Offense Explodes Early, Falters Late in Win
By Anthony Iati
(for Quinn Kelly’s take on the defense’s performance, stay tuned to wzbcsports.com)
A sign of things to come from the Boston College offense came on the Eagles’ first offensive play of the Quick Lane Bowl. Fifth-year senior quarterback Patrick Towles hit freshman tight end Korab Idrizi for a first down completion. It was just Idrizi’s second catch of the season, which is fitting because the Eagles offense spent the afternoon doing all sorts of rare things en route to a beautifully imperfect 36-30 victory over the Maryland Terrapins.
In a tale of two completely different halves, the Eagles offense exploded in stunning fashion throughout the first half. Their opening drive was plagued by two Charlie Callinan drops, but favorable field position would help them out the rest of the way. BC started its second series on Maryland’s side of the field after a penalty and used strong running from four Jon Hilliman carries to march down to the 1-yard line. Hilliman punched the first points on the board by running over Alvin Hill on 3rd-and-goal from the 1. Mike Knoll’s ensuing extra point was blocked.
The Eagles began their next two possessions in Terps territory. The latter was one of their best drives of the season, as Towles converted on a 4th-and-1 QB sneak, then found Tommy Sweeney downfield for a 24-yard hookup on a corner route. On 3rd-and-goal from the 3, Towles bootlegged to the right, carried the entire Maryland defense with him, then threw across his body to the left to a wide open Sweeney for the touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
The good fortunes continued in the first half, as a Kevin Kavalec strip sack (recovered by Truman Gutapfel) set up Towles & Co. at Maryland’s 10 yard line. Though the Birds settled for three points on the drive, the quick 16-0 lead almost felt insurmountable.
The Terps had other ideas. As if shot from a cannon, Ty Johnson burst through the teeth of the BC defense for a 62-yard TD that got Maryland back in the game and put a little pressure back on the BC offense. The Eagles responded, using a 31-yard Myles Willis scamper and a Towles third down scramble to set up a fantastic trick play. Towles called Michael Walker in motion from the wide right, handed off to Walker, who flipped behind him to Jeff Smith as Towles sprinted out on a wheel route. Smith, a converted QB himself, nailed an open Towles on the right sideline for a touchdown that extended the BC lead to 23-7.
The trick play call was encouraging from Scot Loeffler, but perhaps even better to see was Loeffler and Steve Addazio refusing to be content with a 23-13 halftime edge. Instead of getting conservative, the coaches trusted the offense to put up more points in the two-minute drill. Towles delivered, dropping an absolutely perfect bomb into the arms of Michael Walker for a 49-yard touchdown.
At halftime, the Birds led 29-13 and had surpassed 100 yards both through the air and on the ground. It seemed like smooth sailing. But as is their wont, the Eagles did not coast in the second half. They never scored another offensive point in the ballgame.
Towles was just 4-for-8 for 39 yards and an interception in the second half. The rushing attack added just 71 yards to the 106 it posted in the first half. As Maryland used some explosive big plays of its own to creep closer, the BC offense failed time and time again to provide insurance.
Here’s how BC’s second half drives ended: punt, punt, punt, punt, missed field goal, interception, fumble, punt. The fumble in particular nearly ruined the game for BC, as Hilliman coughed it up in side BC’s own 10. The fumble was inexcusable, but Darnell Savage Jr.’s interception of Towles came off a tipped pass and the quarterback otherwise played a solid game. It’s hard to say specifically what happened to the offense that hung an early 29 points on the Terrapins. To put it mildly, DJ Durkin’s halftime adjustments worked a heck of a lot better than Addazio’s and Loeffler’s.
Despite an abysmal second half, though, it would be foolish to lose sight of the bigger picture. Every single BC fan would have signed up for 29 offensive points (36 including a stellar defensive touchdown). Three passing touchdowns, six receivers with at least one catch, and 52 rushing attempts is a recipe for victory for the Eagles offense. They kept pace in total yardage, mostly avoided penalties, and possessed the football for over 33 minutes.
In a game that lasted nearly four hours, featured six turnovers, 17 penalties, and a combined 8-for-34 showing on 3rd down, Boston College’s offense did enough to win a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 Champs Sports Bowl. It was messy, but a 36-30 win looks just fine in the box score.