Boston College deals with injury bug
Eagles see ray of light in win over Clemson to snap five-game losing streak
In his regular conference call with reporters Sunday, Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani was asked about how difficult it had been keeping an even keel during the Eagles' five-game losing streak.
Spaziani acknowledged that the losses had taken some toll on the team.
"We're human beings. Human emotion gets involved in it," Spaziani said. "But you understand what needs to be done in these circumstances. An even keel has to be kept and a plan has to be in place, and you have to obviously adjust and move on.
"We're obviously feeling a lot better about ourselves today after a win."
The good feelings, born from the end of the losing streak and from the team's first Atlantic Coast Conference win of the season -- a 16-10 victory over Clemson on Saturday -- didn't last long. Though they got a mark on the right side of the win-loss ledger on Saturday, other losses are mounting for the Eagles.
Sunday afternoon, senior safety Wes Davis announced that he's decided to end his football career after suffering a second serious neck injury as a member of the Eagles, according to BC associate athletic director Chris Cameron.
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Davis suffered the latest injury while making a tackle against Maryland on Oct. 23. He remained on the ground for several minutes as Eagles medical personnel tended to him, then was strapped onto a back board and wheeled off the field on a gurney. Though he had full feeling in his arms and legs, because of his injury history Davis was taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital as a precaution and held overnight.
A CT scan and an MRI revealed that Davis did not have a fracture, and he was released the next day.
A fifth-year senior and defensive co-captain, Davis missed most of the 2007 season after suffering a neck injury that required surgery.
Davis didn't play in the Eagles' 16-10 win over Clemson on Saturday, and after consulting with his family and his doctors, the 6-foot-1, 221-pound safety decided it was in his best interest to end his football career.
The Eagles will definitely miss him, on the field and off of it. And unfortunately for the Eagles, he's not the only senior defensive leader the team will be without.
Spaziani announced Sunday that senior cornerback DeLeon Gause will have surgery Wednesday to repair his injured right knee. He's expected to be out for at least three weeks, and might need 10 days or more after that before making any attempt to return. That timetable means that if all goes well, Gause might be able to return for the season finale at Syracuse.
In addition to Davis and Gause, the Eagles' D will be without senior defensive end Alex Albright for the remainder of the season after he suffered a broken right fibula against Maryland.
Also on Sunday, senior right tackle Rich Lapham was scheduled to undergo an MRI for the knee injury he suffered Saturday against Clemson.
So while the Eagles made undeniable progress against the Tigers -- the defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown; the offense moved the ball well enough in the first half to rally from an early deficit and take the lead at the half; and the Eagles won the turnover battle and came out ahead in special-teams play -- and kept their hopes of a 12th straight bowl game alive, Spaziani & Co. continue to face a steep uphill climb.
No matter the outcome in the next four games, one thing's for sure: There'll be no excuses coming from the Heights.
The Eagles have received good performances from players pressed into duty by injury.
"It speaks volumes, as I always said, about the character of the individuals we have on the team," Spaziani said. "We understand from day one there are never any excuses, no one wants to hear them."
On Saturday, Chris Fox stepped into the lineup in place of Gause and finished with five tackles (three solo) and three passes defended, including an acrobatic, one-handed, touchdown-saving swat of a Kyle Parker pass in the first quarter. Fox, a fifth-year senior from Hull, Mass., and a graduate of Xaverian Brothers High School, has played sparingly in his time at BC, mostly drawing duty on special teams.
But he was ready when his number was called on Saturday, a fact Spaziani appreciated.
"A lot of guys wouldn't be patient and work as hard as he's worked," Spaziani said. "I'm happy for Chris and we need him to do it again."
With four games remaining (at Wake Forest, at Duke, home against Virginia and at Syracuse), the Eagles (3-5, 1-4 ACC) need three wins to qualify for a postseason berth. To get them, Spaziani will likely have to lean even more on stud running back Montel Harris (36 carries for 144 yards, 1 reception for 36 yards and a touchdown against Clemson) and his beleaguered defense.
But even with all its missing pieces, the Eagles' defense managed to hold the Clemson offense to just 86 yards rushing. The Tigers came into the game averaging more than 175 yards on the ground per game.
Parker threw for 176 yards but needed 39 attempts (and 21 completions) to do so and also tossed two interceptions.
"Defense is like pitching -- when you get a good performance there the whole team looks good," Spaziani said.
Against Clemson, linebackers Mark Herzlich and Luke Kuechly pitched in with their usual strong efforts. The senior strongside 'backer made several plays that Spaziani called "Herzlich-esque," including a leaping pass breakup, as he continues to round back into form after missing last season while being treated for Ewing's sarcoma.
Meanwhile, sophomore middle linebacker Kuechly made 14 tackles to extend his streak of games with 10-plus tackles to 17, best in the country, and played well against the pass.
Spaziani, who said last Wednesday that one area in which Kuechly needs to improve is making the instinctual drops necessary as a middle linebacker, cited one sequence as evidence of the sophomore's ability to adapt.
After getting beaten for 10 yards and a first down on a third-and-6 pass play to Clemson tight end Brandon Ford in the third quarter, Kuechly made an adjustment. When Parker tried to run a similar play on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter, Kuechly knew what was coming and stepped up to tackle Tigers tight end Dwayne Allen short of the first-down marker.
"Luke works too hard and is too talented not to get better in those areas," Spaziani said of Kuechly's play against the passing game. The adjustment he made on the Tigers' passes to the tight end was a great example. "That's what you would expect out of real good football players. 'Ok, you got me this time, that's it.'"
Kuechly wasn't done after the fourth-down stop. On the Tigers' next possession, the 6-3, 235-pounder made a diving catch on the BC sideline and came up with the Eagles' second interception of the game. When the officials signaled Eagles' ball, Kuechly's teammates mobbed him where he lay on the ground, slapping his helmet and shoulder pads in celebration.
Judging by the reaction on the sideline, the interception felt like a game winner. It also likely was unexpected, as it was only the second of Kuechly's young career.
It was a welcome contribution from an unexpected source, something the Eagles have gotten a good deal of already this season and something they will have to get in spades if they're to survive this latest rash of injuries.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNBoston.com.