November 27, 2007

Cronan: Hokies set for revenge

R.R. Marshall: Peter, the Eagles capped their historic season by ending that ridiculous 15-game losing streak to Miami that stretched back over 23 years with a resounding 28-14 win over the Hurricanes on Senior Day at the Heights. Be honest, didn't it seem when Miami battled back to tie the game at 14 that the game took on that same eerie quality from past losses to the Hurricanes that Eagle fans have become so familiar with?

Peter Cronan: It was strange because with a 14-0 lead at halftime BC was right where they wanted to be. The past few weeks Miami had played tough for a half and then folded their tents, and we were thinking that might happen here. I really thought what doomed Miami was a lack of concentration. They had three consecutive dropped passes early in the third quarter, and I took that as an indication of their willingness to fold up. Instead they came out and took advantage of two BC turnovers to tie the score, but it turned out to be their last gasp at trying to avoid their first losing season since 1997. The loss ended their hopes of being bowl eligible for a 10th consecutive year, so besides BC ending their 15-game losing streak to Miami there were a lot of streaks broken in this one.

I think you have to remain aware of the fact that Miami is still an extremely talented team with great athletes with a great football tradition, and they took control of the game in the third quarter. Even though the Eagles had controlled the game for virtually the entire first half they found themselves in a real dogfight, and as has been the case in the history of this series the team that managed to spring the big play would have the upper hand. How many times over the last decade have the Eagles battled Miami tooth-and-nail only to see the Hurricanes use their athletic talent to break the game open with a big play? This time it was the Eagles turn, as they used the quick strike offense to put two scoring drives together; a two-play, 69-yard drive and a four-play, 75-yard drive capped by Andre Callender's breakaway run to turn the lights out for the Hurricanes. To come back that quickly and strike with such suddenness essentially delivered the knockout punch to Miami. Regardless of their record Miami is still Miami and any time you can beat them it's a real feather in your cap, and it served as a fitting way to end the regular season at the Heights.

RRM: Speaking of big plays, has anyone turned in more big plays than Rich Gunnell during the second half of the season? That 49-yard catch and run set up the touchdown that turned the tide of the game in favor of the Eagles.

PC: It was one of the plays that really stood out to me. It was a big play on Gunnell's part, making the Miami defender miss between the numbers and the sidelines and then it was off to the races. It's been a different guy each week, but Gunnell has made more than his fair share of big plays recently. Gunnell's only a sophomore and he's become the poster child for big plays by this BC wide receiver corp. He's surrounded by a number of underclassmen at wide receiver that are going to get a steady diet of this wide open passing offense for the next few years. At the start of the season we all knew what Matt Ryan could do, the question was how would the receivers perform over the course of a very demanding ACC schedule? Looking back at how the season unfolded we can now say that the receiving corp has done just an outstanding job, and you have to think they will only get better next year with all of this experience under their belts.

RRM: Not to be overlooked is Clarence Megwa, who has posted some big numbers of his own the last two weeks. What did you think of his touchdown grab that gave the Eagles the lead for good?

PC: It was early in the season when Jeff Jagodzinski had to criticize his receivers for not laying out for balls that were a bit overthrown. Jags made the comment that his players had to start making the extra effort to lay out for the ball, and his players were then coached to start leaping and diving for the football. Here it is the end of the season and Megwa is going for a ball that is catchable but will take a special play to get it. What's the knock on BC receivers all these years? They don't do well against man, press coverage. They were outstanding against press coverage in this game, and on the go-ahead touchdown Megwa beat his man in a one-on-one situation and he layed out and made a great catch in the endzone. Hats off to wide receivers coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator Steve Logan for all the work they've done with this group of young BC receivers.

RRM: Going into the game there was a lot of speculation on how much the key starters would play and if the players that were hurting would even see the field. Matt Ryan played the entire game as did many of his teammates, so apparently Jeff Jagodzinski put a good deal of emphasis on this one?

PC: I think Jags knew how important it was to get this victory for the program. He talked about how important it was to end the long losing streak against Miami and get the 10th win of the season, and also go into the ACC Championship Game next week on a winning note. The good news is BC came out of this game in relatively good shape health-wise. Both Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Tyronne Pruitt played, and Pruitt in particular played more than he was expected to. They came out of the game relatively unscathed, and it would seem that they have weathered that little stretch they went through and should be ready for the challenge that awaits them on Saturday.

RRM: Are you personally in favor of the conference championship games, or are you old-school and feel it detracts from the regular season?

PC: I don't like them. It extends what already is a very long season, but I understand the need for conference championship games in the modern day world of college football. It's another pay day for the league plus it provides more visibility for the conference. If there wasn't a playoff game then BC would already be the ACC champion based on their win over Virginia Tech in the regular season. But there's no doubt that the two best teams in the ACC will be meeting this Saturday to decide the conference championship. Unfortunately I think the Eagles are at a bit of a disadvantage in this game. In the NFL you play teams that are in your division twice and it is the nature of the beast, but in the college game playing the same team twice in one season I think is very difficult and creates the opportunities for payback.

