Boston College coach Steve Addazio spent the week weighing his options.
He had to put together the best Plan B possible after losing his starting quarterback, Darius Wade, to a season-ending left ankle injury Sept. 18.
On the one hand, he had redshirt freshman Troy Flutie, who along with having a surname synonymous with BC football also had experience on his side after being in the system for a year. On the other hand was Jeff Smith, the dual-threat true freshman cut from the same cloth as Wade and Tyler Murphy before him, but with only a handful of college snaps to his credit.
Addazio spent the early part of the week preparing them for the pressure cooker.
“He was just supportive of both of us throughout the week and pressed hard on us,” Flutie said. “Coming in playing as a redshirt freshman and true freshman, I think he was really trying to work us hard and work on what we’ve got to work on.”
The quarterbacks were too busy preparing for the moment to let themselves be overwhelmed by it.
“I wasn’t really shook by it,” Smith said.
“I was ready,” Flutie said.
By midweek, they were both aware that Flutie would get the start on Saturday against Northern Illinois but also that both would see the field and it would be the first step in a long process for each of them.
The Eagles’ 17-14 win was a step full of peaks and valleys.
Flutie went 5-of-11 passing for 92 yards. He missed on his first four throws. But his first completion was a 27-yard touchdown to sophomore wideout Charlie Callinan that put BC up, 7-0, in the second quarter.
Flutie had a 30-yard hookup with Sherman Alston, but threw a pick on the next play that set up Northern Illinois’ only offensive touchdown of the day.
Smith didn’t complete a pass, but he ran nine times for 56 yards.
“We just knew we were going to use them both,” Addazio said. “And, you know, it came with what it came with. They both did some nice things. They both had some tough moments.
“You’re talking about guys that have no playing experience. So those guys, they went in there and I thought they battled. They really did do some really good things. Then there were some times when you look at them and you go, ‘Oh my god, tell me this isn’t going to happen here.’ But that’s what happens when you play guys that don’t have any experience at that position. It’s hard.”
BC was 22 yards from the end zone when Flutie was picked off by NIU defensive back Shawun Lurry (it was his fourth interception of the year). Flutie was trying to link up with Callinan again on play-action on first and 10 with less than five minutes left in the first half.
“It was a dumb mistake by me,” Flutie said, “I’ve got to be smarter in the red zone. I put our defense in a tough situation, so that was on me.”
On the sideline, Addazio was kicking himself over the play call.
“That’s about as safe a play-action pass as you can throw,” Addazio said. “We threw it and it went 80 [yards the other way]. I’m saying to myself, ‘You dummy. Really? Just run the ball one more time and kick the doggone field goal, you know?’ ”
Lurry ran it back to the BC 4, and the Huskies were able to cash in on Joel Bouagnon’s 2-yard touchdown run.
BC held NIU to 153 total yards and forced two turnovers (a first-quarter fumble and a third-quarter interception). Junior defensive back John Johnson grabbed the pick, the first of his career.
Knowing that the Eagles offense was going through an adjustment, Johnson said, the defense felt more of a need to make plays.
“I think the emphasis on creating turnovers and even scoring on turnovers increased,” Johnson said. “But besides that, we’ve got to go out and play our defense every game.”
For the fourth time this season, BC held its opponent to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Sophomore Jon Hilliman lit the pilot light on the Eagles’ rushing attack, carving through NIU’s defense for 119 yards on 24 carries, including a 21-yard scoring run in the third quarter that broke a 7-7 tie.
Colton Lichtenberg’s 25-yard field goal gave the Eagles a 17-7 cushion with 4:40 to play, and after the Huskies’ Aregeros Turner ran back the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown, BC’s defense pulled the plug on a further comeback attempt.
How things play out from here, with the Eagles set to face Duke next week in their first road game, was the furthest thing from Addazio’s mind after BC improved to 3-1. But the maturation of his two young quarterbacks means he’ll be making decisions about them each week for the rest of the season.
“I’m encouraged,” Addazio said. “It’s one of those things where it’s like nothing hit me in the face, you know what I mean? Just looking at it for what it was, there were some good things and some bad things by both guys.
“Is it more of the same for us in terms of playing two guys? Are we settling on one? I guess all the options are really on the table right now. We’re trying to do the best we can to let each guy mature. And that’s all we’re trying to do.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @julianbenbow.