First on the hit list (no pun intended) is "Fredo," I mean Boston College. What to do and say about Fredo….. We know how Michael Corleone sealed the fate of his weak-kneed brother in the "Godfather." I'll provide a kinder, gentler description of college football's version of the mafia don's recalcitrant sibling.
After unceremoniously bolting the Big East and joining the ACC, the Eagles faced their first full slate of conference football last fall. Eagle fans had to be pleased with their team's performance, finishing 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the conference. Boston College closed the 2005 season with three straight wins, including a 27 – 21 victory over Boise State in the MPC Computer Bowl.
Not bad for a conference newcomer. And now the real challenge begins for the winged footballers from Chestnut Hill as they embark upon season number two in the ACC.
Coach Tom O'Brien will be scratching his head as he attempts to replace defensive line stalwart and first day NFL draft selection, Mathias Kiwanuka (16.5 tackles for -loss and 9.5 sacks). Two other major losses on defense are defensive tackle Al Washington (28 tackles, nine tackles for loss, five sacks) and the "quarterback of the defense," linebacker Ray Henderson (37 career starts).
The offensive side of the ball was not unscathed by graduation either. First day NFL pick Jeremy Trueblood (a teammate of Kiwanuka's at Indianapolis Cathedral high school – nice recruiting effort Bob Davie) and 37-game starter at center, Pat Ross, will leave O'Brien with two major holes to fill.
Another Indianapolis product, 6-foot-8, 315-pound, Jim Marten, from Brebeuf Jesuit high school (plenty of golf courses in Indy, Tyrone, and Marten has strong ND ties) will start again at tackle and provide some needed experience (24 career starts). Marten will be joined on the offensive line with fellow seniors Josh Beekman (26 career starts) and Gosder Cherilus (24 career starts).
The Eagles entered spring practice with a generous dose of youth and inexperience, both in returning starters and backup players (backup and BC, like hand in glove). Five junior starters return on defense and two junior starters return on offense, although senior fullback and part- time 2005 starter, Mark Palmer, and the aforementioned OL starters will provide much needed game experience. But will it be enough?
BC lost two consistent but unspectacular performers at the wideout positions, in Will Blackmon and Larry Lester. This receiving duo combined for 88 catches, 1,155 yards and six touchdowns. The three potential replacements going into spring practice, junior Kevin Challenger (5-foot-9, 177 pounds, 16 catches, 184 yards, TD); senior Tony Gonzalez (5-foot-11, 190 pounds, 28 catches, 414 yards, 5 TD); and Taylor Sele (6-foot, 203 pounds, 14 catches, 142 yds., 0 TD) are smallish, and let's face it, backups for most teams.
If the April 22 Jay McGillis Memorial Spring Game is any indication of next season's challenges at the wideout position, the Eagles are going to need to find some pass catchers. Redshirt freshman, Clarence Megwa led all receivers in the game with seven receptions for 95 yards. Sophomore Brandon Robinson finished with five catches for 71 yards, while Kevin Challenger and fullback Mark Palmer each caught five passes. Gonzales and Sele didn't show up on the stat sheet from the April game.
Going into spring camp, the quarterback position was fortified with the return of mid-season starter Matt Ryan and promising sophomore Chris Cane. Ryan finished the 2005 season with a nice completion percentage (121-of-195, 62 percent, 5 INT), throwing for 1,514 yards and eight touchdowns.
In the Spring Game, both quarterbacks settled in quite well as Ryan threw for 289 yards ( 37-of-53) and one touchdown and also ran for a score. Cane, on the other hand, while not spectacular, did compile 124 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns on 9-of-13 passing. The only real blemishes on the day from the quarterbacks were their four interceptions.
And how effective, you may ask, are the Eagles at running the ball? In 2005, they rushed for 1,740 yards, on 448 carries, or 3.8 yards per carry…..adequate, but certainly not spectacular. The running game returns in tact for 2006, with leading rusher L.V. Whitworth (189 carries for 807 yards) and fellow junior, Andre Callender with 708 yards in 2005.
And while spring games can be deceiving, Whitworth led the team in rushing on April 22 with 67 yards on 11 carries. One of those carries was a 69-yard romp for a touchdown. What happened during the other 10 carries? Offensive line woes? Emphasis on the passing game?
We'll see how the Eagles rushing attack performs against 2006 opponents Clemson, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Florida State, teams possessing the stouter defenses in the conference.
Coach O'Brien and his staff have a challenging task at hand as they enter the summer months. Five questions going into fall camp:
1. In the face of key graduation losses, who will step forward to bolster the front seven on defense?
2. Will Brian Toal move into a leadership role on defense to replace the departed Al Washington (is Tyrone still in the Toal family's living room?)
3. How will the offensive line gel with the loss due to graduation of starting center Pat Ross and tackle Jeremy Trueblood?
4. Who will emerge to form the pass catching unit?
5. How will quarterback Matt Ryan develop to solidify both his starting and leadership roles for the offensive unit?
ACC Roundup: Boston College
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