Do not discount the power of revenge from the perspective of the Hokies. They believe they have a score to settle with BC, so it isn't business as usual for them. I know BC respects Virginia Tech, but as I see it that is one of those underlying themes that the Eagles have to be made aware of and I'm confident the BC coaching staff will be preaching to their players that this team has an axe to grind against you. You may not hear anything about it coming out of Blacksburg this week but I've got news for you, it's real. I'm not saying that the Eagles will be going into Jacksonville with their tail between their legs, no way. But these coaches are pretty sharp individuals that learned a great deal about each other from the last time they played. BC felt things would have gone a lot smoother if there had been a dry field. You should get a dry field on Saturday, and I can just hear the Virginia Tech players saying, "Here's your dry field, let's see what you can do against us." You are going to get a highly emotionally-charged effort from the Hokies on Saturday, so BC had better be prepared to match their emotional intensity.

RRM: The last time these two teams met Virginia Tech's mobile quarterback Tyrod Taylor was hurt and his status was unknown, and I asked you who would Frank Spaziani prepare his defense for, Taylor or pocket passer Sean Glennon. With both of them now healthy and alternating does this make it an even tougher task for Spaz to prepare for this week?

PC: The last time the Eagles were preparing for Virginia Tech they were dealing with an unknown; they did not know which quarterback was going to play. They still prepared for Tyrod Taylor even though he had the high ankle sprain, so they prepared for two quarterbacks. They already have a defensive game plan in place for both Virginia Tech quarterbacks and they have an idea of what they will be up against so that should help quite a bit for preparations this week. I expect to see a lot of players seeing action in this game and because of the recent injuries a lot of players that had not seen the field earlier in the season have gotten playing time each of the past few weeks. That should help Frank Spaziani as he attempts to mix and match personnel with Frank Beamer this Saturday. Guys like Brady Smith, Damik Scafe, Jerry Willette, and Austin Giles all played well last Saturday, and although BC has been forced to go deep into the bench to put able bodies out on the field they haven't yet been challenged to the degree that they are going to be this week. They have gained some much-needed experience recently, and that can only be in the Eagles' favor for this game.

RRM: It would appear that even if BC should lose on Saturday they should still land in a New Year's Day Bowl, particular with a BC-famous name like Bill Flynn representing the Chick-fil-A-Bowl?

PC: BC would seem like the natural fit for that game. They certainly have earned it, but when you have 30 people sitting on a committee to decide such things it can become a subjective decision. Could it happen again? Sure. It would be unfortunate if they were to bypass BC in favor of say, Virginia, but you would like to think BC with a talent like Matt Ryan and a dynamic, passing offense would be a prime attraction for the TV market. But the one thing I can assure you of is that the BC players aren't thinking about those kinds of circumstances. I know the fans are, but the team isn't. As far as they are concerned everything they want to accomplish still lies ahead of them, and with a win over Virginia Tech next week in Jacksonville in the ACC Championship Game their ultimate goal of playing in a BCS game will be achieved.

RRM: What are things you will you be focusing on in the rematch of the ACC's two top clubs?

PC: There should be a big Hokies' contingent in Jacksonville so this will essentially be another road game for BC. If you look back over the past two years the Eagles have given Frank Beamer's club more problems than anyone else in the ACC, so you have to think that BC will match up well against Virginia Tech. The defensive line for Virginia Tech really wreaked havoc with the BC offensive line in their first meeting. They had Matt Ryan on the run for pretty much the entire ballgame, and what was particularly frustrating was that they were able to mount a pass rush with not just the four-man rush but even the three-man rush. It took the Eagles a couple of weeks to recover from that game, as other team's started to copy what Virginia Tech had done to attack BC. They did make the adjustments, and like we saw in this game against Miami once the Hurricanes started coming with some pressure BC went to quick, rhythmic passing and it changed the tempo of the game. That's something I look to see from BC in this game, to try and change the tempo and keep the Virginia Tech defense off-balance while trying to protect Ryan.

Virginia Tech is an explosive football team and they are playing their best football of the season right now. They have always been extremely explosive on defense and they make big plays on special teams, and now that they have both their quarterbacks healthy they demonstrated against Virginia that they can be explosive on offense as well. Each aspect of their game can kill you, and BC has done a good job standing up to each one of them and effectively dismantling them in their past few meetings. I have to believe the biggest challenge for the Eagle this Saturday is going to be dealing with a relentless pass rush from the Hokies. If they can find a way to deal with that then Matt Ryan is going to eat your lunch. This should be one heck of a match up and I'm expecting another battle of epic proportions between these two teams. See you all in Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon!

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