Commentary

BC looks to get back on winning track

Updated: September 16, 2011, 5:24 PM ET
By Jack McCluskey | Special to ESPNBoston.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- Since the ACC expanded to 12 teams in 2005, there have been 19 winning streaks of five or more games and 10 losing streaks of five or more games in a season.

Four of the 10 losing streaks belong to Duke (eight straight losses in 2005; 12 straight in '06; nine straight in '07; and five straight in '08), which visits Chestnut Hill on Saturday (12:30 p.m., ESPN3/ACC Network). And while that fact may soothe somewhat the anxiety burning in Eagles fans, it shouldn't be taken as a given that BC will win.

In 2010, after all, the Eagles became the first ACC team to both lose and win five in a row in a season. And the Duke team that will take the field at Alumni Stadium this weekend isn't the one that did all that losing.

Both teams enter ACC play at 0-2 and desperate for a first win. Both teams can point to positive signs in their early setbacks.

Neither team wants to start 0-3, dropping the first conference game of the year with stiffer tests to come.

"It's huge. Saturday, we have to get this win," junior tight end Chris Pantale said before the Eagles practiced Wednesday. "It means everything, just to get the momentum and the confidence back in the guys. With two losses, you can see guys already starting to get the mindset like, 'This is what it's gonna be like all season,' 'It's gonna be a long season.' We need to get this win Saturday. It's a must-win."

Redshirt freshman Andy Gallik, who replaced Mark Spinney at center after the senior was injured against UCF, also called it a must-win for BC. Gallik said team morale was down immediately after the 30-3 loss to the Knights but that the work of practice helped clear players' heads.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIAccording to team states, LB Luke Kuechly leads the team with 35 tackles through two games.

Gallik is listed as the starter at center on the depth chart for this weekend and represents a persistent trend for the Eagles: a young and relatively inexperienced player being forced to sub for an injured veteran at a key position.

Spinney, left guard Nate Richman, defensive end Max Holloway, defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, linebacker Steele Devitto and running back Montel Harris were all missing from the depth chart this week. Richman, Holloway and Devitto were at practice Wednesday and may play, according to coach Frank Spaziani, but there will certainly be a good deal of youth on the field for the Eagles.

"Last year we had some more senior leadership, a little more older guys, a little more veterans who had been through the program, whereas this year we're a little thinner in the senior class," Pantale said. "My class and some of the older guys, we can handle it.

"We're starting to tell these younger guys who are stepping in, 'We can't just be content with what's going on.' 'Mistakes in practice can't lead to mistakes on Saturday.' And we're just being real accountable for each other, so there's a real cohesiveness with each other."

And while many of the young Eagles are gifted with great talents and physical attributes, linebacker Luke Kuechly said that's not all that goes into being a successful college football player.

"You don't fully understand it until something happens to you," Kuechly said. "I remember my freshman year I was like, 'Oh, this is great, blah blah blah' and then I got smacked once. And you're like, 'Whoa, I gotta get going.' Hopefully these guys after these first two games have realized, like, this isn't high school football. This isn't, 'I can make a mistake here and make up for it because I'm better than somebody.'

"Everyone's good now. Everyone's fast, everyone's strong, everyone makes plays. Hopefully now these guys realize that this is serious."

The Blue Devils managed to hang with the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal in the first half last week, cutting the overwhelming favorite's lead to 10-7 on a 76-yard pick-six by Lee Butler with 2:14 left in the second quarter, before being outclassed in the second half of a 44-14 loss.

"We kind of surprised ourselves by sparring with them," Duke coach David Cutcliffe told reporters Tuesday. "It didn't surprise me -- I thought we would."

The fourth-year coach has started to turn around what was a truly moribund team, and the Blue Devils now have a few offensive weapons, like Sean Renfree under center and Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner at wideout. Duke is 41st in the country in passing offense (253 yards per game) so far in 2011.

After facing two quarterbacks (Northwestern's Kain Colter and UCF's Jeff Godfrey) who did much of their damage with their legs, the Eagles are preparing to deal with Renfree's arm on Saturday. But that doesn't mean they're expecting it to be any easier.

"It's like: Take your poison," said Kuechly, in an unusual and slightly unsettling twist on the phrase, "do you want a guy that can run or a guy that can throw?"

With all the hits the Eagles have taken in the secondary, you might expect them to prefer the former. But after allowing opponents to rush for more than 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in nearly a decade, that's no sure thing.

The Eagles will try to draw on positives gleaned from the first two weeks' game tape and from the experience of last season, when they followed a five-game losing streak with a five-game winning streak.

"It just goes to show: The type of kid we have is resilient," senior tight end Lars Anderson said. "We try to find the positive in everything. … Someone gets injured -- someone else is gonna step in. We lose a game -- we're back at it. That's how we try to approach everything."

"I know this team is tired of losing," junior cornerback Jim Noel said. "People see us now, they think that we're not a good team right now. But I think we'll prove a lot of people wrong."

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

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