Thursday, September 22, 2011 Updated: September 23, 2:25 PM ET
Eagles know nothing's easy
By Jack McCluskey ESPNBoston.com
NEWTON, Mass. -- Whenever an FBS team plays an FCS team, it's tempting to bill it as David versus Goliath. The little guy trying to knock off the big, bad bully.
That's not exactly the case here.
Yes, Boston College is in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, ESPN3) the Eagles host UMass, which is in the Football Championship Subdivision. Yes, BC has beaten UMass six straight times, including a hard-fought 24-14 win with Matt Ryan as Eagles quarterback in 2007. BC also leads the all-time series 18-5 and hasn't lost to the Minutemen since 1978.
But these Eagles are 0-3 and are averaging a paltry 13 points a game while allowing an average of 24.7. And these Minutemen are 2-0, are averaging a robust 30 points a game and will begin FBS play next year in the MAC.
So while the Minutemen may be stepping up in weight class when they take the field at Alumni Stadium this weekend, they're nobody's punching bag. This is a team, currently No. 19 in the FCS coaches' poll, that played Michigan tough on the road last season before falling 42-37.
To continue the boxing analogy, the Minutemen have proved they can punch above their weight.
BC offensive guard Bobby Vardaro reacts after a missed field goal attempt by kicker Nate Freese during the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Duke.
And since the Minutemen are ineligible for postseason play pending their move to the MAC, there may not be a bigger game on their schedule than Saturday's.
"There's a little bit of added pressure [playing an FCS team]," BC tight end Chris Pantale said Wednesday, "especially when you're 0-3 just searching for a win. Kinda gotta do whatever it takes to get that win."
Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis agreed that since it's an intrastate matchup, there's a little extra something riding on it. And he said the Eagles won't overlook the Minutemen.
"They have the capability of playing and beating us," Pierre-Louis said. "We have to come and play to our best ability just like any other game. We can't treat them as a lesser opponent because of their schedule."
"Personally, for me, I'm just treating it like every other game," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "I think that's how you have to treat it. They're a good team, they've got some great players on their team, so you can't treat them any less than you treat an ACC team."
The linebackers both praised UMass' offense, singling out running back Jonathan Hernandez. A 5-foot-9, 195-pound redshirt senior, Hernandez is averaging 159 yards rushing per game this season (third in FCS).
"He makes cuts; I think he's got better speed than a lot of people give him credit for, and he runs downhill," Kuechly said of Hernandez. "Any time you get a guy who's running downhill, it makes mistakes on the defense more visible because he'll find a hole and go."
"They're a very sound offense. They do everything to a T," Pierre-Louis said. "We have to make sure we play to the best of our ability."
Off to their first 0-3 start since 1991, the Eagles certainly can't afford anything less than a win. Especially considering they still have to play Virginia Tech, Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami, among others.
So Saturday's game is a must-win for BC. Just as this past Saturday's game was. And the game the Saturday before that. And ...
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"A good team will feel that way whether they're 3-0 or 0-3 -- the next game's a must-win," offensive lineman Nate Richman said. "We go into every game knowing that this is gonna be a hard game and we have to do everything we can to win it. And every game we want to win, obviously.
"So whether we're 0-3 or 3-0, we should have the same attitude going into it. And I think we will."
While frustrated by the 0-3 start, the injuries to key personnel, the loss of two starters in training camp (one to a dismissal, the other to transfer) and the leave of absence for health reasons taken by offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, the Eagles aren't dwelling on what they've done wrong.
"If I'm thinking about Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3, I'm not gonna be able to concentrate on what I need to get done this week," Kuechly said. "I think those games are in the past. We've learned from what we failed in and now we're gonna try to take a step forward, in the right direction, and get one this week."
During the weekly media session on Wednesday, Richman said he's seen improvement each week from the offensive line and the team as a whole.
"We're gonna win the game and everything is gonna build off of that," he said, emphatically wrapping up his answer to a question.
"Want to guarantee?" a reporter asked.
"Nope," Richman said quickly, drawing laughter from the crowd. "No guarantees."
There certainly haven't been any in the Eagles' season so far. Why should this bout be any different?
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.