Harvard No. 25 in preseason AP Top 25

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
The preseason AP Top 25 is out, and Tommy Amaker’s Crimson are in it for the first time in school history.

Harvard comes in tied for No. 25 with Utah.

It’s the first time Harvard has appeared in the AP Top 25 since the 2011-12 season, when the Crimson ranked as high as No. 22 in Week 9. The Crimson also twice reached No. 21 in the USA Today coaches poll.

Christian Webster, a player on that Crimson team and a current Harvard assistant coach, celebrated the news on Twitter:

Harvard went 27-5 in 2013-14, winning the Ivy League for the fourth straight season and earning an NCAA berth for the third straight season. The Crimson upset Cincinnati in the NCAA tourney -- winning an NCAA game for the second straight season, and the second time in school history -- before losing to Michigan State.

The core of that team returns this season, led by point guard Siyani Chambers, do-everything guard Wesley Saunders and big men Steve Moundou-Missi and Kenyatta Smith.

The Crimson start the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 with their traditional matchup with Cambridge rival MIT.

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

BC freshman Hilliman coming on strong

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- In some ways, Jonathan Hilliman is a typical freshman. But in others, the 6-foot, 215-pounder is anything but.

When Andy Gallik thinks back to summer workouts, he sees in his mind’s eye Hilliman as a nervous freshman, unsure of himself and where he fits into the bigger picture of a college football team.

Fast-forward to eight games into the season, and the veteran center says, “Jon’s come a long way.”

The freshman’s come far enough to have the graduate student co-captain comparing him to last year’s star, Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams.

“[Hilliman is] a bigger back, he’s got more of a powerful running style and he reminds me of Andre -- they’re different players, obviously, but he’s come a long way,” Gallik said. “I think that’s because he’s gotten a lot of reps with the ones, he’s always around the older guys and he’s kinda feeling more comfortable, he’s feeling his place more.

[+] EnlargeJon Hilliman
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman RB Jonathan Hilliman has been compared to Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. "[Hilliman is] a bigger back, he's got more of a powerful running style," said Eagles center Andy Gallik.
“It’s great to see him having the success that he is as a freshman.”

The Plainfield, New Jersey, native and St. Peter’s Prep product’s precocious playmaking ability was on full display against Wake Forest this past weekend. On a first-and-10 from the Wake 33-yard line, Hilliman took the handoff in the backfield and saw green grass.

He exploded through the hole, outran a scrambling defender and sped toward the end zone. Cornerback Kevin Johnson was the Demon Deacons’ last hope to stop a score, but Hilliman high-stepped over the diving defender and into the end zone.

It was the first of two TDs on the day for No. 32, who would end up with 20 carries for 101 yards -- his second 100-plus-yard game and his fourth two-TD game.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” running backs coach Al Washington said. “You don’t expect freshmen in some of these games to do what they do. But the game’s changing, you’re seeing more and more freshmen across the country making an impact and I’m just happy we’ve got one in Jon.

“I’m a little surprised, but at the end of the day I knew he was gonna be a big-time player so I’m just happy he’s living up to that,” said Washington.

The four-star recruit is certainly doing that.

Hilliman is 14th in the nation among freshmen in rushing yards per game (71.50), 12th in total rushing yards (572), ninth in attempts per game (16.88), sixth in total attempts (135) and fifth in rushing TDs (nine).

He’s leading all ACC freshmen in rushing attempts, yards, TDs, attempts per game and yards per game, and ranks fourth, seventh, second, fifth and seventh overall in those stats in the conference. In fact, Hilliman’s freshman numbers already stack up well against the best a BC freshman has managed since the record-setting Montel Harris arrived on campus in 2008 (see chart).

“He’s doing a great job of doing what the coaches ask him, and each and every week he’s getting better and better. Somebody like that has a really bright future,” quarterback Tyler Murphy said. “He’s really starting to understand the game, learn how to read his blocks and set blocks up, and that’s really helping him be successful.”

The big freshman has been at his most dangerous in the red zone. He’s tied for ninth nationally in red-zone touches (33), is 12th in red-zone rushing yards (112) and is tied for 17th in red-zone TDs (eight).

Hilliman has scored the most red-zone TDs for BC since 2009, when Harris had 11. Yes, he already has surpassed Heisman finalist Andre Williams (7 red zone TDs in 2013) in that respect.

“Oh is that how many he has? I didn’t even know,” Gallik said with a laugh. “When we get down toward the red area, we know that we have a powerful back in Jon and he’s also quick enough to make the cuts that are necessary.

“So whenever we get down in the red zone the blood starts pumping a little more because we know we can finish the drive with a back like him in there.”

Thanks in part to their big freshman, the Eagles are fourth in the ACC (and 33rd overall nationally) in red-zone conversion percentage (88 percent) and seventh in the ACC in touchdown percentage (64 percent).

Murphy’s happy to have a guy the size of Hilliman to hand the ball off to when the field shrinks.

“It’s definitely big, because he’s hard to take down,” Murphy said. “One guy isn’t going to take him down, it’s gonna take three or four guys. And then they start keying on him and it opens up our play-action pass and allows for other guys to get going in the run game because he’s such a big threat. He’s doing a good job, making plays for us and we need him to continue to do that.”

For Washington, the most impressive thing about Hilliman -- outside of his talent, obviously -- is the freshman’s focus amid the myriad potential distractions first-year players face.

“He’s shown an ability just to lock in and really be dependable,” Washington said. “He’s played in some big games and he’s gotten it done in big games. I think that has to do with his mindset, what’s important to him.

“He kinda rises to the occasion. I think he’s just one of those kids that’s got that drive that’s necessary to be a really good player.”

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

Fighting off fatigue, BC tries to find balance

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- It’s that time of year. The leaves have changed color and started to paint the ground in reds, yellows, oranges and browns, and pumpkin-flavored products and spooky decorations abound.

But while black and orange may be the colors du jour everywhere else, on the football field they’re more likely to be black and blue.

Ten weeks into the regular season, with eight games under their belts and four left to play starting with a trip to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on Virginia Tech (4-4, 1-3 ACC) this weekend (12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3), the Eagles (5-3, 2-2) are feeling just as you would expect.

“Everybody’s got their typical bumps and bruises, a little bit of fatigue here and there,” Boston College center Andy Gallik said Wednesday, “but Coach Addazio’s done a good job this week of getting our legs back.”

