Fresh look by BC
Williams (185) slices Orange
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In the end, they made it look simple.
They ran through holes that had not been there most of the season. They threw the ball with efficiency. They played defense the way a team on a winning streak needs to play defense. They committed only one penalty — for delay of game. And they employed a combination of seldom-used veterans called to action out of necessity and an increasingly precious group of freshmen who will be the foundation for future success.
Most importantly, Boston College won yesterday, beating old rival Syracuse, 16-7, before a Carrier Dome crowd of 42,191, which watched Frank Spaziani’s Eagles methodically take apart the Orange in every phase of the game for their fifth straight win.
Start with the Eagles’ running attack, which appeared to take a major hit when Montel Harris, who is on course to become the leading rusher in school history, went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter of last week’s 17-13 win over Virginia.
No problem. The Eagles (7-5), as they had done at so many positions this season, simply trotted out another player, this time freshman Andre Williams. All he did against Virginia was gain 108 yards on 12 carries.
Yesterday, he topped that, breaking Harris’s school record for rushing attempts (41 against Maryland last year) by carrying 42 times for 185 yards. Williams also scored the Eagles’ only touchdown, on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter, which turned a 7-6 Syracuse lead into a 13-7 BC advantage it never relinquished.
“It was amazing to be out there,’’ said Williams. “I didn’t know how much we were going to run, but we had to show a run game because I don’t know if Syracuse was expecting it.’’
Expecting it or not, Syracuse (7-5), which has had a bounce-back season of its own and is bowl eligible for the first time in six seasons, saw Williams early and often.
On the third-quarter drive that put the Eagles back in the lead, after they had carved out a 6-0 advantage on a pair of first-half Nate Freese field goals, Williams carried seven times in a 12-play march that covered 80 yards, ending with a burst behind left tackle Anthony Castonzo.
“I can’t say Andre Williams surprised us, because we knew he had the ability,’’ said Castonzo.
“He just runs with no fear. It was impressive. He was running like a man possessed.’’
The entire team played that way again, the attitude that turned the Eagles in the right direction five weeks ago.
“I don’t think any team in the history of Boston College has been 2-5 and finished with a winning record,’’ said Spaziani. “To lose five in a row and come back and win five in a row, that says a lot about this team. It’s more than just the seven wins. It’s a tribute to that entire group of players.’’
The Eagles began the game with a different look, a different feel from the tentative starts of the past. Although they had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Freese, they moved 62 yards in seven plays after the opening kickoff, and looked poised doing it, remarkable for a group led by a freshman quarterback (Chase Rettig), a freshman running back, and a pair of freshman receivers (Bobby Swigert and Alex Amidon).
“We’re not expected to be freshmen anymore,’’ said Rettig, who again was solid, completing 11 of 19 throws for 110 yards, most of which came as changeups to the pounding provided by Williams. “After the first game, it doesn’t matter what year you are.’’
The offensive productivity — BC had the ball for 35:47 compared with 22:52 for Syracuse, and had three scoring drives that consumed almost 24 minutes — allowed the BC defense to play with the lead.
“Playing with a lead is better,’’ joked linebacker Mark Herzlich, who put an exclamation point on his final regular-season game by intercepting Ryan Nassib (15 of 24, 147 yards) to end Syracuse’s final possession. “It was awesome.’’
After BC took a 6-0 halftime lead, Syracuse went ahead when it marched 80 yards after the second-half kickoff, and scored on a 5-yard run by Antwon Bailey to make it 7-6.
But unlike the last two meetings with the Orange, which occurred in 2003 and ’04 when BC was still a member of the Big East, there would be no magic moments for Syracuse yesterday.
Herzlich and sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly, who extended his streak of double-digit tackle games to 21, came up with stops when necessary. Also coming up big was fullback James McCluskey, who cleared holes all day for Williams, and senior Ryan Lindsey, who is listed as a wide receiver but became an emergency starter at cornerback when C.J. Jones suffered a groin injury in practice last week.
“It was a pounder,’’ said Kuechly, who had seven of his 10 tackles in the second half. “It was a rough game, but it was fun.’’
At halftime, Kuechly lamented that he hadn’t made that many tackles to that point.
“I said, ‘Dude, this is how normal people play,’ ’’ said Herzlich. “ ‘Welcome to my world.’ ’’
The world BC is in includes a bowl game for the 12th straight season, the best possibility being the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco Jan. 9.
For now, however, the Eagles will be content to reflect on a regular season that ended the way they had hoped.
“It was the exclamation point,’’ said Herzlich.