Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
In previous, recent seasons, if there has been any saving grace for the Boston College Eagles football team at all, it has been their defense. When the offense didn’t deliver, the defense did, and it helped save the team the ignominy of a losing season for at least a few years. Coming into 2012, however, there is now some dispute as to what this defense is and will be. In one of the more critical games of the season with regards to potential bowl eligibility, the Eagles defense will have to stand up to a Northwestern offense that cut them apart piece by piece last season and has showed the ability to score points this year.
Last year’s game has no bearing on this contest, but many of the same players are involved. Eagles fans doubtlessly remember Kain Colter, the mobile then-backup quarterback who is now the Wildcats’ starter. Colter did not have the passing yardage that Chase Rettig did in Week 1 of 2011 (375 yards; 197 for Colter), but he did scramble for 71 more and helped Northwestern make the big plays on offense that were needed. BC had trouble stopping him last season, and they will probably have trouble doing it again.
Northwestern has played two games, and in both, their offense was respectable. They put 42 on Syracuse and a much more modest 23 on Vanderbilt, and didn’t crack 350 yards in either, but the Wildcats were efficient. (And it helped that NU scored on special teams and defense against the Orange.) Colter does not put up huge numbers under center, and neither does his backup, Trevor Siemian (the two have split time this season, with Colter getting a little more). They don’t need to, though, because they do just enough to win.
This isn’t the kind of team that’s going to wow you or blow you out of the water: Northwestern moves the football and (so far) doesn’t turn it over, doing that only once in two games. To date, the Wildcats are +4 in turnovers; BC is -1. That’s a real source of success for this team so far.
As for the Eagles, the defense has taken their public licks recently from the fans and even their own coach. Against Miami, BC clearly demonstrated how different life would be without Luke Kuechly making plays all over the field in giving up 415 yards and allowing the ‘Canes to convert 12 times on 3rd or 4th down. In the Maine game, the numbers got better for a reason that should be obvious: they played Maine. It’s almost impossible to read much into it because of the talent gap, but the Black Bears executed poorly on offense when they had opportunities, and they did have a few. The Eagles made their fair share of plays, but like the offense, they needed a little while to get into the rhythm of the game.
This defense has some talented players, no question, but no longer has that type of game-changing player. That has showed in the results so far. BC’s defense was sub-par against Miami, and frankly just ordinary against Maine. They didn’t do much of anything special last week, but they were good enough to get the job done. That’s fine when you’re playing Maine, but to be blunt, it’s uncertain if the Eagles would have beaten a BCS-conference team the way they played against the Black Bears. This defense in particular will have to up their game if BC is to have a good chance.
The defensive line is not playing as it should, and we know that through both games. Some individual players have performed better than others, but there hasn’t been much catching any of us by surprise. BC still has no pass rush, despite having pass rushers in the game (one sack in two games; zero sacks against Maine is practically a crime). Meanwhile, the linebacking is okay but lacking the aforementioned star power, and the secondary is hit or miss. All aspects of this defense are going to have to be better this week, especially run defense. This isn’t Maine: this is a team with a quarterback who can and will take off, and RB Venric Mark who averaged a little over 100 yards by himself for their first two games. If BC can’t shut down the run, they’re going to have a lot of trouble winning.
Northwestern doesn’t have a high-flying offense, but it is competent and effective. BC has about a C/C+ defense so far this season, so the matchup edge here would have to go to the Wildcats.