What began in August as something of a slight concern has morphed into a much more alarming issue for the Boston College football team and coach Steve Addazio.
The play of the Eagles' special teams, specifically the kicking game, has made for some restless nights at The Heights.
As the Eagles prepare for Saturday's showdown with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., there's a strong focus on stabilizing a kicking game that has wavered of late.
"We're inconsistent, to say the least," said Addazio, "and we've got to get that fixed.
"There are a lot of positives — but I wouldn't put extra points and field goals in that category right now. What can I say? It's just not where it needs to be."
Freshman kicker Mike Knoll, who overcame issues of inconsistency early in the season to earn playing time against North Carolina State and Clemson, did not travel with the team to Wake Forest this past weekend after being diagnosed with a groin strain.
So senior Alex Howell has been tasked with all things kicking-related: kickoffs, punts, field goals, and extra points. Senior Joey Launceford, a former walk-on who saw playing time early in the season, will serve as Howell's backup.
"It's tough to handle all the duties as the guy, that's hard to do," Addazio said. "It's the rare guy who can handle them all, and Alex is forced into that right now."
Howell has served primarily as the Eagles' punter this season, averaging more than 43 yards per punt and putting a third of his attempts inside the 20-yard line.
But splitting the uprights from distance has been a point of weakness for the Florence, S.C., native. Although he has missed only one extra point on the year (a block), Howell is a mere 4 for 9 on field goal attempts, and only 2 of 7 when the kick is 40 yards or longer.
Missed opportunities have made things difficult for the Eagles, especially of late.
Against No. 24 Clemson, Knoll missed an extra point that would have given BC a 14-10 edge early in the fourth quarter. Clemson marched downfield for a touchdown and a 17-13 lead, meaning BC couldn't tie the game with a field goal. A go-ahead touchdown never came, and BC lost, 17-13.
Last week against Wake Forest, Howell didn't get enough air under an extra point, and it was blocked. BC led, 23-3, despite the blocked kick, but needed a Justin Simmons interception late in the fourth to stave off the Demon Deacons' comeback, and edged Wake Forest, 23-17.
"We're doing everything we can," Addazio said. "There's no stone left unturned there. Everybody can have their opinions. I don't know what else to say or do other than just try to get better.
"Alex is handling all the duties. Joey is the backup, and we continue down this path, which is alarming and impactful. It's been impactful, to say the least."
Addazio announced that offensive lineman Harris Williams had been granted a medical redshirt for the season and will return for his fifth year of eligibility in 2015.
The graduate student from Lynn has been sidelined since the first quarter of the season-opening win over UMass after fracturing his left ankle.
"Something good came out of a bad situation — for him, for us," Addazio said.
Williams played in all 12 games during his junior season in 2013, helping to pave the way for Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for a school-record 2,177 yards. Graduate student Aaron Kramer has taken his place.
With the prospect of having to replace an entire offensive line in 2015 — all five current linemen are graduate students — Addazio called Williams's return "critical."
"We've got a guy back, and we'll develop that," Addazio said. "We feel great about some of our young players. We think they're big, physical BC linemen. Just got to keep moving forward."
The inaugural college football playoff poll will be unveiled Tuesday, but Addazio said he has not gotten caught up in the excitement. However, he reiterated his belief that champions of the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) should all have a shot at the College Football Playoff trophy. "Put a team in there that doesn't play anybody — that'd be a joke," Addazio said. "Just assuming some conference should have multiple teams — that's equally a joke. You're making some strong assumptions there; you don't need to do that. You play in a Power 5 conference and you're a conference champion, you belong in that game."
Sophomore defensive end Kevin Kavalec was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week. Kavalec notched a career-high 10 tackles, including 4½ for a loss and two sacks, in the win over Wake Forest . . . Addazio said sophomore cornerback John Johnson is week to week following surgery on his left wrist. Johnson was injured in the loss to Clemson. Simmons slid into Johnson's spot against Wake Forest . . . The Eagles announced that their home contest against Louisville Nov. 8 will be played at 7:15 p.m. and will be on ESPN2.