Early Look at the 2009 Boston College Football Season

by - Senior Writer -

It may still be 120-plus days until Clemson fans see the Tigers run down the hill for the first time, but it’s never too early to talk a little football. Over the next two weeks, Tigernet is going to take a look at each of the ACC teams, with a small 2008 reviews, a 2009 spring recap, and a look-ahead to the 2009 season. Today, we start with the Boston College Eagles.

In 2008, the Eagles posted a 9-5 overall record and a 5-3 ACC mark which included a second straight trip to the ACC’s Football Championship Game. The Eagles led the ACC and were 5th nationally in total defense, led by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Mark Herzlich. The Eagles lost to Virginia Tech, 30-12, in the ACC Championship Game, then had their ACC-best eight game bowl winning streak snapped with a 16-14 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl.

Following the season, then-head coach Jeff Jagodzinski flirted with the NFL’s New York Jets for their head coaching vacancy, despite warnings from Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo, and his contract was terminated on January 7th. He was replaced by Frank Spaziani, who had been the defensive coordinator since 1999 and had coached for the Eagles since 1997.

WHO IS GONE – In addition to the former head coach, the Eagles lose LB Brian Toal, DT B.J. Raji, DT Ron Brace and SS Paul Anderson. From the offense, the Eagles lose QB Chris Crane, who threw for 1,846 yards and 17 touchdowns despite missing the last three games of the season with a broken collarbone. All-ACC G Clif Ramsey, TE Ryan Purvis and WR Brandon Robinson all also graduated.

WHO IS RETURNING – The defense will be led by Herzlich, who had six interceptions (two which he returned for touchdowns), totaled 110 tackles (11 for loss), 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and eight pass deflections. MLB Mike McLaughlin also returns, with 17 career starts under his belt. On offense, senior wide receiver Rich Gunnell is back, along with sophomore tailback Montel Harris, who rushed for 900 yards on just 179 carries during his freshman season. Sophomore Josh Haden, who was the starter before Harris’ emergence, also returns.

FRANK SPAZIANI – Spaziani is in his 13th year in Chestnut Hill, having spent two seasons as the running backs coach before taking over as defensive coordinator, a position he held for 10 years. In 2008, the Eagles ranked in the top 10 in the nation in seven defensive categories, including interceptions (first, 26); turnovers gained (second, 36); total defense (fifth, 268.14 ypg.); red zone defense (sixth, 72%); first downs allowed (sixth, 14.71 pg.); rushing defense (seventh, 91.2 ypg.), and pass efficiency defense (98.81).

BIG SPRING QUESTIONS – The big questions for the Eagles heading into spring practice were Spaziani and the quarterback situation. After Crane was injured in the Wake Forest game last season, he was replaced by Dominique Davis, who led the Eagles to a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes of the game. He struggled in the ACC Championship game and against Vanderbilt in the bowl game, finishing the season with six touchdowns and four interceptions. Redshirt freshman Justin Tuggle, out of Atlanta’s Northview High School, will provide his main competition, but Codi Boek showed the most arm strength in the spring. However, Boek played fullback and on special teams last season, so he is still learning the offense from a quarterback’s perspective.

SPRING PRACTICE AND GAME – The offense, under new offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill, struggled mightily in the spring. Tranquill is the former Navy head coach who also coached at Virginia in the late eighties and early nineties. He spent the 2007 season as the quarterbacks coach of the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe before retiring, but Spaziani coaxed him out of his short respite to become the coordinator.

During the spring game, the defense defeated the offense 47-21, but the only real points scored by the offense were on a 37-yard field goal by Steve Aponavicius. The longest play from scrimmage for the offense was a Davis-to-Chris Pantale pass that covered 17 yards.

Spaziani said the results were what he expected considering he had to play four quarterbacks with little or no college experience.

“We’re going to need a lot of work,” Spaziani said. “We’re going to need a lot more precision and a lot of work. We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that haven’t played and we need to get some of the injured guys back, which will make things a little bit better. But I thought overall, having to play with basically six offensive linemen and guys playing out of position, they hung in there halfway decent. We had to mix and match a lot on offense. But, as you can see, there’s work to be done.”

Spaziani indicated that he had not settled on a starting quarterback, but Davis got most of the snaps during the spring game. He completed 20-of-40 passes for 145 yards and an interception.

“Davis is inching along,” said Spaziani, “He’s got to get better and other guys have to get better, too. The others haven’t done anything yet. This is the first 15 days that they’ve practiced, they’ve got to be coached and there are a lot of things in there. We’re going to re-evaluate what they can do and how they can do it and go from there. But we have a good handle on it.”

Tranquill had the offense working out of the no-huddle for most of the scrimmage, and the other quarterbacks struggled with the tempo. Boek went 2-for-10 for 14 yards, Justin Tuggle was 2-for-7 for 8 yards and Alexander Atiyeh failed to complete either of his two pass attempts.

2009 SEASON AND SCHEDULE – The Eagles will face nine teams that earned bowl invitations last season, including non-conference foes Central Michigan and Notre Dame, along with ACC foes Clemson, Wake Forest, Florida St., N.C. State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Maryland. The season starts off easy enough with home games against Northeastern and Kent St., then gets tougher with a road game at Clemson on Sept. 19th. Following the game in Death Valley, the Eagles host the Demon Deacons and Seminoles before a road game at Virginia Tech.

CLEMSON AND BOSTON COLLEGE IN 2008 - The Tigers traveled to Chestnut Hill last season and came away with a 27-21 victory over the Eagles in Dabo Swinney’s first head coaching victory. Clemson running back C.J. Spiller caught six passes for 115 yards – a record for a Tiger running back – and set up another touchdown with a 57-yard run despite missing most of the third quarter after a sideline hit. Spiller finished with 242 total yards. Clemson took a 17-0 lead into halftime, but the Eagles came back to take a 21-17 lead with just 8:43 remaining in the game. Spiller returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards, however, setting up a four-yard scoring pass from Cullen Harper to Aaron Kelly in the corner of the end zone. The Tigers added a late field goal for the final score.

WAY TOO EARLY PREVIEW OF CLEMSON-BC IN 2009 - This game could come at a critical time for the Tigers in 2009. The Tigers open up with a home game against Middle Tennessee, and then travel to Atlanta for a date against Georgia Tech. If all falls right for the Tigers, they will be 2-0 with a solid shot at being 3-0 once the game with the Eagles is over. The Tigers could also be 1-1, 0-1 in the ACC, and needing a win over the Eagles to get back over .500 overall and even in the ACC. Either way, this home game will be crucial for Clemson’s ACC hopes, considering the next four weeks see Clemson play TCU, Maryland, Wake Forest and Miami. A win over a less talented team, at home, is a must. The Eagles have two early home games, the aforementioned games against Northeastern and Kent. St. and will more than likely be 2-0 coming into Death Valley. However, their new quarterback will not have seen a defense like Clemson’s in the first two games, or had to face a hostile road crowd in 2009. The early prediction here would be that the Clemson defense shuts down the Boston College offense, and Spiller reprises his role from last season and has a big game against a pretty good defense. It will also be the third game for Clemson’s new quarterback, and the Tigers should have more of an offensive identity by the time Boston College comes calling.

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