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Eagles searching for playmakers

11/1/2012

NEWTON, Mass. -- Playmakers.

When you get right down to it, winning teams have them and losing teams don't.

Right now, Boston College doesn't seem to have many.

"I don't think right now on defense we have playmakers," linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis said this week. "We have a lot of potential -- and that's including myself -- but, once again, like I said after last week, everyone's making steps in the right direction.

"Every once in a while, we have someone that makes a play, but playmakers, to be considered that, you have to do that on a consistent basis."

The Eagles have had playmakers in recent seasons, guys who had the innate ability to find the ball on defense (guys like Alex Albright, Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly) or to find the hole on offense (Montel Harris). But those guys are gone, moved on to greener pastures and new pursuits.

In their place, the Eagles have mostly inexperience and instability.

Frank Spaziani has played nine true freshmen this season, and has six redshirt freshmen on the two-deep roster. Two redshirt freshmen have started back-to-back games on the defensive line, a position of utmost importance to the BC defensive scheme.

To the pleasant surprise of the Eagles, a few of the young players forced into action showed glimpses of playmaking ability in the team's 20-17 win over Maryland.

Linebacker Tim Joy came thisclose to a sack of Caleb Rowe, blitzing up the middle and unloading on the QB just as he threw. Defensive back Justin Simmons had a key coverage to prevent a third-down conversion early in the game, then later came up with an interception that prevented a score.

And running back David Dudeck caught a touchdown pass on the Eagles' second snap from scrimmage, on a play-action pass out of the backfield.

But perhaps most important was the play of those two redshirt freshmen on the D-line, Connor Wujciak and Kieran Borcich.

Spaziani has long said that good defense always starts up front. And while he's not trying to make excuses, the coach doesn't hesitate to point out that flux on the defensive front -- BC is still waiting to have the same starting four two games in a row -- has hurt the Eagles' consistency on D.

The message about the importance of the line has been received by the rest of the unit.

"I said at the beginning of the season, the defensive line is the heart of the defense," Pierre-Louis said. "They've been doing a tremendous job. They're getting a whole lot better, which has helped us shed blocks easier without offensive linemen getting in our faces right when the ball is snapped."

Against the Terrapins, the 6-foot-4, 267-pound Wujciak made his presence felt with six tackles, including one for a loss. The 6-3, 264-pound Borcich also had an impact, making just one tackle but demonstrating an ability to capitalize on chances to make plays.

On third-and-8 at the BC 45, Borcich dropped into coverage just behind the line, and when Rowe's pass found him he was ready.

"I'm not gonna lie, it was a lot of luck," he said of his interception. "That was actually the second time in my life I've ever carried a football in a game. I was just praying not to fumble, pretty much.

"I think we caught the offense unaware and were able to make a play on the ball, which you always want to do."

The pick gave BC possession in Maryland territory, and led to a field goal. And while BC would lose its lead and have to rally late for the win, it was the type of play the Eagles need more of.

"As guys get more comfortable in doing stuff and more confident, they'll make more plays," Spaziani said. "We had a chance and Borcich caught the ball. We had another chance and Nick [Clancy] dropped the ball. It's a product of having confidence in being where you're at and being good enough to make the play."

Pierre-Louis agreed with that, saying it's the confidence he has in his own abilities that allowed him to make a big play late in the game.

Maryland had second-and-goal at the 3-yard line, looking to get on the board, when Pierre-Louis decided to call his own number.

"Pretty much, something told me, 'Kevin, you just need to go, you just need to make this play.' And I just went," he said of his uncalled rush that resulted in a sack and an 8-yard loss. "And I knew that if I didn't make that play, Coach [Bill] McGovern would've had me for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

And though the Terps eventually scored on the drive, the junior felt the reward outweighed the risk.

"There's gonna be some instances where I just need to play my game," he said. "Even though the coaches say do a certain thing, if I feel as though I have the confidence to make that play, just follow my instincts."

He sees some of that same attitude in some of the up-and-comers on the Eagles' D, including Borcich.

"He's aggressive, hustles to the ball," Pierre-Louis said of the Bronxville, N.Y., native. "I feel as though he's grown up a lot this year. When I look at him now, I look at him as a mature player rather than an underclassman."

Borcich, who was on the scout team going into Week 1 and got his first game action in Week 3 against Northwestern this season, said he's just taking advantage of the opportunity as best he can. It has definitely been a learning experience.

His welcome-to-the-show moment came against Northwestern, when he thought he had a clean shot on Kain Colter, the Wildcats' QB.

"I ended up missing him and falling right on my face," Borcich said. "I was like, 'Wow, so I guess this is what it takes at the next level.' … It was kind of that moment on that I realized how I had to prepare myself for the week in practice and how seriously I have to take all my reps and not let any practice reps go to waste.

"As weeks have gone on, I've gotten more and more comfortable being on the field and putting myself in position to make plays."

Pierre-Louis appreciates that, because he knows how hard it is to do what Borcich is attempting to at this stage of his career.

"It's just hard to do when you're young because you know that if you were to mess up, you'll get in a lot more trouble than an older guy," Pierre-Louis said. "Now I know I'm one of the older guys on the team, so if I mess up or if I kind of like do my own thing, I'm not gonna get in as much trouble as anyone else.

"If you decide in your mind that you're gonna go on this play, you better make it or something else is gonna open up."

For a real playmaker, the old saying is true: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.