In his short time in the Heights, Boston College QB Tyler Murphy has developed a bit of a reputation for being one of the last guys off the practice field.

He likes to get in extra work, especially if he’s unhappy with something he was doing in practice or didn’t get enough reps during the regular session on something he wanted to improve. So when the grad student was one of the first players to come off the field at Alumni Stadium after practice Wednesday, before all his teammates had even finished position drills, it seemed a bit unusual.

But Murphy had a good reason -- he had to go in for post-practice treatment, he said, “to get these legs back.”

As part of the effort to get his team’s collective breath back, Steve Addazio had his Eagles in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets on Wednesday to try to limit the midweek wear-and-tear.

“Today we took the pads off,” Gallik said, “but we’re getting just as many reps in so that our body of work is staying constant.”

Figuring out just how much physicality in practice is enough is a constant struggle for Addazio.

“It’s important to figure out how to manage at this time of the year, too. I think a lot about that right now -- how to manage the week,” he said on Monday. “It’s hard to be right sometimes, ‘Are you hitting too much? Are you not hitting enough? Do you hit at all?’ They’re all valid questions at this time of the year, when you’re starting to get beat up.”

BC’s second-year coach said he thought the offensive line looked tired late in last weekend’s 23-17 win over Wake Forest, which he tied to the toll the game against No. 21 Clemson took on them the previous week.

“We looked fatigued to me. We don’t have very many guys, and I’m paying attention to that right now,” Addazio said. “But it’s always a tightrope. You come back in the next week and you say, ‘Well, that worked out great.’ Or, ‘Well, maybe that decision wasn’t great.’ It’s hard to know.”

There’s no exact science to managing a team this time of year. The Eagles’ coaching staff just has to pick a tack, stay true to it and hope they sail into Saturday in shape to pick up win No. 6.

That they can become bowl-eligible with a win is a fact lost on no one in Chestnut Hill.

“It better be high,” Addazio said of the sense of urgency at this time of year. “You’re going down the home stretch now. From the beginning of the year on, [the games are] all precious as we’ve well witnessed. We've basically let two [wins] get away from us.

“But as it gets down here, the stakes are so much higher. You gotta be steady in the boat, but you gotta have a lot of drive.”

And you’ve just gotta hope you have enough fuel in the tank to get to the finish line.

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

Three-and-out: After Wake win, BC focused on trip to Virginia Tech

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
Happy to escape Winston-Salem with a win, Boston College coach Steve Addazio said in his weekly news conference that watching tape of the Eagles’ next opponent, Virginia Tech, brought him “right back down to reality.”

“As I’ve always known Virginia Tech to be, just fantastic on defense,” he told reporters in Chestnut Hill on Monday. “They’re really good, they’re fast. They’re sound, they have great schemes. Really tough to move [the ball] consistently on them.”

First down: There was little talk of this past weekend’s game on Monday, as Addazio is clearly focused on the matchup the Eagles (5-3, 2-2 ACC) have with the Hokies (4-4, 1-3) this coming Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3).

Addazio called Blacksburg, Virginia, one of the three toughest places to play in the ACC.

“It was quiet last week,” he said. “NC State had some noise, but the weather and the way we came out [to an early lead] helped that. But this is an angry place to go play. Loud and hard. ... Just traditionally [it’s] cold and the [fans are] right up on you, the stands are right up on you, it’s a great home-field advantage.

“And everybody knows that in the business, that this is one of those great home-field advantage places. So it’s a little different than your typical road trip. But we’ve got two road games left and both of them are tough road-game locations.”

After Saturday, the Eagles have one road game remaining on the schedule, at No. 2 Florida State on Nov. 22.

Second down: If things continue to go the way they have lately for BC’s kicking game, you might see something like this the next time you drive down the Mass Pike: “Wanted: Reliable place-kicker capable of making point-after attempts look routine; must be able to kick field goals from a reasonable length consistently.”

“You want to kick an extra point?” Addazio said when asked about the Eagles’ kicking game. “One guy’s hurt. There’s no consistency kicking extra points. I mean, maybe I should go out on I-90 and put a sign up or something.

“We’re inconsistent, to say the least. And we’ve got to get that fixed. ... There’s a lot of positives [on special teams], but I wouldn’t put extra points and field goals in that category right now. I mean, what can I say? It’s just not where it needs to be.”

After freshman Mike Knoll -- BC’s third primary place-kicker this season -- was sidelined by a groin strain last week, the Eagles didn’t know who would be handling place-kicking duties until Friday morning when Alex Howell got the call.

The senior, who entered the game just 3-for-8 on field goals this season, made his only attempt (a 30-yarder to open the scoring in the first quarter) and converted his first two PATs. But his third PAT was blocked -- not because of any breakdown, Addazio said, just due to a low kick -- and when Wake Forest scored two quick TDs in the fourth quarter, instead of the lead being seven it was six and the Demon Deacons could have won with a third TD.

“It’s not a lack of effort, we’re just not getting it done,” Addazio said. “Alex is handling all the duties, Joey [Launceford] is the backup. And we continue down this path, which is alarming and impactful. It’s been impactful, to say the least.”

The kicking issues are to the point that the Eagles may have to opt to go for it on fourth down more frequently, rather than attempt a field goal they think their kicker can’t make.

“At this point, it is what it is right now. I can’t fix it,” Addazio said. “I have to make decisions now, when we’re going for it on fourth down and whatever else we might try to do strategically. That’s all that’s left to decide now.”

Third down: Before Saturday, Kevin Kavalec had been the guy who got other guys stats. His effort wasn’t always rewarded in the stat sheet, but his teammates and coaches lauded him as a key contributor.

That changed against Wake Forest, as the 6-foot-2, 256-pound sophomore had a team- and career-high 10 tackles and two sacks in the 23-17 win. Nearly half (4.5) of his 10 tackles were for a loss, and his two sacks marked the first time a BC defender had multiple quarterback drops in one game.

And for that effort, Kavalec was named ACC defensive lineman of the week:

Out: After a string of afternoon starts, BC’s matchup with Louisville on Nov. 8 will be in prime time.

The ACC announced a 7:15 p.m. ET kickoff for the Eagles-Cardinals clash, with the game set to be broadcast on ESPN2.

It will be the teams’ first meeting since 1998, in a series even at three games apiece. BC is 2-1 at home against Louisville.

