After taking another shot to the chin with a 37-17 loss to Georgia Tech last Saturday, Boston College coach Frank Spaziani went to the drawing board. He decided that as the Eagles prepared for Maryland this week, he’d turn the temperature up during practice.
Instead of pushing around the scout team, he had the first-team defense knock helmets with the first-team offense.
Three straight road losses have dropped the Eagles to 1-6 for the second straight season. They need a spark in order to avoid a loss to Maryland that officially would seal their worst start since 1989.
Spaziani has been thinking about it for a month, but it didn’t make sense to do it while he was game-planning for triple-option teams such as Army and Georgia Tech. But the change was born of two necessities. First, injuries had dramatically cut the number of bodies the Eagles had for practice. Second, after losing all of their Football Bowl Subdivision games, Spaziani figured turning the speed and intensity up in practice could only work in the Eagles’ favor.
“Coach Spaz just thinks that if we can practice against a fast-paced offense, that would prepare us better for the game,” said linebacker Nick Clancy. “So that’s definitely going to help us in terms of speed of the game and stuff like that.”
Practices have been shorter but more physical, a lot louder and also more chippy, a dynamic that was lacking against the scout team.
“It really steps the intensity up in practice,” wideout Alex Amidon said. “It’s definitely good competition. The scouts kind of get told off if they hit us. But first team vs. first team there’s a lot more contact. A couple fights and stuff.
“It keeps us closer to the speed of the game, because if you get used to not hitting and not being as physical, you don’t play as fast. I think that just helps a lot. When you play full-speed, you get used to the contact.”
Shaking up the practices midseason gives them the feeling of training camp. There’s still no tackling, just “thudding,” as Amidon describe it.
“The competition level obviously increases dramatically,” said tight end Chris Pantale. “You’re not going to get the same type of looks and effort that you’re going to get from the scout team guys. So it forces you to always give 100 percent on a play. It’s forced us to work harder in practice.”
Spaziani has shuffled lineups, devised gadget plays, called on freshmen, and seemingly exhausted all possible options trying to stop the skid.
Asked if he was worried that this would be his last season as head coach, Spaziani said, “Nobody sheds more blood, sweat, and tears on Saturday than I do. I know what our situation is, I know what I’m doing, I know the problems I have to work through. That’s what I’m worried about. I’m worried about getting the victory on Saturday.”
The struggles on the defensive line this season start and end with the Eagles’s personnel issues. Nine different linemen have started and BC has used the same starting combination just two times this season.
A patchwork line is part of the reason the Eagles are 119th in the nation in run defense with just five sacks. Kaleb Ramsey, Brian Mihalik, and Mehdi Abdesmad all sat out against Georgia Tech. Ramsey’s status for the rest of the season is uncertain.
“It’s disappointing definitely, just because you know just how much damage these players can do,” said defensive end Kasim Edebali, who leads all linemen with 31 tackles. “You know they’re great players, and you feel bad because you want them to do well, but if someone gets hurt, the next guy in line has to step up.
“We take a lot of pride in the defensive line. It’s been frustrating this year. Before every game, we say everything starts with us. If we get to the quarterback, the DBs have it easier, we all make sure we stop the run, the linebackers have it easier and ultimately we can have a better shot at winning games. It’s good when the same four guys start the game and continue like that. The chemistry is good. Everybody knows the strengths of the guy next to you. So you can put yourself in a good position.”
The Eagles modeled the stars-and-stripes alternate jerseys they will wear this weekend as part of Under Armour’s Wounded Warrior Project. The consensus: They are snug. But the cause is a worthy one. “Any tribute we can pay to them, as small as it is, is well deserving,” Spaziani said.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.