BC - Miami Preview
By Tom Henault
Boston College heads into a bye week coming off two come-from-behind victories, while Miami heads into Temple coming off of a decisive 41-16 victory over then #6 Florida. BC had trouble taking care of the ball against Stanford, throwing three picks and fumbling once inside the Stanford five yard line. On the positive side, the defensive and offensive lines wore down the Cardinal and shut down the Stanford offense in the second half. The BC running game was led by Derrick Knight's 104 yards and 2 TD's. The Eagles rushed for a total of 139 yards and had a 24 to 14 first down advantage. Most importantly, BC came back in both the UConn and Stanford games and found a way to win. But all in all, Miami comes into the BC game on cruise control, while BC has to look to find ways to start fast and avoid becoming Miami's fourth victim. BC needs to avoid mental mistakes and find ways to contain Miami's speed at the skill positions. If BC can pressure Miami QB Ken Dorsey and hang around, this could be much like last season's game, which went down to the wire.
When BC passes
Miami was able to take Florida's "Fun -n- Gun" offense behind the woodshed. Sure, Florida has a new coach, but the Gators have team speed, depth and (former) Heisman candidate quarterback Rex Grossman going up against a Miami secondary that lost five top Defensive Backs, including three NFL first round draft choices. So what did the new DB's for Miami do? Maurice Sikes had two INT's, including a 99 yard return for a touchdown, while holding Grossman to 20 completions on 46 attempts.
For the Eagles, Brian St. Pierre threw three interceptions against Stanford, including a 32 yard return for a TD. On the positive side, St. Pierre did throw for 16 passing first downs and 261 yards (a 7.3 yard average). But the Stanford line got to St. Pierre, and he did throw one INT into the end zone off his back foot, though Stanford was putting a hit on him as he released. BC's passing offense has been very vanilla to date, with the dump to the RB outlet pass being one of its most effective plays. There has been some success downfield, such as the key pass to Grant Adams in their final TD drive against Stanford. Fullback JP Comella had 4 catches for 47 yards before he was hurt, but FB Greg Toal had a nice catch and should be able to fill his shoes if Comella can't make it back in time for Miami. With an extra week to work on timing and self-scouting, BC should be able to add some wrinkles to the passing offense. All told, Miami's speed and ability to put pass rush pressure on BC without having to send in an extra man will take its toll against the Eagle passing offense. Advantage: Miami
When BC runs
Derrick Knight, Horace Dodd and Brandon Brokaw are the three-headed monster for BC. Horace started the first two games for BC, but I expect Knight to get the nod against Miami after consecutive 100 yard games. BC will probably play all three tailbacks with success, as evidenced by Brokaw's touchdown against Stanford. Miami is also used to playing a great deal of pass defense, since they often go up early and force their opponent into passing situations to save time on the clock. Tom O'Brien is too disciplined to give up on his running game, and if BC can run the ball effectively, it will slow down Miami's pass rush and give Brian St. Pierre more time. In looking for a place where BC has an advantage in this game, the run versus Miami's defense is their best bet, but don't underestimate the Canes. Miami returns five of their top six linebackers, while BC's star tailback William Green left for the NFL after his Junior season, becoming the first round choice of the Cleveland Browns. Even without William Green and left tackle Marc Colombo, BC will put up another 1,000 rusher this season. But can they gain another 100 yards on the ground versus Miami? BC will need to be successful running the ball to have a chance in Coral Gables. Advantage: Boston College
When Miami passes
Miami brings speed and height to the table, while BC brings experience. Miami had five different receivers catch a pass versus Florida, including "All Name 1st Team" Ethenic Sands, who had a 10 yard TD vs Florida. Miami lost their team leader in receptions in tight end Jeremy Shockey to the New York Giants, but Sophomore tight end Kellen Winslow II looked solid with 2 catches for 42 yards.
Boston College's backfield was strengthened when Ralph Parent decided to return for his 5th year, and his commitment to the program can't be questioned. Case in point, the lick Parent put on Stanford's Teyo Johnson as the Cardinal attempted to come back in their final drive. Parent also had a 26 yard interception return. Sophomore Peter Shean has been a quiet star for BC. Time after time Shean has made tackles near the line of scrimmage while out on an island for the Eagles. The entire BC secondary has done a better job of tackling this season. Instead of going for the "hammer", they've been wrapping up and taking away the offensive player's legs. BC's ability to tackle and keep a reception from becoming a big play will be crucial if they are to stay in the game early. Don't be surprised to see Freshman Will Blackmon getting more snaps as BC tries to stay fresh in the Miami heat.
