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Spaziani, Eagles staying optimistic

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / September 3, 2012
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After watching film of Boston College’s 41-32 loss to Miami Saturday, coach Frank Spaziani came up with an oxymoron that somehow made perfect sense.

“It was a lost victory,” he said.

Their 542 yards of total offense were more than the Eagles put up at any point last year. The 32 points were their most against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since they scored 52 in a win over North Carolina State in 2009. That was all undermined by three turnovers that were as costly as they were untimely.

By no means did Spaziani’s team come together the way he had imagined, but if he came away with anything after his team’s season-opening test against a team that figures to be a factor in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, it was immediate disappointment but long-term optimism.

“I think everyone on the team, I think they’re going to feel what I feel,” he said. “We need to do some of the fundamental, basic things and get it done and we can be a pretty good football team. Talking about it and doing it are two different things, but there’s a lot of optimism on our side.”

The Eagles didn’t get the benefit of a soft opening. Dealing with injuries, experimenting with new players in key positions, and installing a new offense under coordinator Doug Martin, the question marks were evident against the Hurricanes.

“There are a lot of unknowns going into the first game and you find out a lot more about yourself after the first game,” Spaziani said. “Everybody does that. The players also. You move forward off that. Winning minimizes the problems, losing magnifies them. The problems are always there, you’ve just got to manage your way through them.”

They got some of the answers they wanted.

Chase Rettig threw the ball a career-high 51 times, completing a career-high 32 passes for a career-high 441 yards with two touchdowns.

That was as positive a sign as any. He figured out who his weapons were, with Alex Amidon catching 10 passes for 149 yards and Tahj Kimble grabbing a bunch more — 141 combined rushing and receiving yards — out of the backfield, using his speed to eat up yardage.

But for every bright spot, there was a dropped pass on a wide-open route, a botched snap in the red zone, a fumble that killed a drive, an interception that shifted momentum.

“There certainly were a lot of good things going on offensively,” Spaziani said. “We did a lot of good things, but we made some very crucial mistakes that need to be corrected. We had eight drops. That’s unacceptable. You’re just not going to beat real good teams making those mistakes. But the encouraging things were all the good things. It’s a lot of good stuff.”

With Miami piling up 415 total yards, freshman running back Duke Johnson accounting for 135 of them on just seven touches, Spaziani was disheartened a bit by his defense. Miami scored every time it reached the red zone and converted 11 of its 22 third downs and one of four fourth-down attempts, taking what it wanted from the defense in situations where “you need to come up with some kind of stop,” Spaziani said.

There were points, he admitted, when he missed linebacker Luke Kuechly.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t go, ‘Man, Luke could’ve made that play,’ ” Spaziani said.

But he applauded the job Nick Clancy did at middle linebacker.

The issues on defense, Spaziani said, were fundamental.

“We hit them on defense, when we were able to catch up to them, we hit them,” the coach said. “And we were flying around. There looked like there was more hustle than there was last year.”

He also acknowledged that some of the improvements on defense need to come from teaching from the coaches.

“We have to help them X-and-O wise,” Spaziani said. “That’s where we have to help out. There were signs there on both sides of the ball and the kicking game that were very encouraging.”

Even though the game got away, it was a loss the Eagles can build on.

“The game was a winnable game, but we didn’t play winning football,” Spaziani said. “That’s disappointing, but there are really a lot of encouraging things going on.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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