Boston College entered the 2008 season with questions in the offensive backfield as quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Andre Callendar had exhausted their eligibility, and the ACC media picked the Eagles to finish fourth in the Atlantic Division. And while head coach Jeff Jagodzinski's squad has compiled a 5-1 (2-1 ACC) record midway through the season, it took Saturday's victory over Virginia Tech to earn the Eagles a spot in the national rankings at No. 23, and for good reason – Boston College's early season wins came against Kent State, Central Florida, Rhode Island and N.C. State. The Eagles' strength of schedule ranks 105th nationally according to USA Today's Jeff Sagarin, second-worst in the ACC (Florida State).
"It's part of the game. But he was really playing good football for us." – Jagodzinski on losing senior linebacker Brian Toal for the season due to a broken fibula
"Hey, how many picks did Matt Ryan have against Virginia Tech last year? He had them, too. You don't remember those. You just remember what he did [well]. But it takes all 11 guys. Protection wasn't always great. We had some drops. We dropped two touchdown passes." – Jagodzinski in response to criticism directed at starting quarterback Chris Crane for throwing two interceptions against Virginia Tech
"After Virginia Tech we got over that loss but it was tough. This time we're just really ticked off. More or less teams lose games than win them. We felt like the mistakes we made cost us the game." – UNC quarterback Cam Sexton after the Virginia loss
Montel Harris had all but signed his National Letter of Intent to Duke when Jagodzinski walked into Trinity Christian High School in Jacksonville, Fla. less than 10 days before Signing Day '08. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound running back also had offers from Ball State and Florida A&M, but he jumped at the Boston College opportunity.
As it turns out, that decision was good for both parties involved.
Harris started the season behind Josh Haden in the offensive backfield, as the Eagles were desperately trying to find potential following Callendar's graduation. But when Haden was injured during Boston College's loss to Georgia Tech on Sept. 6, Harris was thrust into the starting role and immediately delivered. With less than five full games under his belt, the true freshman has rushed for 374 yards and four touchdowns on 58 carries for a 6.4 yards per carry average.
"This guy's got a good feel for some of the schemes that we have," Jagodzinski said several weeks ago. "I'm really pleased with him. He's got some escapability and he's very shifty. He's made some good cuts and good decisions."
Harris gained 112 yards on 13 carries against Central Florida, before rolling Rhode Island for 143 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries the next week. More recently, he totaled 61 yards and a touchdown on 15 rushes against Virginia Tech last Saturday.
Matchups to Watch
BC's Chris Crane vs. UNC's Pass Defense
North Carolina's pass defense did its best two weeks ago to make Jimmy Clausen look like a Heisman candidate, allowing the sophomore to complete 65 percent of his passes while throwing for 383 yards. Last week, after stifling Virginia quarterback Marc Verica for nearly 58 minutes, the secondary allowed the third-stringer to complete seven of his eight attempts for 80 yards on the Cavaliers' game-tying drive at the end of regulation.
The Tar Heels still hold a share of the national lead in interceptions with 14, but defensive coordinator Everett Withers will need to make some adjustments to his pass defense (229.6 ypg ranks 84th nationally) if he hopes to slow down Boston College quarterback Chris Crane.
The senior has completed 97 of his 174 passes for 1,107 yards with five touchdowns and nine interceptions. But he only recently grabbed the reins of coordinator Steve Logan's offense after lighting N.C. State up for 470 total yards, 428 coming through the air. It helps that the Eagles' big offensive line has only given up six sacks, tied for 15th nationally.
"Going into this game, we are probably preparing more like we did for Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen, even though he kind of got the better of us," junior defensive end E.J. Wilson said on Monday. "We have experience playing against good quarterbacks. We know going into the situation we are going to have to get a lot more pressure on the quarterback than we have been getting all season. The secondary is going to have to step it up. We can not wait for an interception to happen. We have to play consistent defense all game and the turnovers will come."
North Carolina only has 11 sacks on the season, and the coaching staff's decision to rely on its defensive line to apply pressure has shown both positives and negatives through seven games.
UNC's Cam Sexton vs. BC's Defense
Cam Sexton has struggled in recent weeks, completing 34 of his 57 passes for 367 yards and two interceptions against both Notre Dame and Virginia, two defenses that don't rank in the top-50 nationally. Things will be infinitely tougher for the red-shirt junior this weekend.
Add fullback Anthony Elzy (fractured scapula) to the list of offensive weapons that have been sidelined with injury, which includes wide receiver Brandon Tate (knee) and tight end Zack Pianalto (ankle). North Carolina's offense had difficulties moving the ball even with those playmakers (326.4 ypg ranks 87th nationally), and now the Tar Heels will face their toughest challenge of the season.
Boston College's defense ranks in the top-25 nationally in nine different defensive categories, including possessing the best pass efficiency defense (86.70) and red zone defense (.58) in the country. The Eagles also rank fourth nationally in both total defense (251.17) and first downs allowed (14.00), while posting solid numbers in pass defense (143.00 – 5th), interceptions (11 – 10th), and scoring defense (13.33 – 11th).
"We know they are big and fast," Sexton said. "I have seen a good bit of them and I know that they are going to be good. It is going to be a challenge for us again, but they are a little more conventional than Virginia is in what they do. I think this team is ready for a challenge and to go back out there and get this thing back on track."
North Carolina will see some relief as Boston College must find a replacement for standout linebacker Brian Toal (broken fibula), who was second on the team in tackles (42).
If Crane is able to move the ball against the Tar Heels' defense, Sexton will have to provide balance for an offense that has seen running back Shaun Draughn step up in recent weeks to alleviate the pressure on his quarterback.
* North Carolina and Boston College have split the four games in this series, with the Tar Heels winning the most recent contest, 16-14, at Kenan Stadium in 2005.
* The Eagles are 24-10 (.706) in games outside of Chestnut Hill over the last six seasons.
* Here's another impressive statistic for the Eagles – they have only committed 21 penalties for 164 yards through their first six games.