Dan Rubin: AJ, as we kick things off this week, it feels like it typically does after a loss, with the negatives really coming forward over the positives. But there's an old adage that you're never as bad as when you lose and you're never as good as when you win. If you're looking back over that Boston College-Duke game from last Saturday, what are some of the positives you saw that you maybe didn't mention in your "Cheers & Jeers" post over the weekend?
AJ Black: First off I'm going to tip my hat to a few players on offense. The offensive line is actually coming together better than expected, and look pretty good (mind you that Duke lined up 9 players in the box on every play). If BC can open up the offense just a tad, this will take that immense pressure off the offensive line, and we will see what they really are capable of. Secondly, Thadd Smith. We want a legit wide receiver, we got one. I think if we can find a QB who can get him the ball whether it's Jeff Smith or Troy Flutie he can make plays. Obviously a huge hat tip to the entire defensive line who played out of their minds on Saturday.
Dan, I try to stay positive, but let's flip the coin. What was most concerning about Saturday's loss?
Dan Rubin: AJ, I have been clear that as much patience as we all have, it's being tested by the offense. At some point, everyone will run thin and lose it, myself included. I feel like the offense is starting to come together - except at the QB position.
Neither quarterback warrants full-time reps yet, and that's a problem because the team is starting to move forward. The offensive line is starting to gel, and the receivers are starting to get more open; against Duke, there were some real chances to make plays. But as long as neither QB is capable of getting the ball out to a receiver with regularity, there is no way Steve Addazio can go to a one-QB set. That's a problem for me because after two games of two QBs, I really want them to make a decision. I want to see someone make enough of a progression to earn the trust. That clearly hasn't happened.
It's never a good sign to sit here and say, "I want them to make a decision, and they're reaching a point where I feel they have to make a decision - but nobody has played well enough to warrant that decision."
Your thoughts on the sample size so far of the Flutie-Smith debate?
AJ Black: At this point I don't even care. I just want Steve Addazio to pick one of the two, let him get his bumps and bruises and grow. I've mentioned it numerous times, but a young team shouldn't be asked to install two completely separate offenses simultaneously. If Addazio wants a mobile QB, he should go with Jeff Smith and tailor an offense around his skills. If Addazio wants Chase Rettig redux, go with Flutie. But it's absurd to ask an offense to on one drive run a read option offense, and then on the very next run the spread. Honestly at this point I don't know which QB is a better fit. I still lean a little more towards Jeff Smith, but his arm worries me.
Dan, how about you?
Dan Rubin: I want to see them produce something, but I don't want to put that on the coaches. I guess that's where I differ from everyone else; I want someone to force the coaches to play him every down.
Even though it's an NFL team as opposed to college, look at the Houston Texans. Bill O'Brien had to deal with two QBs in camp who were vying for the starting job - Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer. Partway through camp, O'Brien named Hoyer the starter. In Week One, O'Brien pulled Hoyer for Mallett, then named Mallett as the Week Two starter. By Week Four, Mallett was pulled for Hoyer.
Earlier in the week, I thought BC had two games worth of sample size, which I thought would be enough. As the week progressed, Coach Addazio clearly isn't in that position, so maybe I'm wrong at this point.. Just inserting a guy and letting him take the reigns when he clearly hasn't 100% earned it is going to set the team back if he plays bad enough and needs to be replaced. At the end of the day, play-to-play, drive-to-drive, you have to do what's best for the team. It's incredibly frustrating, but that's where I'm at. I don't want to have a QB carousel where you're going "Okay you're my guy" and then he plays so badly that he needs to be pulled. I would rather the coach openly say that both are still getting looks because that's the reality.
Remember that before he was injured, people thought Darius Wade needed to be pulled against Florida State. The most popular guy on the roster is always the quarterback on the sidelines.
AJ - there's more to this offense in layers that we're not really talking about. A good point brought up is that the defense, for all of its dominance, hasn't had many, if any, takeaways. Is that an area of concern for you?
AJ Black: No. What concerns me is flipping the field position which is not on the defense but on the punt returner. That has been a giant pile of struggle this entire season. Sherm Alston as I mentioned in my Cheers and Jeers shouldn't be returning punts right now. He's explosive and fast, but flipping the field is what this defense is going to allow you to do but you need a good returner who can at least field punts cleanly.
