It’s always better to sleep on it.
Walking out of yesterday’s game, it was hard not to be frustrated by how things played out over the final ten minutes. But before putting some thoughts down on paper, I figured I’d sleep on it and watch it back.
So I did.
Let’s start with the glass-half-full stuff on second viewing, since that’s more fun. (For me, anyway. You do you.)
Obviously, not only do the players deserve a lot of credit for the way they fought back in the second half - the coaching staff deserves credit for the mentality of the players as well. We’ve unfortunately seen plenty of games through the years where things spiraled out of control early, and BC just wasn’t able to dig out of the hole.
That didn’t happen yesterday. The fact that the team battled back, made adjustments, made big plays, and had a chance at the end is a sign of a team that is unified, engaged, and mentally tough. That’s a credit to both the players and the coaches.
From a coaching standpoint as well, the staff deserves credit for a few key improvements in the second half: BC did a much better job protecting against FSU’s pass rush in the second half, giving Phil Jurkovec more time to operate and preventing him from getting obliterated on nearly every play, which was basically what was happening in the first half.
The Eagles were also faster to the ball in the second half on defense, after getting torched by lots of YAC on seemingly every play early in the game. The adjustments and better execution helped get BC back in to the game.
I also thought Hafley’s postgame explanation for why a timeout was used prior to BC’s 4th-and-3 on their final drive was reasonable — that he was able to get a better look at the positioning of the ball and the first down marker. The clock had been running leading up to that point and it wasn’t a bad idea to take a beat to call a play that was needed to extend the game.
But there are a few other things that upon further review still don’t sit well.
One was using a timeout prior to BC’s two-point conversion attempt when down by 10. Not only should you theoretically have several of those plays ready to go in those situations, there was also time to think about two plays to call during the review of Jurkovec’s potential fumble on third down.
While the clock wasn’t a gigantic factor yet - there was still 12:57 to go - it was not difficult to foresee the possibility that BC would still be down two scores at that point and would likely need to use timeouts late in the game to mount a comeback. Ultimately that did end up burning them quite a bit — at a bare minimum, BC could have had one more crack at running a couple of plays at the end of the game with one more timeout.
The playcalling on first down on BC’s stalled final drive was also a little puzzling.
Here’s what BC did on first down throughout that drive:
1st & 10 at BC 11- Pat Garwo run for no gain
1st & 10 at BC 23 - Pat Garwo run for no gain
1st & 10 at BC 35 - Pat Garwo run for 5 yards
1st & 10 at BC 47 - Pat Garwo run for 9 yards
1st & 10 at FSU 38 - Pat Garwo run for 2 yards
I did not major in mathematics at BC (that was my pal and coworker Grant Salzano) but I am reasonably good at pattern detection and my guess is, so was the Florida State defense after seeing this same call over and over.
It’s hard not to wonder if on just one of those first downs, BC tried a play action pass, or maybe a short pass to get the ball in the hands of Flowers (or Levy, or someone) might have had a more productive result — not only in terms of yardage, but also in terms of time off the clock.
I was hoping someone would ask this question postgame, but with BC’s last drive taking 6:18 off the clock and with lots of running plays including on every first down, it almost felt like BC was just as focused on not leaving much time for FSU to score at the end of the game as they were on getting in to scoring position themselves. Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe this would have looked like the perfect plan if BC had actually scored a touchdown, but in effect what it really did was ensure that after BC got stopped on fourth down, they had no chance of getting the ball back, regardless of how well the defense was playing.
The other piece that is still frustrating to me — and again, with the full understanding that hindsight is 20/20 — was another long drive that stalled out in FSU territory - the Eagles’ turnover on downs in the red zone when trailing 14-3 in the second quarter.
On 2nd & 13 at the Florida State 23, Jurkovec hit Jaden Williams for a 12-yard gain to set up 3rd & 1 at the FSU 11.
Alex Sinkfield was stuffed on a rush attempt to push BC back to 4th & 2 at the 12 - it was a bit frustrating to see BC hand it off deep in the backfield on 3rd & 1 after Jurkovec had already converted two QB sneaks earlier in the drive to extend it.
From there, the Eagles had a few options on fourth down.
They could have kicked a field goal, which seemed like the right play to me - it would have stopped the bleeding a bit, made the score 14-6, with a chance the defense could hold and get the game to halftime as a one-score game. While I’m usually a proponent of going for it in most circumstances, BC was having trouble all day converting short yardage situations and I didn’t have a ton of confidence they could run for 2-3 yards on any given play.
Given that, they also could have put the ball in Phil Jurkovec’s hands to either pass or run.
But on 4th & 2, they handed it off again to Garwo, who at that point had 8 yards on 5 rushes. Garwo has been a revelation for BC this year and has done an outstanding job, but FSU was clearly keyed in on stopping those plays and it just wasn’t there for them all day.
That stop ended up being fairly critical, as it started a sequence of events that led to FSU pinning BC inside their own 2 yard line, forcing a safety, then scoring a field goal off the ensuing free kick. All told, that was either a 5-point swing or an 8-point swing depending on how you want to look at it, and it put BC further behind the eight ball heading in to half time.
The point of these thoughts here isn’t to dwell entirely on the negatives - there was plenty to like from BC’s fightback, and I think lots of fans were discounting how challenging it would be to eliminate a very talented FSU team from bowl contention.
However, it’s healthy to look at both the positives and negatives when looking back at a close game. My hope is that in future situations where BC is trying to come back, that they will be a little bit more flexible on their first down calls if they keep going to the well and it keeps not working — and maybe a bit more judicious with use of timeouts. With BC’s defense playing so well in the second half, I had faith they could have stopped FSU a few more times and given BC more chances to win, but they needed more clock to work with.
The Eagles now have one more regular season game and can end it on a high note by playing spoiler to Wake Forest. There’s plenty to work with from this game in terms of both positives and negatives as BC prepares for the regular season finale.