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

Addazio hopes BC learning from resilience

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
Leading up to Boston College's game at Wake Forest on Saturday, Dominique Williams said the Eagles had to learn to play a full 60 minutes, that they couldn't expect to win playing only 58 minutes.

The co-captain's words proved prescient, as BC built a 20-point lead after a dominant first half, then almost let it get away before escaping with a 23-17 win.

“As I told the team in the locker room, it's hard to win on the road in the ACC,” BC coach Steve Addazio told reporters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to a transcript. “It's hard every week. It doesn't matter, and you've got to battle. You've got to battle ‘til the end of the game.

“We've been in a bunch of these [tight games] now, it seems like every game. It doesn't matter who, what, where, when, why, it comes down to the final plays and I think our team can really grow from this.”

For a while, it seemed the Eagles finally were in a game that wouldn’t come down to the final plays. Behind efficient passing from Tyler Murphy (11-of-15, 165 yards, one TD) and explosive running from freshman Jonathan Hilliman (101 yards, two TDs), the Eagles built a 17-0 lead at the half and a 23-3 lead early in the fourth quarter. The BC defense stifled the Demon Deacons and freshman quarterback John Wolford.

“In the first half, we executed really well,” BC safety-turned-corner Justin Simmons said. “In the second half, we knew they were going to take their shots.”

That they did. Wake Forest piled up more than 200 yards passing in the second half, as Wolford hit his stride and the Demon Deacons’ offense came alive to cut the BC lead to six late in the fourth quarter.

The lead having all but evaporated, the Eagles watched uneasily as Wolford and Wake Forest drove toward a potential game-winning TD with just more than two minutes remaining.

It looked like another late-game collapse was possible, that the Eagles still hadn’t learned to close out a game and that they might return to Chestnut Hill 4-4 instead of 5-3.

But then Simmons, forced to switch to corner from safety because of an injury to John Johnson, stepped in front of a Wolford pass and made a leaping interception that allowed BC to ice the game.

“Give credit to them; they found what was working,” Simmons said. “We just had to fight it out and we were able to make a play at the end.”

So the Eagles now sit just one game from bowl eligibility at 5-3 (2-2 ACC), with four games remaining. And maybe, just maybe, they brought something even more valuable home from this ACC road trip.

“I think you learn how to hang in there and be resilient,” Addazio said. “So I'm proud of our team, proud to get a win, and I'm proud that we have win No. 5 and it gives us a chance to get win No. 6.”

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

UMass hoops coach signs extension

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
The University of Massachusetts announced Friday that basketball coach Derek Kellogg has signed an extension through at least the 2018-19 season. The deal contains provisions that would tack on an additional two seasons, through 2020-21.

“We are extremely pleased with the job Derek has done in his time here and feel the program is in a good place,” UMass athletic director John McCutcheon said in a statement. “He has built a solid foundation for the future. We felt it was appropriate to put something together that the University and he are both comfortable with in terms of the extension to keep him here for a long time.”

[+] EnlargeDerek Kellog
Mike Lawrie/Getty ImagesKellogg, who is entering his eighth year at his alma mater, said he's "excited to lead this program into the future." Last season his Minutemen finished 24-9.
Kellogg thanked McCutcheon and UMass administrators for the support they showed in him with the extension, which will reportedly pay him $994,500 a season before bonuses -- the highest salary of any Massachusetts state employee.

“I am excited to lead this program into the future,” Kellogg said in a statement Friday. “Our players have represented this University in a first-class manner and I am excited for where we are heading.”

In 2013-14, the Minutemen finished 24-9, were ranked as high as No. 12 in the Top 25 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in more than 15 years.

Kellogg, 41, has a career record of 109-85 entering this season, his eighth as coach at his alma mater. The Springfield, Massachusetts, native has led the Minutemen to 20-plus wins in three straight seasons and five postseason appearances in his seven seasons.

The program lost sparkplug Chaz Williams and mainstays Sampson Carter and Raphiael Putney to graduation after losing to Tennessee in the NCAAs.

To build on last season’s success, Kellogg said, “a lot of new guys have to step up in different roles.”

That starts down low, with senior big man Cady Lalanne.

“He played so well at times last year, and was kind of a rock for us down in the paint,” Kellogg said of the 6-foot-10, 253-pounder who averaged 11.3 PPG and 7.9 RPG as a junior. “Now he has to do it continuously, every game, all the time for however many games we have if we’re gonna have a chance to be an NCAA tournament-level team or have some success next year.”

The 2014-15 season tips off on Nov. 14 when UMass takes on Siena at the Mullins Center.

And while Lalanne and others will be the keys on the court, by offering its coach this extension UMass demonstrated clearly it believes Kellogg is the key to success off the court -- both now and into the future.

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

Eagles know they can't overlook Wake

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Boston College should beat Wake Forest.

At least, that’s the likely takeaway when considering both teams’ numbers and results against the schedule so far this season.

The Eagles have a win over a Top 25 team (then-No. 9 USC in Week 3) and nearly got a second (in a 17-13 loss to No. 24 Clemson) last weekend. The Demon Deacons lost their only matchup with a ranked team (falling 43-3 to then-No. 1 Florida State in Week 6) and have won just two games (against Gardner-Webb and Army).

Wake Forest has struggled to stop the run.

The Demon Deacons rank No. 80 nationally in rushing defense, allowing an average of 174.14 yards a game on the ground. They gave up 199 rushing yards in last weekend’s 30-7 loss to Syracuse, and gave up a high of 341 yards in a win over Army.

BC has thrived in the run game.

The Eagles rank No. 9 nationally in rushing offense, averaging 287.7 yards a game on the ground. And in games after a loss this season, BC has outscored opponents 67-45, outrushed opponents 762-63 and scored nine times as many rushing TDs (9-1).

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that, you play Boston College right now -- at least to this point, you never know what tomorrow brings -- but we’re pretty darn competitive,” BC coach Steve Addazio said this week. “And for a team playing as many freshmen as we are right now, and for a team that took as many losses as we did personnel-wise last year, we can play with anybody.

“Now that has to equate into winning the games that you have to win.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Anthony Nesmith/CSM/AP Images"What we can't do now is dip and drop off," said BC coach Steve Addazio. "And that's the biggest fear."
Which is important for the Eagles to remember on Saturday against the Demon Deacons (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3), because they haven’t always done that. The Eagles laid an egg against Pitt in Week 2, and let a winnable game slip away against Colorado State in Week 5.

