The last couple of years of the Frank Spaziani era were tough on the Eagles, who won just 4 and 2 games. The slide resulted in Spaziani’s dismissal, and Steve Addazio was brought in from Temple to try to turn things around. He did an impressive job in his first season, leading a previously reeling BC to a 7-6 record and a bowl game. Why the quick turnaround? Well, Addazio’s team had something that wasn’t prevalent over the previous 2 seasons – experience. Last season’s incarnation was a senior-laden squad that played hard all season long. There were some fine performances, but the efforts of running back Andre Williams surpassed them all. He almost single-handedly led the Eagles to their 7 wins, and was the only unanimous all-ACC choice, an impressive feat, considering the all-conference team included the likes of Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston. The question now is, where do Addazio and the Eagles go from here?
It wouldn’t be quite right to say the offense was good last season, as a couple of stars led the way. Williams was absolutely stellar, racking up an impressive 2177 yards and 18 TDs on 355 carries. He didn’t get a whole lot of help with the ground game either, as Myles Willis was second on the team with just 346 yards and 2 scores on 60 carries. Leading the way for them was an experienced offensive line led by tackle Matt Patchan. While the line was strong in run-blocking, they had some issues in pass protection, although quarterback Chase Rettig needs to take some blame too. The other star was receiver Alex Amidon, who followed up a big 2012 with 77 receptions for 1024 yards and 5 TDs last season. Like Williams, Amidon carried the passing attack almost single-handedly, as the next leading receiver was tight end Jake Sinkovec with 14 catches. Rettig, essentially a 4-year starter here, looked great against inferior opposition, but was rarely a factor against better teams.
BC has 3 pressing questions going into 2014: who will play offense; who will play defense; and who will kick the ball? The curse of a senior-laden team is rebuilding the following year, and some players who could have been key factors this season have transferred elsewhere. The biggest loss is obviously Williams. Replacing 45.6% of your offense is hard enough when it’s not just one guy, but it looks like the Eagles have enough backs to share the wealth. Willis would be the obvious choice, and showed he could handle a heavier workload at times last season, while Tyler Rouse (26-125-2) will see more carries too. But incoming freshman Jonathan Hilliman – a 4-star recruit – fits the mould of an Eagles back, and it would be no surprise to see him starting in August. The offense only returns 3 starters, but it’s the interior of the offensive line. Center Andy Gallik is one of the best in the conference, while guard Bobby Vardaro is a salty vet and Harris Williams has a year under his belt. Florida-transfer Ian Silberman is eligible to play straight away, and could play guard or tackle, meaning Vardaro could slide outside. There are other options, but none have much experience. The passing game has been a concern for some time now, and that may not change with Amidon, one of the ACC’s best, gone. Most of the receivers who started a game last season have joined him too. One potentially good piece of news is the return of Bobby Swigert, but how well has he recovered from a nasty knee injury? Dan Crimmins and Harrison Jackson both saw some action last season, but caught just 15 passes between them. Then again, the issues at quarterback may have limited them more than their own play. Still, there are no guarantees at any of the receiver positions, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a freshman or two play. At tight end, it doesn’t look like CJ Parsons is coming back, and he wasn’t on the spring roster. There are plenty of other guys, but experience is an issue. Another Florida-transfer, quarterback Tyler Murphy will likely replace Rettig, and looked like a starter in camp. James Walsh took a redshirt last season and will compete, while 2014 recruit Darius Wade may sneak in under the radar, and he had enrolled in time for spring camp. Whoever wins the job, it will be fun to see a dual threat at quarterback.
The Eagles defense has struggled the last few seasons, and 2013 was no different. The run defense had a couple of off days, but was generally sturdy enough, allowing 160 yards per game. They managed this with a defensive line that suffered through some injury woes and lineup changes, with only Kasim Edebali starting all 13 games, albeit at 3 different positions. The senior led the team with 8.5 of the team’s 36 sacks, and made 14 tackles for loss. Tackles Jaryd Rudolph and Connor Wujciak also saw significant action and combined for 5.5 tackles for loss. The linebackers were the heart of the defense, and were an excellent group. All-ACC Kevin Pierre-Louis was the star of the group, but Pierre-Louis, Steele DiVitto and Steven Daniels combined for 308 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. They also combined to break up 8 passes and pick off 3. The pass defense had its moments, but was a weakness for the Eagles, allowing opponents to complete nearly 67% of their passes, with 26 TDs and just 9 interceptions. Part of the problem was the loss of Spenser Rositano, who was lost early in the season, and has since retired due to repeated concussions at the young age of 20. Free safety Sean Sylvia is probably better known for being the first BC player to be ejected for targeting, but he’s been a solid member of the Eagle secondary. Corner Manuel Asprilla played way bigger than his size (5,11,178) last season, making 68 tackles, including 7 in the backfield, and broke up 6 pass and intercepted 2. Bryce Jones was equally aggressive on the opposite side, although that aggression cost the secondary far too often.
