Commentary

How NC's defense ruined Shinskie's day

From the start, BC quarterback couldn't find his confidence or rhythm

Updated: November 21, 2009, 8:03 PM ET
By Brian MacPherson | Special to ESPNBoston

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Quite a few fans hadn't even found their seats yet when North Carolina defensive end Richard Quinn rudely introduced himself to Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie, combining with Marvin Austin to pop the ball loose and drive the Eagles back 11 yards. Six minutes later, following a lengthy North Carolina drive, Austin and defensive end E.J. Wilson collapsed the pocket around the Eagles' freshman quarterback, forcing another fumble that defensive tackle Cam Thomas returned for a touchdown.

"Every time I would try to go around or step up or something, there was another guy there," Shinskie said.

But the Tar Heels sacked Shinskie only once more after that in their 31-13 win over the Eagles. BC's offensive linemen generally handled the four defensive linemen that came after them, allowing just one second-half sack to a defense that's put as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as any in the ACC. When Austin dropped Shinskie for a 10-yard loss late in the fourth quarter, it was the Tar Heels' first sack since the opening minutes of the first quarter.

Still, though, the BC quarterback never found a way to step up in the pocket and throw with the kind of confidence he showed earlier this season.

In the Eagles' first six home games, all victories, Shinskie threw 10 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. On Saturday, he threw two interceptions before halftime.

"I was getting good protection, it seemed like," Shinskie said. "I don't know if I was wary of those guys because they were coming in hard all day. I didn't get enough on it. I didn't get enough zip on the ball. I was kind of floating the ball over the middle, and you can't do that. You can't throw the ball over the middle late. That's what happens: You get interceptions."

All four of his interceptions, in fact, seemed to play out in similar fashion:

[+] EnlargeKendric Burney
AP Photo/Michael DwyerNorth Carolina's Kendric Burney intercepted a Dave Shinskie pass and returned it for a touchdown midway through the first quarter Saturday.

•  Kendric Burney jumped in front of a pass intended for wide receiver Colin Larmond midway through the first quarter -- a pass that hung up just long enough for Burney to get himself in position.

•  Deunta Williams snatched a high throw that sailed through the hands of tight end Chris Pantale over the middle of the field midway through the second quarter.

•  Cornerback Charles Brown went up and deflected a pass intended for wide receiver Rich Gunnell late in the third quarter -- and Williams, trailing the play, snatched it out of the air.

•  Aiming for Gunnell over the field once more late in the fourth quarter, Shinskie put too much air under the ball and dropped it right into the hands of Williams, who came a yard short of returning it for a touchdown.

It wasn't just an issue of interceptions, either. Shinskie had a chance to hit a wide-open Gunnell down the right sideline early in the third quarter, a pass that could have turned into a big play or even a game-tying touchdown. But the quarterback lofted the ball too far ahead of his wide receiver, and the Eagles had to punt.

Shinskie refused to blame a thumb injury or any other health issue for the lack of zip on his passes. Something, though, wasn't right.

"I don't know if it was my thumb or if I was throwing off my back foot," he said. "I'll have to look at the film and see."

BC coach Frank Spaziani kept giving his quarterback a chance to win the game. Running back Montel Harris had 17 carries for 88 yards in the first half -- an average of 4.9 yards per carry -- but carried the ball just six times in the second half. The Eagles actually threw the ball more times (11) than they ran it (nine) in the third and fourth quarters.

"We thought we could move the ball, to throw it," Spaziani said. "There was some stuff there. We thought that was the best way to get it done."

The result, though, was as bad an offensive game as the Eagles have had all year. They finished with 143 total yards, including just 93 passing yards from Shinskie, and they went 0-for-13 on third-down opportunities. "It wasn't pretty," Spaziani said.

As the Tar Heels returned Shinskie's second interception, Austin took the opportunity to drive the Eagles' quarterback to the turf. The 305-pound defensive tackle then fell on Shinskie and even seemed, if inadvertently, to kick him in the helmet as he was getting up.

It was that kind of day for Shinskie, who will have a week to figure out how to bounce back from one of the ugliest games of his college career thus far.

"He'll bounce back the way he bounced back the last time he had a disaster," Spaziani said. "We'll coach him. We'll take the positive away from it. We'll try to correct what we did wrong. There was some pressure on him and some other things that caused it, and, obviously, Dave didn't play the way he needed to play."

Brian MacPherson is a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

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