Coming off the near-miss against the Tigers, the Eagles also have to guard against a letdown.

“What we can’t do now is dip and drop off,” Addazio said. “And that’s the biggest fear. Because you’re at home, you play a national team and you battle like you did and you get it taken out there essentially on the last play of the game ... we’ve gotta be able to overcome that and sustain that and come out and play at the same level and intensity this week. That'll be our challenge.”

Wake Forest’s offense, led by John Wolford, who is the brother of BC fullback Bobby Wolford, mostly has spun its wheels this season.

The Demon Deacons rank No. 115 nationally in passing offense (170 yards per game), No. 126 in scoring offense (14.4 points per game) and No. 128 and last in both rushing offense (36.71 yards per game) and total offense (206.71 yards per game). They’ve scored a combined 20 points in their first three ACC games.

The Eagles’ D would very much like to contribute to those struggles, but that’s the plan every week according to Dominique Williams.

“We know each team has to go through their own stuff, just like our team is,” Williams said. “But that’s one thing that we don’t really pay attention to. As long as we execute, we feel like we can come out and win the game.”

BC offensive coordinator Ryan Day said Wake Forest looks better on tape than it does on the stat sheet.

“They’re tough. They’ve done a really good job against everyone,” Day told reporters this week. “If you watch on film, they’ve really held up strong. They have a really good nose tackle, two NFL corners. We have to do a good job of handling their guys up front, do a good job on the perimeter of creating explosives against their defensive backs.

“So, we just have to meet their challenge and build off the last couple of weeks.”

“We're a work in progress,” Addazio said. “When you're a work in progress [and] you're on the road in the ACC, you've got to be careful. We're just a few plays away from really looking darn good, and also a few plays from not looking so good.”

Three of BC’s seven games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and the Eagles are 1-2 in those games. The Eagles should be able to beat the Demon Deacons, but they shouldn’t overlook them.

“We just gotta finish,” Williams said. “It’s always been a couple of plays [in our losses]. But it makes us realize that each game is 60 minutes. We can’t go for 58 minutes. We gotta go for 60 minutes and we’ve gotta finish in the fourth quarter.”

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

BC-Wake Forest a Wolford reunion

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Bobby Vardaro laughed.

Though they are blood relatives, Boston College’s Bobby Wolford and his younger brother, Wake Forest’s John Wolford, couldn’t be less similar.

[+] EnlargeBobby Wolford
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsBoston College fullback Bobby Wolford is excited to play against his brother, Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford.
“It’s kinda funny that we are playing his brother,” Vardaro said of the teams’ matchup this Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN3). “Just to see the dynamic between the two of them, they’re completely different.

“[John’s] a little bit more relaxed, and Bob’s kinda just like real focused, got his head on straight and ready to go.”

Even the roles the two Wolfords play are different -- Bobby is a fullback for BC, mostly leading the way for others to gain yards; John is the starting quarterback for Wake, responsible for 1,135 yards and seven TDs in seven games this season.

It’s a game that the older Wolford brother has had circled on the calendar for a while.

“Every game I look forward to,” he said after practice Tuesday, “but this one does have a little bit of a ... playing your little brother, that’s kinda cool.”

When Wolford first got to BC, the Bishop Kenny product and Jacksonville, Florida, native played linebacker. So if he hadn’t switched to fullback, he might’ve ended up directly across the line from John this weekend.

“I thought I was gonna end up tackling him one day,” he said with a laugh.

Instead, Bobby will be on the sideline when his brother’s on the field and vice versa. Which makes things a little easier for the boys’ father, Robert. He can just root for both offenses, saving himself from having to pick one son’s team over the other.

For a while early this week, it looked like John Wolford might miss the matchup against his older brother’s team due to a concussion suffered on a blindside hit against Syracuse. But Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said his starting QB didn’t actually suffer a concussion.

Though the Demon Deacons took Wolford out of the Syracuse game as a precaution, Clawson said his true freshman starter never showed concussion symptoms and has been cleared for Saturday.

“He's going to play, and he's going to start the football game, and we expect him to be full go,” Clawson said on his weekly ACC call with reporters.

John Wolford enters the game against BC sixth in the ACC in attempts per game (29.7) and total attempts (208), seventh in completions (124), eighth in completion percentage (59.6) and 10th in passing yards per game (162.1). He has thrown for seven TDs and 12 interceptions.

“He’s a resilient kid. He’s really smart and he’s really intelligent, I’d say that’s his No. 1 quality.” Bobby said of his brother. “But the other thing is he has great mental toughness and he’s really good at making decisions on the run -- I would say those are his best qualities.”

And so while both players will be focused on getting a win for their teams, Bobby looking to help BC to ACC win No. 2 and John seeking ACC win No. 1 for Wake, they’ll also definitely remember what it was like to stand on the opposite sideline from a sibling.

“I’ve always played with him,” Wolford said. “When [John] was a sophomore and freshman he started at quarterback at my high school and I played tight end and H-back. I was actually usually catching passes from him. Never ever lined up against him.

“To have two brothers at ACC schools who can play each other -- it’s really awesome.”

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

Huskies picked to finish first in CAA

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
BOSTON -- Scott Eatherton has a simple goal for his senior season with the Northeastern Huskies, though it's one that will be anything but simple to achieve.

“I haven’t had a winning season in college yet, so that’s one thing that’s [a goal] for me personally,” the 6-foot-8, 234-pound forward said at TD Garden on Wednesday morning for the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader media day. “And I want to become a good leader for my team.”

[+] EnlargePierria Henry, Scott Eatherton
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoNortheastern senior Scott Eatherton simply wants to enjoy being on a winning team this season.
Eatherton transferred to Northeastern after two losing seasons at St. Francis (Pa.). The Red Flash went 9-20 in 2010-11 and 6-23 in 2011-12. And though the Huskies went 20-13 and played in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final in 2012-13, the big man had to sit out that season due to transfer rules.

When he finally got on the floor for the Huskies in 2013-14, the results were disappointing, as Bill Coen’s cadre careened to an 11-21 overall record despite Eatherton averaging a double-double (15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds).

So now the Hershey, Pennsylvania, native is determined to do everything he can to fulfill the prediction that Northeastern will finish first in the CAA in 2014-15.

“We know it's just a prediction, but it brings a lot of energy to our practices,” he said. “We’re really excited for this year, and we’re hoping to live up to expectations.”

