In giving up 45 points and 576 yards of total offense in its loss Saturday to Clemson, the Boston College defense that had been notoriously stingy under coach Frank Spaziani again looked out of character.
Under Spaziani, the Eagles have never been lower than fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring defense. The defense was at its stiffest in 2010 when the Eagles were second in the ACC in scoring defense and first in total defense, forced a conference-best 33 turnovers, gave up just 15 touchdowns in the red zone, and had Luke Kuechly lead the conference in tackles.
But a quarter of the way through the 2012 season, the Eagles are giving up 27.8 points and 436 yards per game, fourth worst in the conference in both categories. Their four sacks are a conference low. Opponents are converting nearly half of their third-down attempts, and they’ve given up seven touchdowns in the red zone.
Stopping teams rarely has been an issue under Spaziani. Scoring has. Now, after getting into shootouts with Miami and Clemson and watching Northwestern run 100 plays for 560 total yards, it’s the other way around and the Eagles are trying to solve the problems they’ve had defensively.
“It’s real frustrating,” Spaziani said. “There’s a trend as you go through college football now. A lot of these things [high-scoring games] are happening. Not that that adds any consolation for us. But it’s frustrating that a lot of people are putting up a lot of points.’’
Even though he threw for three touchdowns Saturday, quarterback Chase Rettig left the game feeling like he should have thrown two more. The offense may be more capable than it’s been in the past, but Spaziani said there’s a clear onus on the defense to share the load.
“We never want to get involved in these junior high basketball game scores,” Spaziani said. “It’s just not good.’’
Injuries, inexperience, and the Tigers’ high-powered players at skill positions made a troublesome cocktail for the Eagles. They were thin on the defensive line with end Kasim Edebali (shoulder) and tackle Kaleb Ramsey (foot) sidelined. Their absence played a part in Clemson running for 209 yards.
“It affects our performance, our execution,” Spaziani said. “One of the things with these types of offenses that are proliferating in college football now, you’ve got to be good up front.’’
While Ramsey’s status is uncertain — “Ramsey’s an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum right now,” Spaziani said — the reports on Edebali have been positive. He began running Sunday and will be looked at again Tuesday. The junior lineman got off to a fast start, leading all defensive linemen in tackles (13) and sacks (1.5) before going down.
With four tackles and a sack, Brian Mihalik was a more than adequate replacement. But the line had a hard time keeping Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and running back Andre Ellington contained.
“The D-line does a great job but when you have a talented quarterback like that that can move around it kind of make their job a little bit harder,” defensive back Sean Sylvia said. “We have to take responsibility on the back end, challenging more routes and putting more on our shoulders.”
More than anything else, big plays have taken momentum from the Eagles and broken games open. They’ve given up five plays of at least 40 yards.
“We would have liked to have some plays back where we could have pinned them in their own territory,” middle linebacker Nick Clancy said. “We definitely needed to execute more on defense. We definitely needed to make more big plays. We let up too many big plays.
“It’s just one of those things you wish you could have those plays back. We’ll take a look at it on film and we’ll see what the problems are and we’ll get them corrected.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.