CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — No one on Boston College’s football team seemed to agree with the notion, but the final score of Saturday’s 34-10 loss at North Carolina seemed to reflect the immutable fact that the Eagles, standing at the crossroads of their campaign, had taken a definite step back.
As far back as Southern California?
Perhaps, but no one in BC’s camp was willing to go back that far.
“You go back to the Southern Cal game and we just didn’t play with the intensity,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio, referring to the Eagles’ first loss of the season, 35-7 at USC Sept. 14. “We played with a lot of intensity today.’’
But BC wasn’t able to sustain that intensity, especially on third down.
“We were woeful on third down,’’ said Addazio, referring to the offense’s 5-for-16 conversion rate and the defense’s big-play vulnerability as the Tar Heels converted 8 of 16 attempts.
“Third down was really hard for us,’’ said Addazio. “We had some critical penalties that kicked us from third-and-short to third-and-medium/longs at critical times.
“On defense, we let up too many third and longs, and too many big plays, and that crushed us.’’
BC (3-4, 1-3 ACC) dropped below .500 for the first time this season, falling to 0-3 on the road this year and extending its overall road skid to nine games.
Not even the presence of former All-America linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the architect of BC’s last road win (24-17 at Miami in the 2011 season finale), seemed to inspire the Eagles, who remained winless in four visits to Kenan Stadium, a 63,000-seat venue nestled among the tall pines of UNC’s heavily wooded campus.
The loss overshadowed the brilliant rushing performance submitted by senior Andre Williams, the league’s leading rusher who entered the game needing 162 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
Williams reached the milestone when he converted a third-and-1 attempt from the BC 41 early in the fourth quarter with a gritty 5-yard carry. He finished with 26 carries for 172 yards and accounted for BC’s first score, a 56-yard run in the first quarter. That play atoned for a fumble he committed on an exchange with quarterback Chase Rettig, who was held to a season-low 57 yards passing and sacked four times for 18 yards.
Williams’s turnover set up UNC’s first score, a 13-yard pass from Bryn Renner (18 of 21, 227 yards, 2 TDs) to Ryan Switzer. The Tar Heels failed to convert the PAT (on a fumbled snap).
“I was pretty shocked by it,’’ Williams said of his fumble. “It’s the first time this happened since the season started. A fumble on the exchange is not characteristic of me and that’s probably the moment I’m going to remember most from the game.’’
Williams still accounted for the bulk of BC’s 261 total yards, 202 coming on the ground. Rettig, meanwhile, was rendered largely ineffective by BC’s inability to convert on third down and sustain drives. He was held to the second-worst passing performance of his career, after a 32-yard effort vs. Maryland in 2012.
Rettig rushed for 23 net yards, 24 of which came on a fourth-quarter scramble for a first down. He wound up absorbing a hard shot on his run, which forced him to hand the reins to backup Josh Bordner on BC’s last possession. Nate Freese kicked a 38-yard field goal with 2:04 left.
Rettig left the stadium without speaking to reporters.
“The last thing we need to do with our lack of depth is just to be stubborn, which we probably were one play too many for Chase Rettig when he scrambled and took a shot right there,’’ Addazio said. “He should’ve been out of the game, that’s on me, should not have had him in there.’’
It seemed but one parting shot by the Tar Heels, who answered Williams’s TD run with four consecutive touchdowns that made it 34-7.
A.J. Blue capped a 15-play, 81-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge that put the Tar Heels ahead to stay, 13-7, with 13:35 left in the second quarter. Then Bug Howard hauled in a 10-yard pass from Renner to cap an 11-play, 90-yard drive. giving the Tar Heels a 20-7 lead at intermission. BC junior safety Sean Sylvia was ejected for targeting Howard with a head shot on his touchdown catch.
Tight end Eric Ebron, who led all players with 67 yards receiving, made catches of 33 and 17 yards to set up Marquise Williams’s 17-yard TD toss to Howard, who flashed open at the back of the end zone when BC defender Bryce Jones slipped and fell.
The Tar Heels (2-5, 1-3) amassed 392 total yards and put the game out of reach on Williams’s 4-yard TD run with 3:03 left.
“We knew there would be disappointments along the way,’’ Addazio said. “I would clearly put this in the disappointment category. But credit to North Carolina, they were backed up against the wall here at home and came out swinging.’’
But was the loss a step back for BC?
“The only thing I would disagree with is that I told you I thought we played really hard today,’’ said Addazio, whose team must regroup for a home game next Saturday at noon against Virginia Tech. “I didn’t feel like we played that hard in the second half at Southern Cal . . . I didn’t feel that at all here.
“Where we took a step back was the things that take no talent, we didn’t do well today,’’ Addazio added. “That’s our motto — We’re going to do the things that take no talent well — and we didn’t do that today. We took a step back there.’’
But that’s where Addazio drew the line.
“We didn’t take a step back on physical toughness,’’ he said. “We didn’t take a step back on energy or passion for playing the game. We took a step back from execution on the no-talent issues, and that’s what got us today.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.