Coen said the Huskies were missing senior leadership in 2013-14, with no such players on the roster.

“If you’re going to compete for a championship in a league such as the CAA, you need that senior urgency,” he said. “Seniors somehow find a way to get to that 50-50 ball or get that extra rebound when you need it or make that hustle play, just because they’re playing with that sense of urgency.

“That only comes toward the end of your career. You can’t manufacture that. It’s something that you feel emotionally and it has a tremendous impact on your team. This year we do have some guys that realize that this is their last go-round and want to make a statement. We’re excited about that.”

Northeastern returns every key contributor from last season, including Eatherton, Quincy Ford, Reggie Spencer, David Walker and T.J. Williams, except one -- Demetrius Pollard decided to leave the team, complete his degree and then seek to play elsewhere.

We know it's just a prediction, but it brings a lot of energy to our practices. We're really excited for this year, and we're hoping to live up to expectations.

--Scott Eatherton, Northeastern senior forward

As for the vote of confidence -- from CAA coaches and media at the league’s media day on Tuesday -- potentially adding unnecessary pressure, Coen said he doesn’t think it will.

“I always tell our guys, ‘You can’t control other people’s expectations. Whether you’re picked first or last, that’s just somebody’s opinion, but you can control your effort and you can control your attitude. And if you bring maximum daily effort and you adopt a team-first attitude, then that will give us our best chance to be the best version of ourselves,’” Coen said. “One thing I’m most proud about our team to date is they’ve adopted that attitude. They’ve been tremendous each and every day, they come in and they work hard. Everybody is committed to a team-first attitude, and as a coach that’s exciting.”

Eatherton said he’s excited to see what Ford, now healthy after missing most of last season with a back injury, and Williams can do this season. And he says that the team’s closer than ever ahead of the season opener, which will come in the Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader against Boston University on Nov. 16.

“We do more off-court things as a team,” he said. “Our chemistry is really good right now; it’s a lot better than it was last year.”

Now it will be up to the Huskies to turn what Coen called “a tremendous honor” into a reality.

“We know that once the ball goes up, those things go away pretty quickly and it’s what you earn and what you prove on the court that is what matters,” Coen said. “So I’d much rather finish first than be picked first, but I appreciate the respect.”

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

Harvard picked to win Ivy League again

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
BOSTON -- The Harvard Crimson would never admit it, but they're getting used to dealing with raised expectations.

Around Tommy Amaker's team, that word -- "expectations" -- might as well be an expletive in a children's book. It doesn't belong there.

[+] EnlargeTommy Amaker and Siyani Chambers
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPG Siyani Chambers and coach Tommy Amaker hope to build on Harvard's recent run of success.
So don't ask the coach or the new co-captains about how being a unanimous pick to win the Ivy League for the second straight season increases expectations for the reigning Ancient Eight champs. Don’t ask about how being picked to finish first for the third time in four seasons, after the Crimson were also picked first on 16 of 17 ballots in 2011-12, increases the size of the target the program will be wearing all season.

Just know that this is no surprise in Cambridge, where 14 letter winners (including seven seniors) return from last season's team. Where 20-win seasons have become commonplace (five straight), and they've started flirting with the idea of a 30-win campaign -- going 27-5 overall and 13-1 in Ivy play in 2013-14 to set new marks for wins yet again.

“There’s good and bad with a lot of those kinds of things,” Amaker said Wednesday morning at TD Garden for Coaches vs. Cancer tripleheader media day. “We’ve been a team that has really honed in on our internal mechanisms -- our goals, our identity and our standards. Those are the three areas that have mattered the most to us. There are times when we haven’t been picked to be whatever and there are times when we have, but we’ve tried to eliminate whatever is on the outside.

“Is it flattering? Yes, it is, given that we recognize and we know how tough and challenging our league has been and will be again this year. So to be thought of as in that position is incredibly flattering.”

The Crimson lost a lot to graduation, including Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry and sharpshooter (and two-time co-captain) Laurent Rivard. But they still have Siyani Chambers, Steve Moundou-Missi, Kenyatta Smith and Wesley Saunders (the Ivy Player of the Year in 2013-14).

Chambers and Moundou-Missi were elected co-captains this season, which came as no surprise to Amaker. Chambers has been a leader since the day he set foot on campus, and Moundou-Missi is a strong presence even if he’s not the loudest voice around.

“It’s a great honor,” Chambers said. “The guys selected me to be a captain this year, and I give them a lot of credit for choosing me to be their leader. It shows that they put a lot of pressure on me but also [that] they feel I’m a good leader -- me and Steve both.

“I just hope to follow in the footsteps of the past captains that we’ve had.”

The point guard will follow those footsteps in the sand, for sure, but you can also bet he won’t stop just because they come to an end. He’ll keep going, keep pushing this team forward onto new ground.

“I think there’s always a little pressure to try to go out there and try to do just as much as last year’s team did,” Chambers said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, and we all just keep working toward the common goal of winning and getting better every day, I think hopefully we can be proud of ourselves at the end of the road.”

Where that road ends no one knows, but if it ends in a fifth straight Ivy title and a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance the expectations -- there’s that word again -- will go only higher and higher. If the Crimson make it to the Big Dance again, supporters won’t just want them to win a game -- they’ll want them to make a run.

The hardwood cognoscenti across the country clearly believe in Harvard, as the preseason polls prove (the Crimson got 47 votes in the USA Today coaches poll, tied for Stanford for 26th in the land).

“It’s meaningful for us,” Amaker said of the preseason recognition. “We work very hard every day to attain a certain level of relevance and respect and credibility.

“That comes with the work that goes in ,and we’re fortunate that we’ve had some amazing kids that have believed in our philosophy and our system and have performed incredibly well in key moments, in key times, to put us in the position that we’re in today. And we’ve had fun doing it.”

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

WR Charlie Callinan catching on for BC

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- He dropped off. Charlie Callinan admits that freely.

After registering three catches in Week 1 and two catches in Week 2, Callinan fell off to one catch in Week 3 and then went catch-free for Weeks 4-5 before making one catch in Week 6 against NC State.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Callinan
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SportswireBC receiver Charlie Callinan had three catches for a career-high 64 yards against Clemson.
The Boston College Eagles redshirt freshman said his focus was lacking.

"I was blocking well, I just wasn't catching the balls I wanted to and was just getting a little discouraged," the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Westfield, New Jersey, native said. "But I stuck with it, kept blocking well, and coaches were keeping me up the whole time, [saying] 'You’re helping the team a lot.' And I knew that."

