Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani tries to avoid getting into his opponent’s head. But with Wake Forest, it’s all there, clear as day.
The Demon Deacons are 4-4 (2-4 ACC) with four games left. They’ve withstood injuries, suspensions, and even though they’ve lost three of their last four, they can still reach a bowl game for the sixth time in coach Jim Grobe’s 12-year tenure.
When they play host to Boston College on Saturday at BB&T Field, they’ll have the postseason carrot dangling in front of them.
“On their schedule, this is an interesting game for them, what it means for their season,” Spaziani said. “I always have to worry about our mind-set and where we are, but you have to understand your opponent and this is an important game on their schedule.
“Looking at where they’re at and what they’re trying to accomplish and what their remaining games are — they’ve got two more home games and two away games — we’re going to get a good shot [from them].”
Beating Maryland last week gave the Eagles their first win in more than a month. It was also their first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision team and their first in the ACC this season. With Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina State left on the Eagles’ schedule, the rest of the season will be a battle. Their run of 12 straight bowl appearances ended last season, and they’re looking at missing the postseason in back-to-back years.
Last year, the Demon Deacons finished 6-7 after backing into the Music City Bowl. They lost four of six down the stretch and then lost to Mississippi State, 23-17, on Dec. 30. The Demon Deacons finished third in the ACC Atlantic Division a year ago, and now sit just one spot above a struggling Eagles team, but Grobe said reaching a bowl game, even in a trying season, is a sign the program isn’t moving backward.
“We feel like here, bowl games are kind of a measure of how successful you are,” Grobe said. “So I think it’s very, very important.
“I think it’s tough to get one, though. With the schedule that we play, the people we play against, it makes it really tough to find six wins. Of course, you’re kind of torn, your goals going into the season, everybody would like to win the division, play for the ACC championship. But I think bowl games are very important.”
When Grobe suspended eight players (four starters) in October, he sent a message that discipline trumped wins. Coming off a 34-27 loss to Duke, six players sat out the Maryland game the next week, and Wake Forest lost, 19-14. Those two games changed their season, and now, Grobe said, they’re in a tight spot chasing two more wins to become bowl eligible.
“We missed a couple opportunities earlier in the season,” Grobe said. “I think we’re disappointed that we had great opportunities against Duke, against Maryland, didn’t get it done. Our backs are against the wall right now.
“With four games left, we have four really good teams to play. We’ll have to play our best football to win any of them.”
With N.C. State, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt left on the Demon Deacons’ schedule, a home game against a 2-6 BC team becomes a must-win, especially coming off a brutal 42-13 loss to No. 14 Clemson. The Eagles have won four of the last five against Wake Forest.
“I think we’re capable of winning all four,” Grobe said. “It’s a matter of staying healthy, playing good, having a good plan as coaches, having the kids go execute it.
“Yeah, I would say our backs are against the wall a little bit, for sure.”
In some ways, Wake Forest’s record is deceptive. The Demon Deacons have the ACC’s worst scoring offense (16.3 points per game), second-worst rushing attack (83.5 yards per game, better than only BC), are last in total offense, and next to last in passing offense, with a middle-of-the-pack defense. On top of that, they’ve had offensive line issues. Still, with the teams’ history of tight games the past decade, Spaziani said, there’s reason to be worried with Wake Forest.
“They manage to wade through those problems all the time,” Spaziani said.
BC’s passing attack is what worries Grobe. Chase Rettig is the third-leading passer in the ACC (291 yards per game) and he ended the Maryland game by engineering an 85-yard scoring drive, easily the team’s best drive of the season.
“He’s a big, strong-armed kid,” Grobe said. “Got a great sense of their offense, a big arm to get the ball anywhere down the field. We better improve. We’ve got to play better than we did against Clemson or some of the same things will happen because Boston College is really, really talented throwing the football.”
Wake Forest’s postseason hopes hinge on it, and for that reason, Spaziani said, the Eagles are bracing themselves.
“I think this is probably going to be a pretty intense [game],” Spaziani said. “We’ve got to match their intensity.”