Dan in his weekly press conference Steve Addazio said "If you put these young guys in situations where they can turn the ball over, you ruin their confidence." Does that kind of mindframe bother you?
Dan Rubin: It does and it doesn't. It bothers me in a sense that it can be construed that the coach doesn't think his players are confident. It also can be understood that he doesn't necessarily think they can gain that confidence, and he would rather hold on than attack. Looking at it from the side of the detractors, it plays right into their complaints about conservative football and an unwillingness to "get after it."
At the same time, it doesn't bother me. When you're dealing with young kids, you're dealing with intensely fragile psyches. The running game is not succeeding with regularity, and the quarterback situation is very much in flux. If you watch this team, they simply look unsure of themselves at times, lost at other times. If you get after it, you run the risk of losing whatever's been built up. There's the saying in poker that you can't win what you don't put in - but you can't lose it either.
It goes back to what I said earlier. They haven't played to a level where the coaches can make a couple of risky plays. They can't open up the playbook if the offense hasn't proved it can handle, with regularity, the simple stuff. Until they prove they can do it, the coaches aren't going to call those plays. Whether you agree or disagree, that's what we're looking at for the foreseeable future.
You don't want to see them commit to a bad play, turn the ball over, and shatter someone's confidence. That's what happened to Chase Rettig. In his first season, he completed over half of his passes for 1,200 yards and six touchdowns - along with nine picks. His development never really recovered.
For what it's worth, Coach Addazio, who is by nature conservative, said they were planning on opening up the playbook with Darius Wade once he started to grasp the offense and show progression. I'm willing to be the same goes for Flutie and Smith, neither of whom showed the coaches enough to be built around in the first two games.
AJ, great question, and it elicited a long-winded response from me. I know you have a differing opinion.
AJ Black: I get both sides of the coin here, and believe me I don't want Addazio going crazy with the playbook, but he has got to be a little more aggressive than we have seen. Simple things like more play action with Jeff Smith could open up larger running lanes as defenses would have to at least sort of respect the pass. This feels a little too much like coddling to me, they are dudes, let them try some stuff out. If it doesn't work, who cares? It's not like what you are doing now is effective at all, and you have one of the nations best defenses that looks ready to erase any mistake.
Dan Rubin: AJ, we lost our BCI Radio broadcast in the middle for no apparent reason. We did get a chance to get some great talk with Brian St. Pierre in there, and I urge everyone to really take a listen since he had some great perspective. He was one hell of a QB for BC, and I love that he owns Derrick Knight for beating him with the Prep over Xaverian in the greatest game in Massachusetts high school history. Now if only MC could've won ONCE...
AJ Black: So personal story about St. Pierre. I grew up in his hometown and he was a year or two older than me. I remember at 14 my Babe Ruth team faced his. He was pitching, I got up. I was undersized at that age, and he was throwing 85mph. All I cared about was not dying in the batters box. I threw my bat across the plate three times, probably missing by a solid three feet each time. I wiffed on three pitches, but I survived, and that was all that mattered.
No Huddle Offense:
AJ: Dan, lots of upheaval this week in the Top 25. Give me your best prediction for the playoff four.
Dan: In no particular order, I'm going with Ohio State, Baylor, LSU, and Utah. Clemson is the odd team out because of the weakness of the ACC and the fact that they're going to be biased for the incredibly weak Big XII after last year's debacle. Baylor wins that conference and gets in as a result. TCU is overrated.
AJ - there's a lot of hype already around who could be holding the Heisman this winter. Who do you have as the frontrunner so far?
AJ: Speaking of TCU, I'm going to go with Trevone Boykin. He is playing at an elite level right now, and as much as I would love to see Leonard Fournette to win it, I can't see a running back winning it with a great QB as an option. Final question Dan. We have crowned BC-Wake Forest #therivalry. What has been your favorite moment in this series between these two bitter foes?
Dan: Mark Herzlich jumping into the sky to pick off Riley Skinner followed by a rumble into the end zone for a touchdown. That was a great moment and an incredibly athletic play by one of the all-time college greats.