It's been four years since that September afternoon in Chestnut Hill. The 0-2 Boston College Eagles, coming off losses to both Northwestern and Central Florida, hosted the Duke Blue Devils in their conference opener. Duke, far from a good football team, had a 20-19 lead with time running thin in the fourth quarter.
Starting from their own 21, Chase Rettig completed a 30 yard pass to Colin Larmond. Andre Williams rumbled 17 yards to the Duke 14. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Frank Spaziani ran Andre Williams to the right, where he was tackled by Kelby Brown after a gain of nine. With the ball at the five, Andre plowed into the line. Duke called a time out with 47 seconds left, forcing Nate Freese to make a kick to essentially win the game.
It's been four years since Duke beat Boston College, 20-19, in Chestnut Hill, and in the time since that game, things seem so very different. The Blue Devils are a much different program. After going 3-9 in 2011, David Cutcliffe's made the Blue Devils a gridiron power. After taking four years to rotate his guys into the program, Cutcliffe's brought Duke to three straight bowl games, including one ACC Championship Game.
Known as a "quarterback whisperer," Cutcliffe is widely recognized as one of the gentlemen of the game. A former head coach at Ole Miss, he's found a home in Durham, and he's become the shining beacon of what happens when a coach invests more than just career years into a team.
This season, Duke unveiled a renovated Wallace Wade Stadium. They're succeeding even though their last two home games, both of which were against ranked programs (#23 Northwestern and #20 Georgia Tech), didn't even draw 25,000 fans. But they're on the road with a new quarterback in Thomas Sirk to figuring out the inside track to the Coastal Division crown.
For BC, this is a look across the conference landscape at a team that's built what they're looking to construct. It took time and probably more patience than people were willing to give, but it's there. The Eagles are a team that's building, at times testing the patience of its fans. It's taking time, and it's occasionally frustrating. For steps forward, there are steps backward. But in a perfect world, using a crystal ball, BC can continue to come a long way from "middle shmiddle" and challenge for the Atlantic Division like Duke's done among our ACC Coastal brethren.
This Week's Storylines (Little Giants Edition)
"You always run the ball! Why can't I run the ball?" -Nubie
"Because you're slow and no one likes you." -Hanon
After one week of the Troy Flutie/Jeff Smith debate, I'm pausing to give a short reflection. Neither one went out and grabbed the position by the horns. Both made strides in their respective games, but both also made mistakes along the way. It was one game in a long journey, and while I think there is lots to digest, I've developed a theory on the pulse of the fans.
Troy Flutie is always going to be a lightning rod because of his bloodline. If he completes one 25 yard touchdown pass, people who want him to succeed are immediately going to loudly proclaim he needs to play. They're going to talk about how BC needs to install a pass-first attack. They're immediately running to support him, and it's going to make Flutie seem like something that he honestly isn't.
At the same time, detractors post about Flutie's sack numbers and how supporters simply don't get it. They talk about how he really isn't that good, made poor decisions, missed open receivers. They'll immediately tear him down if he does something well, and it seems like you either have to be on Team Flutie or not on Team Flutie.
That places some unrealistic expectations on both quarterbacks. If Flutie does well, people immediately compare him to Uncle Doug, reference the Flutie name, and make him out to be something that he isn't. If Flutie doesn't do well, people immediately clamor for Jeff Smith, talk about how Flutie isn't suited for the offense, the offense is a mess...and make him out to be something that he isn't.
I'm not on Team Smith or on Team Flutie. I'm on record with a belief that I thought Flutie should have started last week. I believe Flutie saw the majority of the snaps on Saturday. But following the NIU game, I don't think either QB outplayed the other. I think there's still an ongoing evaluation process, and I'm on board with continuing to take time to figure out who should be the man. Maybe the entire season goes by and we don't figure it out; these kids haven't played a lick of a college snap, and they're thrown into a situation where they need to play strong in order to keep BC a factor in the ACC race - one of the best conferences in college football.
I'm not saying the playcalling isn't a factor, but I'm saying that their development is way too young to make a conscious decision. As long as the last name on the back of the jersey is Flutie, however, people are going to have a strong opinion, and that's unfair to a young quarterback who simply needs more time.
"Do you play football?" -Danny O'Shea
"Do you like football?" -Danny O'Shea
"Do you want to play football?" -Danny O'Shea
"Great, you can be on our team." -Danny O'Shea
It was another rough week for the training room. Louie Addazio was carried off on Saturday, and the postgame remarks and interviews revealed BC revealed essentially one healthy running back by game's end - Tyler Rouse, who earlier in the game wobbled off the field after a wicked hit on kickoff coverage (he passed the medical concussion protocol before being allowed back in).
In his interview with Scott Mutryn on the radio, Steve Addazio talked about how hard it is to deal with injuries. The team is battling and fighting, but there's no doubt the medical woes are taking their toll.
We're not sure what'll happen from here. Four games into the season, the roster almost looks like a survive and advance situation. I'm sure the coaches are forming contingency plans about what happens if one or two more guys go down at key situations, but it's not going to be easy. It's likely going to get tougher before it gets easier. Injuries mean the players who play have less experience and are greener. They're likely going to get younger and with less experience comes more room for "rookie mistakes."
"What's that cheerleader doing with a helmet on?" -Mike Hammersmith
"That's no cheerleader, that's my niece Becky. She's pissed." -Kevin O'Shea
The power running game ran angry on Saturday. It was great to see Jon Hilliman running with emotion, and BC was able to wear down the NIU defensive front seven. By the end of the game, the offensive line started to impose a little bit of its will, which was great to see considering their inconsistencies. There's cause for optimism, and if things can start to fall a little bit more in lock step, potentially with more player and coaching development this week, there's a chance BC can go out and beat what's apparently a very good Duke team.
Here's my thing. One win doesn't change my attitude. BC's defense is playing angry and motivated, and the offense should be much of the same. I loved watching the defense swarm and deliver some big hits. I loved watching Hilliman take it to the house from 20 yards out. I loved the emotion after first down, when #32 would come out of the pile pumped up and yelling.
There needs to be more of that this week. BC is headed on the road for the first time this year, and the road trip will be good for them. It gets them away from the boo birds at the end of the first half, away from the noise that comes along with whatever people are saying from home. It gets them on the road as a team, which is always a growth opportunity. There will be plenty of opportunity this week to dive into the nitty-gritty of each player's performance, and there will be plenty of time to analyze and breakdown the coaching decisions. But the emotion needs to remain high, and we're onto Duke.
Matchup Fun Facts
School Name: Duke University
Nickname: Blue Devils
National Championships: 1 (1936, Unclaimed)
Conference Championships: 17 (10 Southern, 7 ACC)
Bowl Games: 11
Postseason Bowl Record: 3-8
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
Years at School: Eighth
Head-to-Head With BC
All-Time Series: BC leads, 4-2
Streak: Duke, 1
Last BC Win: 2010 (21-16 at Duke)
Last Duke Win: 2011 (20-19 at BC)
First Meeting: 1927 (Duke won, 25-9, at BC)