There will be some rebuilding afoot this season as the Eagles attempt to replace the majority of their front 7. Edebali is obviously the biggest loss, but Rudolph and end Kaleb Ramsey had plenty of experience. Also gone is Dominic Appiah, who transferred. He would have been in line to potentially start as a senior. Now the good news. Wujciak will be back to lead the front line, although he’s more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher. Mehdi Abdesmad was off to a strong start at tackle last year, before an injury cut short his season after just 4 games. He showed some pass rush ability, notching a couple of sacks, and may yet switch outside. Another returning from injury is end Malachi Moore, who was starting to show what he could do when an injury cost him all of last season. Brian Mihalik will contribute too. Linebacker will be a bigger question mark, with just Daniels returning. Josh Keyes did a good job last season as a backup to KPL, making 30 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The converted-safety has the speed to pressure the passer from the weakside, and may be relied upon to replace Edebali in that role. Replacing DiVitto in the middle may be the tallest order. Sean Duggan is an experienced reserve, but he only played in 1 game last season and hasn’t developed as hoped. There is hope in the form of a bunch of freshmen, led by Connor Strachan, but they won’t arrive until fall. The secondary is largely unchanged from last season, but that doesn’t mean positions are set. Allen Dawson and Isaac Yiadom arrive in this year’s class and should help. Dawson was in for spring too.
Nate Freese has been an accurate kicker here in Chestnut Hill, but no one will break the record he set last season. The senior hit all 20 of his field goals, including a couple from over 50 yards, and was a key weapon for BC. Unsurprisingly, he was voted all-ACC for his troubles. He was also an outstanding on kickoffs, hitting 51 touchbacks on 75 attempts. Freese also punted for the Eagles, and did a solid job, with a gross of 41.7 and dropping 22 inside the 20. He also had 9 touchbacks, but opponents managed just 5.6 yards per punt return, so we’ll overlook it. The rest of the unit was solid too. Willis averaged 23.6 yards on kick returns, taking 1 back for a score, while Spiffy Evans averaged 11.85 per punt return. Coverage units were great too. If you want to nitpick, a defensive line with 3 players 6’7 or taller should have more blocked kicks, but this was a great unit overall.
Only Willis is back from the key members of the unit, so the scramble to replace the others will not be easy. Freese has been one of the finest kickers in the country over the last 4 years (maybe not 2011), and he will be sorely missed. Junior Alex Howell was kicking and punting in the spring game, with mixed results, but he looks like the best option so far. Hopefully Michael Knoll can give him a push when he arrives in fall. Willis will return kicks again, and took one to the house in the spring game, but he may need to return punts too, assuming his offensive duties don’t rule him out. There are some decent options though.
Where to now for the Eagles? Are there too many holes for BC to overcome this season? There is some talent here, and the Eagles could potentially have a similar record to last season, but they have to not only replace experienced veterans, but replace their leadership too. On the plus side, Murphy has looked good at quarterback, although he’s only here for 1 year, while the defense played well in the spring game, particularly up front. The good news is, BC isn’t the only ACC program heading into 2014 with question marks, and if the young guys can play up their potential, they could surprise in the conference. Their biggest concerns last season revolved around the passing game. Can the offense throw the ball with consistency this season, or will the running attack need to shoulder the load? Can the secondary actually stop opponents from picking them apart, and will there be a pass rush to help them out? Lots of questions, but there is hope. A fine recruiting class suggests the future could be rosy too. Expect BC to win 6 or 7 this season, then make a bigger push in 2015 as the youth movement matures.
Tags: Alex Howell Allen Dawson Andy Gallik Bobby Swigert Bobby Vardaro Brian Mihalik Bryce Jones Connor Strachan Connor Wujciak Dan Crimmins Darius Wade Harris Williams Harrison Jackson Ian Silberman Isacc Yiadom James Walsh Jonathan Hilliman Josh Keyes Malachi Moore Manuel Asprilla Mehdi Abdesmad Michael Knoll Myles Willis S Sean Duggan Sean Sylvia Steve Addazio Steven Daniels Tyler Murphy Tyler Rouse