never should have been in a position to run out of bounds.

On the final play, they gained single coverage in the end zone with one of their best receivers. It was a well designed play by the NC State coaches but that is still inexcusable. With three safeties in the endzone, there would have been more than enough time, in a very long, very high pass (which hung in the air for almost 4 seconds) to get over to the spot and make a play on the ball.

While this writer understands that the kids are the ones on the field making the plays, and the coaches get a certain amount of leeway because they are in fact kids, the fact that we have seen BC fail to take the next step because of the same mistakes over and over again really gives cause for pause.

There is plenty of time to redeem the season, and every team has its unexplainable losses. Boston College comes back this weekend against the University of Maine at Orono and then has a chance to regain some national prominence and right the ship at home against Virginia Tech.

Coaches Don't Play

By Sean Stanton

Blame Jerry Petercuskie for poor special teams play. Blame Dana Bible for not getting a first down that would have iced the game. Blame Frank Spaziani for the last touchdown. But you'd be blaming the wrong people.

But was it Petercuskie who shanked yet another extra point? And was it Bible's fault that Matt Ryan fumbled the third-down exchange on a play that likely would have ended the game? And was it Spaziani who was a full second too late to help DeJuan Tribble? Nope.

There is plenty of blame to go around and it should go to the players who didn't execute the way they were coached. Ryan Ohliger missed the extra point that was key to the loss, Kevin Challenger couldn't get off the line of scrimmage on BC's two-point conversion attempt, Ryan fumbled the snap and Paul Anderson and Larry Anam both blew the coverage on the last play. Players need to make plays to win games and these guys didn't.

Players are coached over and over again on their responsibilites and they practice the same things over and over again each week. When they fail to execute, keep the blame where it belongs.

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