October 3, 2006

Getting physical

RR Marshall: Peter, while it was nice to see BC get back in the win column this week a 22-0 victory over Division I-AA Maine wasn't exactly what Eagle Nation was looking for from their team. What was your take on the game?

Pete Cronan: I know people are going to look at the final score and feel some disappointment because it wasn't a 40-point game, but keep in mind going into this game the Eagles had a lot to improve upon. On defense it was to improve the tackling and eliminate the big play and long runs. Tom O'Brien called it a return to fundamentals and that's what we saw: alignment, execution, intensity, and tackling, and the defense improved in all those areas against Maine.

Granted the Black Bears are not an ACC caliber opponent, so the test now becomes to leverage a good defensive performance over this long break and build on those areas in preparation for what will be a major test for this team in the form of Virginia Tech.

Fan expectations can be a funny thing. I came to the game an hour early than I usually do (I forgot the kickoff was at 1:00 PM instead of noon!) and I had a chance to visit with a lot of the fans, and not surprisingly everyone was still focused on last week's game even though there was a game to be played that day.

Right now that seems to be the game that will taint this season, but there is still a lot of football left to be played. A big win over Virginia Tech would go a long way towards healing the wounds created by the NC State loss. So no, it wasn't a 40-point game but I have a feeing Tom O'Brien got out of his football team what he was looking for on Saturday.

RRM: Was this team emotionally ready to play this game, or did they appear flat to you?

PC: I thought the emotional component was there. I thought they played hard throughout the game and while they were a little sloppy at times I thought it was one of their typical, business-like efforts. Everybody expected Boston College to win and I think even the Maine kids in the back of their minds expected to get beat. The Eagles really needed to get that bad taste of defeat out of their mouth, and it didn't matter who the opponent was.

Tom O'Brien said after the game he thought his team looked a little tired, and it could be the players were a little drained after playing four straight games that went down to the wire. I also thought this was a representative performance by Maine. They have shown in the past they can play with Division I-A teams. The glaring different between the I-A and I-AA teams is depth, and we saw that late in this game. BC got off to a sluggish start but methodically and surgically dismantled this Maine team before they finally wore them down.

RRM: I think the area of concern for most BC fans is the lack of productivity from the formerly prolific BC passing offense. Only 182 yards in the air for the Eagles in this game against Maine, and Matt Ryan has now failed to throw for a touchdown pass in two consecutive games. What gives?

PC: I think what has happened after the success Matt Ryan had over the first three games is that teams are scheming their defenses to combat the Eagle air attack. One thing about Dana Bible is he is consistent and sticks to his guns, but the other side of the coin is it appears the opposition has figured something out and is putting more pressure on Ryan. If you think about that, it is quite a change from past years where teams always loaded up to stop the run when they played BC.

This problem started in the North Carolina State game, and I wasn't surprised we didn't see a lot of new stuff in the passing offense against Maine because the BC offense was extremely watered down. I suspect that had a lot to do with minimizing opportunities in this game. I'm sure one of the goals this week will be to spice up the BC offense a little bit for Virginia Tech.

RRM: With teams going to 12-game schedules everyone including the Eagles will have Division I-AA teams as a regular fixture on their schedule, but do you feel that is good for the game of college football?

PC: I think it's a win-win situation for both sides. I think going to the 12-game schedule will ultimately lead to a college football playoff set up, but right now it's all about money. I think Maine got $200,000 for playing this game which is a big pay day for them. It's good for their program and they didn't embarrass themselves. From Boston College's viewpoint they got a much-needed victory and got to give playing time to a lot of untested young players. Gene DeFilippo wants to help out the regional I-AA football programs so presently we are on a three-year rotation with Maine, the University of New Hampshire, and the University of Rhode Island.

Not only are you giving these teams exposure and bringing their fans here, but maybe in the future they will be rooting for Boston College and as a result the Eagles will expand their fan base throughout New England. So there is a certain logic to playing these teams and hopefully it will bear fruit in the future.

RRM: BC kicker Ryan Ohliger made both of his extra points and made good on two of three field goal attempts, but how was he treated by the Alumni Stadium crowd? Did they give him a rough time?

PC: Ohliger was interviewed after the game and he made light of the fact that he got some of those sarcastic cheers when he came out on the field for his first attempt. As the game wore on and he had continued success the cheering moved from the sarcastic type to the legitimate type. He was very straightforward when he said he was going to perform a whole lot better if people were in his corner and let him know it.

He also said he doesn't need the distraction of the fans criticizing his play. It seemed to me what he was saying was if you want me to perform better support me, and I thought the fan base was pretty supportive of him in this game and he had a pretty good afternoon. Getting Ohliger to feel good about himself was one of the goals going into this game and that was achieved. With BC entering the toughest stretch of their schedule he is going to be called upon in some crucial situations, and if he stays angry and is able to do his job consistently it will go a long way in helping their cause.

RRM: The Eagles defense got a boost with the return of Ryan Glasper in this game. He didn't show up on the stat sheet, so how did he look to you after such a prolonged absence?