He helped the Eagles in the passing game again in the 17-13 loss to then-No. 24 Clemson, catching three balls for a career-high 64 yards. And they weren't just any catches.

The first came on a trick play in the third quarter, when quarterback-turned-wideout Josh Bordner threw deep off a reverse. Had Bordner hit Callinan in stride, the play would've gone for a touchdown.

"All week we were running that play," Callinan said. "[Bordner] has a heck of an arm. We were talking, 'Are you gonna chuck it? Are you gonna put it up there and let me run under it? If I'm wide open, are you just gonna get the catch?' He said he was gonna chuck it. I guess we just weren't on the same page."

Instead of a touchdown that would've put BC ahead, it was a 35-yard completion, and, ultimately, the drive petered out and ended in a punt.

That's why Callinan is prouder of his next catch, which came after a fourth-quarter Tyler Murphy scramble on third-and-10 from the Clemson 36.

"He's a big scrambler, so we're always used to the scramble drill. I'm like, 'OK, another scramble. He'll hit someone or he'll run it,' because he's a great runner," Callinan said. "I just kept on the move. I felt myself come open."

Murphy outran four Tigers defenders and then threw back across his body to a leaping Callinan, who hauled in the pass as he crashed to the ground.

"Honestly, I think I made the catch look a lot harder than it was," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to secure the catch and make a play and get the first down, and it led to a scoring drive, so I’m happy about that."

"Any time you make plays in big games like that, in big atmospheres, it gives you confidence. Confidence is really important for a younger receiver, so it's good to see him make those plays," BC offensive coordinator Ryan Day told reporters Wednesday, according to a transcript. "That's all part of it as he develops. He can now look back on those and say, 'OK, I did that against Clemson, against NC State,' some of the better teams in the league. He can use that moving forward."

The Eagles had only nine completed passes on Saturday, second fewest this season (behind only five against USC). But those nine receptions went for 143 yards, good for a season-high 15.89 yards per catch (previous high 14.09 versus Colorado State) and two touchdowns.

Murphy has said many times this season that BC needs to improve in the passing game, and so he's encouraged by what he saw from Callinan and others against Clemson's stout defense.

"Charlie is a guy who's really been working hard," Murphy told reporters Wednesday, according to a transcript. "He's shown a lot of improvement in practice, and in the games he has been showing up big time. You can see that this past Saturday. He’s got good size; he's a good target, easy to find across the middle.

"As Charlie keeps getting better, it's my job to find him, get him the ball and continue to work him in. The coaches are doing a lot of things that get him involved."

Now, the young wideout needs to prove he can produce on a more regular basis.

"Looking back at it, that was the best defense I've played against in my short career. It was definitely a challenge," Callinan said. "Not to say it's not gonna get harder from there, because even Wake Forest has two NFL [caliber] cornerbacks, so we'll see how that goes. But knowing we can play and hang with these guys and make plays against these guys would definitely boost anyone's confidence.

"This is my first year playing, and it was definitely a learning experience and, hopefully, I can keep it going."

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

Mass. coaches preview CVC tripleheader

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
BOSTON -- For Malcolm Miller, it’s more than just another game. It’s more than just one more chance to play on the famous parquet floor at the Garden, like his Holy Cross predecessors did at the old Garden.

It’s a chance to contribute in some small way to a cause near and dear to the senior captain’s heart -- the fight against cancer.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Miller
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesHoly Cross forward Malcolm Miller, who lost his mother to leukemia two years ago, says he's "very happy to be a part of" the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader.
The head coaches of the six teams slated to play in the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader at TD Garden on Nov. 16 -- BC’s Jim Christian, BU’s Joe Jones, Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Holy Cross’ Milan Brown, Northeastern’s Bill Coen and UMass’ Derek Kellogg -- gathered on Wednesday morning to promote the event and talk a little about their teams ahead of the 2014-15 season.

Miller was in attendance, alongside Brown, because two years ago next week the Crusaders’ 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward lost his mother, Sheila, to leukemia. She was diagnosed just after his freshman season and passed away just before his sophomore season, leaving him not only bereft but away from his family in Maryland.

“Sophomore year was tough, but I had ... my extended family -- which is my teammates and my coaches -- [and] they all stood behind me,” he said. “That’s what really makes this event even more special, the fact that I wasn’t able to be home with my family but I was able to be [at school] with my teammates to help me through that process.”

Miller’s loss didn’t affect only him.

“It sent shock waves through our team,” Brown said. “So anything we can do to help fight this disease, we will continue to do.”

“She was definitely a fighter,” Miller said of his mom. “That’s what makes me more appreciative of this Coaches vs. Cancer [event], because it really hits home. I’ve lost more than just my mother, I lost my uncle and my grandmother and my grandfather, all from cancer.

“[The event is] definitely something that hits home, something I can really appreciate and I’m very happy to be a part of.”

More than a few of those in attendance Wednesday have had firsthand knowledge of the scourge that is cancer, including event emcee Tommy Heinsohn, a Holy Cross product and former Celtics star player and coach, who lost his wife, Helen, to lung cancer six years ago.

“I know how difficult the disease can be, and what it does to people and what it does to families,” Heinsohn said. “So the coaches chipping in here with the athletic programs along with the Garden ... I think they should be celebrated, because this is worth the effort.

“This is the second tripleheader that’s going to happen, and hopefully there will be many more and college basketball could come back to the Garden.”

For the second straight season, BU will face off with Northeastern, Harvard will play Holy Cross, and BC will take on UMass. Part of the proceeds from the three-game slate will be donated to the American Cancer Society, in partnership with the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coaches vs. Cancer initiative.

“Coaches vs. Cancer is just an unbelievable program, and there’s so many people who work so hard in this fight against cancer,” BU coach Joe Jones said. “I lost my mom two years ago [to cancer] and I saw her struggle. So I think everybody here that’s involved in Coaches vs. Cancer is gonna give some people an opportunity to maybe live a little bit longer.”

“The kids will remember this game that they played on this floor, because of all the history in this building and everything that’s taken place with the Celtics’ tradition,” Northeastern coach Bill Coen said, “[and] just to be a small, small part of that I think is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.

“So I, too, hope this event continues long into the future and becomes a tradition here in Boston.”