Ken Dorsey has won more games as a starter than any other QB in Miami history, which puts him ahead of some very, very good QB's. The 3rd place finisher in the Heisman race last season, Dorsey has arm strength and sees the field very well. Dorsey isn't very mobile, but the Miami offense allows him to get rid of the ball quickly and keep his uniform clean. Dorsey threw three picks versus Florida, which was surprising given that he threw only ten all of last season. BC's defensive line was able to wear out UConn and Stanford and get to their QB's late in the game. If BC doesn't get to Dorsey until the 2nd half, it will be too late. BC will have to blitz to put pressure on Miami, but should avoid their past tendency of showing their cards by blitzing too much early. The Eagles hope that even if Dorsey completes passes, he will end the play lying on his back under Doug Goodwin and Antonio Garay. This may cause Dorsey to start to hear footsteps. If BC can keep it close and stay hydrated in the heat, they can get to Dorsey, who plays behind a veteran O-Line led by Senior Center Brett Romberg. If BC can put pressure on Miami, potentially by taking advantage of Sophomore LT Carlos Joseph, they might be able to slow down Miami's big play capability. Advantage: Miami, but not as much as past seasons.
When Miami runs
Miami had to replace Clinton Portis, who had the 2nd best season ever for a Miami tailback. Willis McGahee put up 206 yards on 26 carries versus Florida, and worse still for BC, Miami welcomed back injured tailback Jarrett Payton and had 76 yards on 12 carries from Jason Geathers. Without the injured Frank Gore and a healing Payton, the backs aren't equal to Clinton Portis, but they are close. Miami uses the pass to set up the run, and BC will have to focus on their pass rush to slow down the Canes. But BC has to be disciplined. If they miss assignments, the Miami backs have the skill and speed to make them pay.
BC's linebackers have shown steady improvement over the last two seasons, but the key could be Josh Ott. In their last two big wins, against Stanford at home and against Georgia in the Music City bowl, Ott has come up with the ball at key times to change the game's momentum. Against Georgia, Ott had seven tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass deflection. Against Stanford last week, he picked up a fumble and rumbled all the way back to the Stanford 10 yard line, setting up a 10 yard TD by Derrick Knight. Vinny Ciurciu is a team captain, and is the anchor of the BC linebackers. The LB's will have to take care of the running game in order for the D-Line to put pressure on Dorsey. All told, BC will have to commit too many resources against the Miami passing game to be truly effective against the run. But if Miami keeps the ball on the ground, the score will be lower and ball hawks like Ott may have the chance to make a big play to swing momentum in BC's favor. Advantage: Miami
Who is going to show up for the Eagles? The Sandro Sciortino who hit a 40-yarder vs. Stanford, or the one who missed a 34-yarder? The BC return game that put up a 56 yard kickoff return vs. Stanford, or the squad that had trouble handling punts against the UConn Huskies? Kevin McMyler is a weapon for BC and he will need to do his part to keep Miami from having the gift of field position. The BC kick return team has the potential for a big play, but they need to be smart with the ball and make sure that the big play is for the Eagles, not the Canes. Miami is good enough without the benefit of opponent turnovers so it will be better for BC to signal for a fair catch than take a foolish risk. Senior WR Jamal Burke, who will handle the punt returns, and Freshman Will Blackmon will be looking to break a long return. Burke and Blackmon give BC their best return tandem in some time.
Miami has solid kickers. Punter Freddie Capshaw was named to the Ray Guy Award watch list, while Placekicker Todd Sievers did his part against Florida, hitting 38 and 53 yard kicks in the "Swamp" while the game was still in doubt. But the key for Miami is their ability to plug in pure speed at the kick return spots. Jason Geathers and Ethenic Sands have the speed to break one at any time. Advantage: Miami
BC has an off week going into this game, which gives them time to self-scout their tendencies and put in some tricks. For the Eagles to win this game, they need a case of selective amnesia to sweep across the two campuses. BC needs to forget about their performance against Connecticut in the season opener, and remember their game last year against Miami at the Heights, an 18-7 loss without the services of Will Green. BC also needs Miami to catch amnesia and forget that BC nearly ruined their run for a National Title and hope that the Canes look past the Eagles. So far this season, BC has started slow and come back to win games, but they can't afford to come out sluggish against the Canes. Containing Miami's explosive offense and getting to the QB will be the key for BC. But Miami has too many weapons, and too much team speed. Coach Tom O'Brien and his staff have made great strides to close the speed gap, but BC isn't quite there yet. BC has always played Miami well at home, but the Eagles haven't won in Coral Gables since a certain undersized QB was playing for them. Many still argue that BC tailback Derrick Knight is undersized, despite his back-to-back 100 yard games. Maybe it's time for another Eagle to prove people wrong in Miami? Unfortunately, this may not be the year. Final Score: Miami 42 Boston College 20
T.Henault is the senior writer for www.bchoop.com and is on loan to BCEaglesFootball.com. You can email Tom at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from ESPN, Boston.com and Phil Steele's College Preview 2002 were used in this report.