When Mike Knoll booted his extra point wide right, a feeling of inevitability dawned on the Boston College faithful. Everyone knew what was coming, what would happen. Penn State would score, and what was an evenly-played football game would end with the difference being that one missed chance.
We all knew it. And when the game ended, we all finally snapped.
Should Penn State have beaten Boston College? Maybe, maybe not. But they shouldn't have walked out of Yankee Stadium with the Pinstripe Bowl trophy in the fashion they did. Boston College should never lose a game due to its kicking game, and when we look back at the way this one ended, it's stuck in the annals of time forever with the stain of ineptitude of eight missed extra points over the course of a single season.
That said, after the raw emotions fell off the table on this one, let's try to add perspective to what happened last night.
Mike Knoll is an 18-year old freshman.
People reacted last night with vitriol, making Knoll out to be the absolute Antichrist. I even weighed in at some point and said the way these kickers played meant they probably should never see a Division I field ever again (I wasn't that magnanimous in my comment). While I believe this to be true, I'm open to being proven wrong.
As a freshman and sophomore, Nate Freese missed a combined nine field goals and two extra points. In his sophomore campaign, he missed half of his field goals in the 30s range. I'm pretty sure we all wanted to shove him through a hibachi at some point (namely after the Duke game). He went on to be one of the most clutch and true kickers of the last 20 years for BC. He was terrible for the Detroit Lions, who gave up on him after six weeks because, quite frankly, they had to. But Freese was one of the best BC kicking products and the only kicker taken in last year's NFL Draft.
Knoll is a true freshman. It's unfortunate that his mistakes cost BC the biggest on the biggest stage, and it means his job is absolutely in jeopardy this spring. He needs, quite simply, to be better. There's no doubt about it. Neither he nor Alex Howell deserves to be the top kicker right now based on performances in '14. I don't think I'm breaking new ground there, and honestly, the coaching staff would say the same thing.
But there's room to grow. If he can turn it around, we can look back on this as the turning point when he developed his career. As of right now, I think BC should be looking for another new kicker, but I said the same thing about Freese. As of right now, I also think there's a chance I can be proven wrong, and I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming seasons. Knoll is a good kid, a smart kid, and if he can turn it around, it'll be one of the best storylines of the next couple of seasons.
Don Brown Should Be On A Mildly Warm Seat.
Perhaps a bigger issue than the kicking game is BC's inability to stop teams on offense, especially on third down. Penn State went 9-for-17 on third down. Earlier this year, Florida State went 6-for-11. Louisville went 6-for-13. Clemson went 10-for-21, and Colorado State went 8-for-14.
In each of those games, BC lost.
When BC loses, everyone wants to point the finger on the play calling, and I understand that. Everyone wants to point at the offense and resolve the situation by scoring more. Here's the thing, though: in six losses this year, BC still scored around 20 points or more. Twice in losses they scored more than 30 points. They weren't blown out of any games.
BC was the 11th-ranked defense against the run, but they only ranked 49th against the pass. That's almost halfway down the list of the entire Football Bowl Subdivision. They gave up long pass plays (30 yards or more) against UMass, USC, Colorado State, NC State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Florida State, and Penn State. That's almost EVERYONE except Syracuse, Pitt, and Maine.
At least once per game, the BC defense is routinely burnt for a long ball. That's squarely on defensive coordinator Don Brown. His "hair on fire" defense is great at getting to the quarterback and stopping the run in the backfield, but the Eagles were only average to poor at preventing the pass. Pass-first teams like USC and Penn State looked like heroes against this defense.
The defense was good enough to earn him accolades to this point, but as the coaches get their own recruits a) into school and b) to mature as players, this is an area where BC has to get better. I'm not sure how it happens, but that's also up to the coaches. I'll react and analyze, but it's on the vaunted Don Brown Defense to live up to its name in the coming years.
This is only Year 2 of a Rebuilding Process.
Does it positively suck to lose the bowl game? Absolutely.
Does it positively suck to lose the bowl game in that fashion? More than any of us know.
Will we look back on this one day and remember what it was like to lose this game? I sure hope so.
The bottom line is that nobody is above criticism following this loss. There's always something else they could've done better. Bill Belichick is as bland in his postgame remarks as anyone, especially after a loss. He ALWAYS, though, says the following: "Need to be better in all three phases. We need to practice better, we need to play better, we need to coach better."
That said, the days of the 2-10 season are long departed. The coaching staff, the players, the administration—everyone needs to be commended on that. We're in the middle of a rebuilding process that we want to hurry along. We want to be in the big time bowls, and we want to win the big time bowls. We want to consistently be in Tier I, and we want to keep proving, time and time again as fans, that we have a legitimate program, especially after we were where UConn is right now.
But we're not quite there. It stinks, but there are a lot of decent teams in college football. Boston College is decent, but they're not where we want them to be. It's taking time, and this is a reminder of the time it's going to take. This is year two along the way of a major rebuilding process. It could take a few more years to get there. We don't want to wait, but that's the reality of the situation.
It hurts to lose. It hurts to lose in dramatic fashion. But it's a step along the way. You have to go through this in order to see just how far and just how hard it'll be to reach the end. It's a gut check that more work needs to be done. Unfortunately, that work needs to be done over the next eight months and not over the next week. We won't know the results of that work until August, if not later. Given the way this ended, it's going to be a long feeling, a long gnawing. But that's the way it goes.
National Signing Day is February 4th.