SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Well, that’s it. It’s over. Get out your pen, draw one more little ‘L’ on the schedule, and burn it to ash. You don’t have to think about Boston College football again until the team takes on Georgia Tech in Ireland next fall.
But if you decide to take a look back on the schedule before you incinerate it, you’ll notice this season wasn’t defined by a series of blowouts. The Eagles’ biggest loss came by 17 points to Clemson University, a school that has firmly asserted itself as the best in the country. In six of BC’s nine losses, the stellar defense gave up 20 points or fewer, and it held every opponent under its season average of yards per game. Meanwhile, five of BC’s nine losses were decided by three points or fewer. An extra four points in those games, as head coach Steve Addazio has been keen to point out, and BC would be heading to another bowl game.
But close losses are still losses.
By the time BC (3-9, 0-8 ACC) reached this last game against Syracuse University (4-8, 2-6 ACC) in the Carrier Dome—a tough place to play, as Louisiana State University, the University of Pittsburgh and Clemson could all attest—a bowl game was out of the question. Rather, it was the last chance for the Eagles to pick up a conference win, and to show some promising trends for next season. They didn’t exactly get either.
From the very first drive of the game, the flags were flying. Three rushes from Tyler Rouse got the Eagles a first down and a 3rd-and-4, but then BC was called for a personal foul. Pushed back to a 2nd-and-19, Alex Howell punted the ball away two plays later.
On the second drive, BC picked up a false start on second down. Rouse ran for 11 yards to make it 3rd-and-2, but an incompletion brought Howell back on the field again.
And so on.
All in all, the Eagles were called for 11 penalties on the day for 119 yards, while BC and Syracuse combined to pass for 117 yards on the day.
No drive was more heavily affected by flags than Syracuse’s first drive in the second quarter. Backed up to a 3rd-and-17, the Orange started with the ball on their own 45. On that play, BC was caught offsides—a 5-yard penalty that wouldn’t have necessarily hurt the Eagles—and a facemask—a 15-yard penalty that gave Syracuse a first down. On the next play, another BC personal foul turned a 1-yard rush into a 16-yard gain. After an 8-yard rush, BC picked up yet another penalty—a pass interference call in the end zone, bringing Syracuse to the 2-yard-line. In total, a 65-yard drive, 44 yards of penalties, and an easy touchdown.
The Eagles also suffered from another pass interference call later on, when cornerback Isaac Yiadom, returning after missing the past two games with a shoulder injury, held onto the receiver’s arm for too long. A potential three-and-out on 3rd-and-13 turned into a 66-yard touchdown drive, the only other touchdown BC allowed.
These pass interference calls, many of which were pretty straightforward, can be signs of desperation from a defeated team, and when Syracuse tacked on that second touchdown to open up a double-digit deficit, that’s what it felt like.
But with a bit of deja vu back to last week’s tilt against Notre Dame, Jeff Smith showed up.
Unlike last Saturday, Smith started the game and played every snap behind center—John Fadule, who has made the start in each game for BC since Smith got a concussion three weeks ago against Louisville, was ruled out before the game after being limited in practice from his own injury last week. But Smith had played a quiet game early on. He rushed for just five yards in the first half, and failed to complete a pass until over midway through the fourth quarter. And then, casual as could be, Smith rolled out to the right and found room up the sideline, showing his blazing speed en route to a 53-yard gain that looked a good deal like his touchdown run against Notre Dame last week.
“They’re just simple read plays,” Smith said. “My line’s blocking, and me and the backs are really learning how to fake the ball more, kinda like read it. So the line’s blocking great on it, and that just opens up for us.”
As excited as Addazio can get about Smith on these plays, the freshman knows exactly what he has to work on beyond just gaining another 15 to 20 pounds—a weight goal both he and his coach listed as the goal for the offseason—to really compete for a spot next fall.
“My passing game,” Smith said immediately. “I definitely gotta become more of a passer, not a thrower.”
He isn’t the only one. Four different quarterbacks tried and failed to truly command the helm for BC this season—sure, you could argue that the original starter, Darius Wade, didn’t really get a full chance to prove himself before suffering a season-ending injury against Florida State, but he showed as many shortcomings as the rest. And Addazio will certainly be giving Smith his chance.
“Every position will be wide open,” Addazio said. Quarterback in particular? “Sure, absolutely.”
BC also had another player rush for over 100 yards. While Smith led the way with 117, Rouse pounded 111 yards and two touchdowns up the middle, easily making it his best game of the season since the opener against FCS opponent Maine. After getting a measly 7 yards on eight carries last week against Notre Dame, this outing came at a great time for Rouse, who hails from Baldwinsville, N.Y. just outside of Syracuse.
“It really meant a lot to me,” he said. “This is a rival school, a rival team. Being back home playing in front of my old fans and my family is something alone that drives me.”
It came down to a field goal at the end, as it did last year in the Pinstripe Bowl for the Eagles—though this time it was their opponent’s kick. Addazio called both of his remaining timeouts back-to-back to try and ice Syracuse kicker Cole Murphy (he followed through on the kicking motion both times, making the first and missing the second off to the left). But Murphy stepped up on the only one that mattered, knocking down the 35-yarder as time expired, which gave Syracuse its second conference win and SU head coach Scott Shafer his final win with the team—he was fired this past Monday, but allowed to coach an emotional final game.
“Great victory for our seniors—really excited for them,” Shafer said. “Wish it was celebrating eight or nine games and going to a bowl game and all those types of things, but it’s four wins, and it’s better than three.”
There was little emotion left for Addazio after the game. He didn’t complain, he didn’t toss around blame. His main message: he wants his team getting ready for next year.
“I’m looking forward to starting the offseason right now,” he said. “We will start immediately.”
He’ll have his hands full. Beyond patching up a few key losses to one of the best defenses in the country, like Steven Daniels, Connor Wujciak, and Justin Simmons, he has to figure out how to turn one of the worst offenses in the country into a competitive offense in the ACC, without a single hero like Andre Williams or Tyler Murphy.
He’s probably right to get an early start.
Photo Courtesy of Russ Scalf / The Daily Orange