Commentary

BC needs to get back to physical style

Updated: September 9, 2011, 11:48 AM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

The Boston College football team is blue-collar. It's always prided itself on that fact.

For proof, consider the school's unofficial nickname: O-line U. There's no aspect of the game more blue-collar than the offensive line, and for years, BC has been among the best at producing topflight offensive linemen.

Anthony Castonzo, the first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2010, is just the latest example of that. Dan Koppen, Damien Woody, Jeremy Trueblood, Marc Colombo … the list goes on.

So when the Eagles found themselves on the losing end of the push-and-shove with Northwestern this past Saturday, it didn't sit right. They wore down on both the offensive and defensive lines because of the heat and humidity, because they were rotating players (some inexperienced) in and out against a fast-paced team.

They are determined not to lose the physical battle this week. The Eagles travel to Orlando, Fla., to play the UCF Knights on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports).

The offensive line will look a little different when things kick off, with Nate Richman healthy enough to be back in his customary left guard spot. That will move Mark Spinney back to center and relegate redshirt freshman Andy Gallik to backup duty.

[+] EnlargeNate Richman
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireOffensive lineman Nate Richman likes the way that BC has practiced this week.

"Yesterday was a great practice for us, seemed like we were jelling again like we had been. Getting back to where we feel comfortable," Richman said before practice Wednesday. "I think this will be a big week for us."

UCF won its first game 62-0 over Charleston Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision school. The Knights piled up 560 yards of total offense and allowed only 119.

"They're fast, they're very fast, definitely faster than Northwestern, but they're smaller, too," Richman said of the UCF defense. "If we come out real physical like we've known to be in the past, and just get bodies on bodies and try to run it up the middle on them, I think we can control them in that way."

That's exactly what UCF head coach George O'Leary expects the Eagles to try to do.

"I think they're a big, physical offensive line," O'Leary told reporters at his weekly Tuesday news conference. "They've got a good running back, I don't know if Montel [Harris] is gonna play or not, but the other fella, [Andre] Williams, is a good player, No. 44, he's a really good back.

"They lost the big receiver that they had [Ifeanyi Momah], the 6-5, 6-6 guy, but they're typical. They're gonna try to control the line of scrimmage."

That's true on both sides of the ball.

Defensive end Max Holloway wasn't happy with the defensive line's performance against the Wildcats.

"Usually a lot of things that are written online, I'm like, 'They have no idea what they're talking about,'" he said. "But they were saying how we got kind of pushed around and we got beat up a little bit, and it was true.

"I was watching film and I was like, 'God, we don't look good at all.' Not physical and not really coming after the ball like we should be and like we do in practice."

The 6-foot-3, 253-pound junior from Lutz, Fla., said the defense has been getting after it in practice.

"The coaches are really getting on us about being physical, flying off the ball and hitting people, knocking people back," Holloway said. "That's just one game, and you can judge us on one game, but we're gonna come out the next game and hopefully shut some people up."

With more than a few Eagles struggling to cope with the heat and humidity on a 73-degree day in Alumni Stadium on Saturday, conditioning has been a focus in practice this week. The forecast for Orlando calls for a high of 92 during the day and a low of 75 at night.

"[The coaches] keep harping on us about it, 'You need to really run extra because the heat ain't no joke there.' And I'm from there, and I know exactly what it's gonna feel like," Holloway said of the expected conditions.

For linebacker Luke Kuechly, the bigger issue will be communication.

"We need to play more fundamentally sound," the junior said. "We didn't communicate well in the first game."

That lack of communication, mixed with some youth on defense, led to breakdowns on plays and created seams for the Wildcats to exploit. The Eagles will need to fix those problems to handle the Knights, the only Football Bowl Subdivision team in the country to return four players with 500-yard rushing seasons on their résumés.

That total includes sophomore signal-caller Jeff Godfrey, who was 6-for-10 passing for 100 yards and rushed seven times for 46 yards and three touchdowns in limited action in UCF's opener.

"He's fast, probably more athletic than [Northwestern QB Kain] Colter, so it's a big task on the defensive line to keep him in the pocket and not running around as much," Holloway said of Godfrey. "He's a great athlete. [But] we're an ACC team, and usually every week we have a quarterback who can run around like that. It's really nothing new. We've prepared for it before so we're gonna do it again."

And although UCF has a well-deserved reputation as a run-first team, O'Leary says it isn't afraid to switch it up.

"It really depends on what the defense is giving you," he said. "We're not gonna run uphill. What I mean by that is that we're not gonna run when they've got extra guys [in the box]. We're gonna try to attack the weakness of the defense all the time."

BC head coach Frank Spaziani believes UCF is a program on the way up. He's called the Knights "one of the better teams that people don't know about" and said he thinks they've "got it going down there."

"I think they're a well-rounded football team," Spaziani said in an interview Tuesday. "Excellent kicking, excellent speed on defense, certainly very prolific on offense. They've got a good quarterback who can run and throw and make a lot of things happen." With the Knights reportedly billing Saturday night's game as the biggest on their home slate, a big crowd is expected at the new, 45,323-seat Bright House Networks Stadium the school built on campus.

"I love road games. I think everyone does," Kuechly said. "It's gonna be hostile -- it's an away game, it's a Florida game, it's gonna be warm, it's gonna be at night, so it's definitely gonna be a little bit more rowdy than I guess if it was a noon or 1 o'clock game.

"But I think that just makes it that much more fun. That's kinda what college football is about."

For the Eagles, Saturday's game is a chance to atone for the mistakes that cost them in the first game. It's a chance to even the record at 1-1. And it's a chance to get back to the program's physical, blue-collar roots.

If the Eagles can take advantage of the opportunities they have in Orlando, they may shut some people up yet.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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