The hardest part about taking a crushing loss is waking up and sorting through it.
The way Boston College let a golden opportunity slip away at Florida State — giving up a 74-yard touchdown pass on the Seminoles final drive to lose, 22-21 — left the Eagles equal parts stunned and angered when they left Doak Walker Stadium on Saturday.
Before they could figure out where to go from that point, they had to address what happened. After making the decision to punt rather than go for it on fourth and 1 from the FSU 45 with 2:52 left, Eagles coach Steve Addazio faced his players.
“I told the players yesterday, man, this is what happens when you’re the man in the arena,” he said, pulling out the Theodore Roosevelt quote when he needed it most. “As a team, as a player, as a coach, you know, you’ve got to make those decisions and you’ve got to feel great about what you did. You do them for the right reasons and you roll.”
Addazio stood behind his decision Monday as much as he did when he made it. The result didn’t work in his favor, but after he went back over the analytics and looked at the probability of Florida State scoring after they were pinned at their own 13-yard line, he still believed his logic was sound.
“So we have a chart,” he said. “You guys have probably seen it. When I do the postgame interviews, it’s up on the wall. You have a 10 percent chance of scoring points when you’re inside your 10-yard line. That means to go the long field, there’s a 10 percent chance of scoring points.
“Now, every year that can adjust a little bit. But the big-picture thought process is, really, you don’t have a high percentage of a team going 90 yards on you. It’s a very, very — it’s a low percentage.
“But if you’re going by the analytics, the analytics will tell you that. Obviously the more you work up the field, the more percent chance of scoring points becomes, and of course not just scoring points, but scoring touchdowns, and you just follow that chart.”
He replayed the factors that went into the choice he made.
“When you make these decisions like I had to make on Saturday, you want to say: ‘OK, how is your defense playing? What kind of defense are you playing against, OK?’ And then you factor in the percentages. And you’ve got to do that pretty quickly. Listen, I would tell you, if I thought even differently. That was clearly the right decision to make. By every measure, that was right, except for one: It doesn’t work out in the end. You punt the ball, you pin the team, you play defense, and that’s what you do.”
Right or not, the Eagles had to live with the outcome. They took their second straight loss. The possibility of finishing the regular season with nine wins is now off the table. And their rival Syracuse is coming to Alumni Stadium on Saturday.
In many ways, the Eagles have checked off the items on the list of goals they took into the season. They returned the program to a point of national recognition. They’ve been ranked as high as 17th in the country. They went into their game with No. 2 Clemson with the hopes of toppling a college football giant, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, and putting themselves in position to play for a conference championship for the first time in a decade.
But now they have to reshape their goals.
“When we dropped to Clemson, we lost a realistic opportunity for the conference championship, right. Now after that, you’re just trying to win as many games as you can win down the home stretch for the obvious reasons: One, to get as many win totals as you can; and two, your placement in postseason.
“We still have so much opportunity ahead of us. I think it’s good when you’re having that conversation, I guess, because you know, to this point, we’re able to bring a national spotlight to Boston College football and we’re able to bring ourselves to the elite of college football and now we’re trying to sustain that level.”
“This game, this team, I think they know exactly what we’re going for here, exactly what this game means. and I think they will certainly understand that,” Addazio said.