PC: Ryan Glasper is so important because he brings that leadership component to this defense. I met him after the game and I joked with him, telling him it was good to have him back, even though you didn't do much! He came right back to me, saying,"I didn't HAVE to do much!" That was a veteran comment, because he knows his presence will elevate the level of intensity on this defense.

He really brings something that has been missing on this BC defense. It's experience, senior leadership, playmaking ability; all of the above. I have to believe the transition this defense is currently undergoing is going to benefit from him being in the lineup. Although Glasper didn't show up on the stat sheet, I think he had a whole lot to do with what turned out to be a pretty good defensive performance by BC against the Black Bears.

RRM: BC went into this game with a total of 10 players who were either freshmen or redshirt freshmen on the 22-deep roster on defense. Is this like the cavalry riding to the rescue with fresh troops for this team?

PC: I think you chose a pretty apt metaphor. You had a freshman linebacker in Matt Herzlich making five tackles and even grabbing an interception. There was redshirt freshman tackle Brady Smith and freshman defensive end Alex Albright both making significant contributions in this game, and there were others as well. I know Frank Spaziani has seen improvement from some of his player the past few weeks, but some players seemed to have regressed since the start of the season.

He expected more out of certain players (which he would not name), and the people that had been given the opportunity to replace several of the solid players the Eagles had on defense a year ago apparently didn't fill those voids to the satisfaction of the coaches. Coaches wait for an event to make a sweeping change, and if you read between the lines the loss in Raleigh was that event.

It looked to me based on the results we got in this game that the coaches' strategy worked. The BC defense was much more active and aggressive, and even the guys that had been supplanted on the two-deep roster made contributions. Regardless of whether it was move that was designed to motivate or create opportunity, in my estimation it did both.

RRM: We would be remiss if we did not mention the exploits of one Clarence Megwa who during the course of the game dropped a pass that would have been a first down, came back to block a punt, and then delivered what might be the hit of the year for the Eagles on an unsuspecting Ryan Callahan. You saw them all from your vantage point, what was your view of his play?

PC: Hooo boy! You should have seen Megwa; he just laid that kid from Maine out!! I'm not exaggerating when I say that was one of the best hits I've ever seen. He made a lot of plays, and now the question becomes he did it against a I-AA opponent, can he do it in 10 days against the big boys? It won't take too long to find out the answer with Virginia Tech coming to town, but you have to like what you've seen from him and the rest of the BC young players thus far.

RRM: Since the name Callahan was brought up I will take it upon myself to speak for all of Eagle Nation in imploring Gene D. to never allow Gerry Callahan to make a guest appearance during a BC broadcast ever again. I know he's a Maine alum, but his unending mean-spirited, sarcastic comments on BC athletics have worn thin and do absolutely nothing to promote the program. To borrow a phrase from WEEI, BC's attitude should be no-Callahan, all the time!

PC: One thing about Gerry is there's no middle ground. You either love him or you hate him.

RRM: Just watch, he'll end up blaming his alma mater's loss on the Democrats!

PC: [Laughs] You're probably right!

RRM: The good news is BC gets to host this year's meeting with Virginia Tech on the evening of October 12. The bad news is the Hokies have won their last 11 consecutive Thursday night appearances. How confident are you that the Eagles are ready for the challenge that Tech presents?

PC: I think BC is continuing to learn about themselves, and the timing of this game could not be better in terms of getting healthy. They've only had five bullets in their six-gun the past few weeks and I think they were getting a little tired mentally as well.

I firmly believe this Boston College team can match up and play with anybody. The ACC is very competitive this year due to the fact they sent 51 players to the NFL last year. It flattened the competition out across the board, and the fact is BC has as good a chance of filling the void as anybody in this conference to win the title and it all starts in 10 days with Virginia Tech.

RRM: Boston College prides itself as being a physical football team, yet they were thoroughly manhandled by this Virginia Tech team a year ago. Will this be used as a motivating factor for the Eagles over the next 10 days leading up to the game?

PC: Your representation of what occurred last year in Blacksburg is I'm sure what will be spoon fed to the BC players for the next 10 days. BC believes in their heart they need to be physical to win, and the irony to all of this is they were 'out-physicalled' and beaten at their own game at NC State.

I think all of this plays to a bit of an insecure feeling this BC team has about themselves right now regarding their reputation as a physical football team. They can re-establish that reputation against Virginia Tech, a formidable opponent renowned for their physical style of play. If BC can assert themselves by going back to their physical, smash-mouth style of play against a big-time physical opponent then this becomes a battle of the titans. I have no doubt that the Eagles will bring that physical part of their game to this contest.

I really don't believe the Virginia Tech winning streak on Thursday nights will intimidate the Eagles, but I don't think it was to BC's advantage that Virginia Tech lost last week at home to Georgia Tech because now they are going to come in here angry. The one thing that seems to be in BC's favor is that they tend to respond well to historical events such as this and I do expect them to play well in this game. This is just an incredible opportunity for Boston College. They will have 10 days to rest and prepare (as will Virginia Tech), and I am really expecting an outstanding contest.

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