In addition to raising money for research and increasing awareness of cancer, the tripleheader allows college hoops fans an early glimpse at six of the seven Division I teams in Massachusetts (with only UMass Lowell missing) -- at least two of which have been picked to finish first in their respective leagues (Harvard in the Ivy and Northeastern in the CAA).

“I’m not quite sure where we are yet,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of his Minutemen.

UMass has a nonconference schedule this season that has been described as “brutal,” and Kellogg said part of that is “because of three of the teams that we’re playing up here this year [BC, Northeastern and Harvard]. I think it’s a testament to where all of the programs in the area are headed, which is like a rocket ship -- straight up.

“We’re excited, looking forward to being a part of this for many years to come.”

This is probably Miller’s last chance at playing on the Garden floor, and he’s looking forward to making more memories and raising more money to ultimately help beat cancer.

“I know it’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said, “the fact that I was able to be blessed to play on the floor [that] such great figures [played on] and be able to look up and see the banners. It’s just a really special opportunity.”

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

Three-and-out: After loss, BC looks to rebound

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
To paraphrase Patriots coach Bill Belichick: It was what it was.

After Boston College’s 17-13 loss to then-No. 24 Clemson, coach Steve Addazio said the game came down to just a few plays. Having watched the tape since, Addazio said in his weekly news conference Monday that was exactly what it was.

“We needed one more [play],” he said, “we didn’t get one more.”

Addazio said if the Eagles made a couple of more plays in their losses this season, they could “easily” be 6-1 right now.

“We’re not, we’re 4-3 and that’s the reality of it,” he said. “And we’ve gotta go get our fifth win. Everyone is real grounded in that -- no one here’s in a pie-in-the-sky deal.”

First down: After the Tigers held BC (4-3, 1-2 ACC) to a season-low 120 yards rushing, sacked quarterback Tyler Murphy four times and piled up a whopping 14 tackles for a loss, Addazio’s analysis was simple.

“I think we could’ve played better up front,” he said. “Realizing they were really good on defense, I still think we could’ve played better up front. And we knew we had to make those plays in the play-action game and make those shots.”

The Eagles’ offense will get a chance to rebound this week, as they go from facing a top-10 defense to Wake Forest’s defense, which is No. 41 overall nationally in total defense (357 yards per game) and No. 58 in scoring defense (24.9 points per game).

Second down: The kicking game has been a frequent problem for BC this season, and while Addazio was happy with the punting and coverage units on Saturday a missed extra point by freshman Mike Knoll proved costly.

“Obviously we missed an extra point,” Addazio said. “The minute I saw it, I said, ‘Oh, boy. This is gonna come back and get us now.’ At the end, we couldn’t try to kick a field goal to get the thing to overtime [down four instead of three]. We’ve had, without a doubt, some kicking issues, up and down. And it’s a problem and we’re trying to deal with it.

“We had such a phenomenal kicker a year ago [in Nate Freese], and now we’re breaking in some young guys. I think they’ll all be good players, but right now they’re young. We’ve gotta be able to hang in there and grow and get through all of it.”

That said, Addazio made it clear he wasn’t blaming the loss entirely on his freshman kicker -- the third place-kicker BC has used this season.

“We had a couple other guys that had some plays that they would’ve liked to have back,” he said. “But they’re tough guys and they go about their business and we love ‘em and we move forward and it’s all part of football. Mike’s a tough guy and I think he gets all that.

“Everybody’s got a job to do. Do your job, work real hard. We all understand that it’s football. You’re a competitor. It doesn’t always go exactly the way you want it to go. You make a mistake mentally, you make a mistake physically -- that’s a part of football. When you’re a competitor, it’s a new week, you’re getting ready to go, hat it up and let’s go.”

Third down: BC’s string of 3:30 p.m. kickoffs will end at three straight this weekend, as the ACC announced its Nov. 1 matchup at Virginia Tech will kick off at 12:30 p.m.

So far, BC is 1-1 in the three-game streak of 3:30 kickoffs.

Out: Finally, here’s a graphic look at BC’s performance after a loss so far this season (courtesy of BC’s Mark Majewski):

Not sure some of those -- “outrushingTD’d” or “outoffensed” -- are words, but you get the point. Now the Eagles will try to continue that trend against the Demon Deacons.

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

Near miss gives BC look into bright future

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The Eagles desperately needed someone to make a play.

Trailing No. 24 Clemson 10-7 in the fourth quarter, someone in maroon and gold finally made one.

And, really, was there any doubt it would be Tyler Murphy?

The Boston College QB found wideout Dan Crimmins running free over the middle and hit him in stride for a 48-yard gain to flip field position.

But that wasn’t the big play. On third-and-10 from the Clemson 36, with the Eagles oh-for-the-game on third down, Murphy took the snap and found himself immediately facing four Tigers pass rushers.

Murphy took off, sprinting away from the four white shirts and on the run found Charlie Callinan open for a 15-yard completion. In previous years, with previous quarterbacks, that play never happens for BC. It’s a sure sack and a devastating blow to the team’s chances.

But Murphy’s on-the-run playmaking moved the chains and, after Myles Willis took an inside handoff and sped down to the 5, gave the Eagles a shot at the end zone.

Jonathan Hilliman got stuffed on first down. Then Murphy rolled right and looked into the end zone. His first read covered, the QB looked to see if he could run for the score but didn’t like his chances.

So the signal-caller stopped on the numbers at the 10-yard line, turned and threw back across his body and the field for a leaping Josh Bordner, who pulled the ball in over a defender and secured it as he fell to the ground. All of a sudden, the Eagles had a lead on the Tigers in the fourth quarter.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy proved elusive against Clemson in helping BC rally in the fourth quarter.
And while college football is a bottom-line business and in the end BC came up short in the 17-13 loss, BC coach Steve Addazio -- very much a bottom-line kind of guy -- took some solace in the silver linings to be found.

“At the end of the game, Tyler straining to throw that ball back to Charlie Callinan [was impressive],” Addazio said Saturday night. “I really do want to appreciate the effort and the great plays that our guys, and their guys, made. I think it’s fair for our fan base and for our students to really embrace the fact that that was a great football game out there tonight.

“They saw this young football program, this young football team battle their tail off. It was exciting, it was exciting to watch and I think it was a night that didn’t go our way, but I think it gives a peek and a window into where we’re going to head.”

The Eagles ultimately fell short, but in previous years they wouldn’t even have been in the position they were -- with a chance to win late against a Top 25 team.

The future appears brighter and brighter, and with the way Murphy has played this season, it’s clear the future includes more dual-threat QB play.

“[Murphy] was able to affect us tonight in a couple of those situations where he was able to beat our guys,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters. “We had him hemmed up two or three times, where it’s a sack or a [tackle for a loss], and the next thing you know it’s a first down or a 5-yard gain. He’s a good player and he made some nice throws again. It’s unfortunate for them they missed a couple of opportunities in the passing game.

“He put the ball on the money tonight and that’s the thing I hadn’t seen him do as much.”

After Clemson drove the length of the field to score the go-ahead TD, Murphy brought the Eagles back into position to score with just over a minute left.

He laid a perfect pass out for Tyler Rouse, but it went through the running back’s hands. He threw a ball away to avoid a sack. He stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush, then overthrew Shakim Phillips in the end zone. And on fourth down, BC’s final chance, he had Phillips open over the middle but threw it just a little too low for the wideout to come up with.

“Last play of the game, I threw the ball a foot too low to Shak,” Murphy said. “If I pick it up a little bit, it might have been a touchdown to win the game.

“We had some plays we could have made. We just have to find ways to get better so we can make those plays.”

Now the Eagles have to rinse the bitter taste from their mouths and move on, just as they did after dropping a close game to Colorado State late last month. The difference this time is they had two weeks to regroup after losing a late lead to the Rams. They’ll have only one week this time, as they travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to play Wake Forest on Saturday.

“I think we’ll be able to turn the switch,” Bordner said. “Having those two weeks I kind of thought was worse because you had to sit on it for two weeks and think about it. But we’ve have to get right at it, starting tomorrow, and get ready for a good game plan and get ready to go down and win another ACC game.”

Addazio has faith that his group will rebound from the missed opportunity.

“We’re going to get to work, take a look at where we could have played better, where we could have coached better, where I could have done a better job to be able to find the inches and the yards in there that would have swung that thing and made a difference,” he said. “But our team’s resolve is strong and united. And this is where teams come into play.

“When you’re a real team, you stick together, you support each other, you cry a little bit together, you take care of each other and your steel resolve gets stronger and you get ready to play the next week.”

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

Three-and-out: BC loses defensive dance

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Steve Addazio told anyone who would listen that his team’s game against No. 24 Clemson was going to be a defensive dance.

He was right.

[+] EnlargeArtavis Scott, Justin Simmons, John Johnson
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SportswireJustin Simmons (27) and BC's defense couldn't come up with enough big plays to tip the scales in the Eagles' favor.
First down: Though the Tigers managed to post nearly 400 yards of total offense (398) and convert 10 of 21 third-down chances, the Eagles held them to only 17 points -- their lowest total of the season.

And if the offense had been able to connect on just one more pass -- Tyler Murphy's throws to Tyler Rouse and Shakim Phillips coming tantalizingly close to providing the game-winning points -- it would’ve been enough to seal a second upset of a Top 25 team this season for BC, which lost 17-13.

“Everybody’s so preoccupied with offense -- you win with defense,” Addazio said. “You win with defense. Especially when you’re playing really good teams. This was gonna be a defensive struggle, and that’s what it was.”

Linebacker Steven Daniels led BC with 11 tackles, matching his career high. But like the rest of his teammates, he was left ruing the plays that weren’t made, the third downs the BC defense allowed Clemson to convert.

“That’s what our defense is about,” Daniels said. “That’s always the plan, to get off the field on third down.”

And though they stood toe-to-toe most of the game with the vaunted Clemson D, the Eagles didn’t do that enough to win Saturday.

Cornerback Justin Simmons had two near-interceptions slip through his fingers, and afterward he was asked if it felt like the same happened to the win.

“It definitely does,” he said. “It leaves that taste in your mouth, just like [the loss to] Colorado State again, you just gotta finish on both sides of the ball -- offense and defense.”

Second down: Clemson true freshman QB Deshaun Watson seized a starting role early in the season and came into the week ranked second nationally in pass efficiency (186.9) after throwing for 1,176 yards, 12 TDs and just two interceptions. Unfortunately for the Tigers, he also entered the week on an operating table after a broken bone in his finger required surgery.

That thrust senior Cole Stoudt back into the lineup, and he took advantage of the opportunity by going 29-for-45 for 285 yards. More than once, Eagles defenders unloaded on Stoudt just after he released a pass -- the QB standing in there to make the play and move the chains.

“Really proud of Cole Stoudt,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters after his team's win. “Gutsy performance. Big, big plays. We had a couple of balls that should have been caught, they didn’t catch, but he had a heck of a night. Really proud of him stepping up, especially on the road.”

[+] EnlargeJosh Bordner, Tony Steward
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesJosh Bordner's touchdown catch put BC on top 13-10, but the Eagles missed the subsequent extra point.
Third down: With a stout defense on each sideline, field position figured to play a big role in Saturday’s outcome. And BC senior punter Alex Howell had a great day, kicking a career-high 10 times for 501 yards.

“It’s great to have a good game, but then again, we lost,” Howell said. “You don’t play football for your own glory, you play to win the game with your teammates. So it kinda takes away from it all. But then it’s something to look forward to next week, because everybody made plays. Everybody on the team made plays, not just me.”

“I thought our special teams did a great job tonight, until we missed an extra point,” Addazio said. “But our coverage was outstanding, our kick return was outstanding, our kick coverage was outstanding, our punt coverage was outstanding. I thought we did some really good things on special teams.”

As for that costly missed extra point, which kept the Eagles from being able to tie with a field goal late, Howell said his message for freshman Mike Knoll -- the Eagles’ third place-kicker this season -- was simple.

“You’ve just gotta keep your head up,” he said. “As a kicker, you have to train yourself mentally. I told him to keep his head up.”

Out: The Clemson defense held BC to its lowest offensive output of the season in a number of categories: rushing yards (120, previous low 142 vs. Pittsburgh), total yards (263, previous low 276 vs. Pitt), plays (56, previous low 62 vs. Pitt) and points (13, previous low 20 vs. Pitt).

The Eagles gave up four sacks and failed to record a rushing TD for the first time this season.

“You have to tip your hat to them,” Murphy said of the Tigers’ D. “That’s a good defense. A lot of those guys, especially up front, will be playing on Sundays. They came with a good game plan and did a good job.”

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