The Wildcats will open up their 2011 campaign with an early road test, coming against the Boston College Golden Eagles. Third-year head coach Frank Spaziani led his Golden Eagles to a 7-6 record in 2010—a high mark after the team shrugged off a 2-5 start with five-straight wins.
The Golden Eagles return a number of starters on offense and defense, and will likely be much-improved in 2011. Northwestern will be the first team to see them this season.
In 2010, Boston College struggled to put up points. They finished 109th in scoring with an average of just 18.4 points per game.
The Golden Eagles return two quarterbacks with starting experience. In 2010, Chase Rettig and Dave Shinskie split time under center. Shinskie, a 27-year-old, was the Eagles’ starter in 2009 as well.
Both Rettig and Shinskie had their highs and lows as starter. Rettig completed more than 50 percent of his passes and threw for 1,238 yards. Shinskie struggled with accuracy—completing less than 50 percent of his passes.
The Eagles’ greatest strength is in their running game, and that is led by All-ACC running back Montel Harris. Now a senior, Harris has recorded 21 100-yard games during his three years at Boston College. As a junior, Harris finished with 3,600 rushing yards.
Boston College looks to have a much-improved group of wide receivers, led by sophomores Alex Amidon and Bobby Swigert. After a strong freshman season, each will provide a test for Northwestern’s cornerbacks.
Up front, the Eagles will face their greatest challenge. Boston College lost three of their five starters on the offensive line, and is hoping to rebuild their line. This will make things difficult on occasion for Montel Harris.
In what became a tale of two seasons, the Golden Eagles’ defense vastly improved, which helped compensate for a struggling offense. Boston College allowed 11.8 points per game during their five-game winning streak.
This season, the Eagles return six starters to that unit, but return many of their key role players.
One of the Eagles’ key returners on the defensive line is defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey, who started nine games last season. He would finish with 39 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. The only problem for Boston College is that Ramsey is the only returning starter on the line.
Defensive end Max Holloway will likely take over as a starter on the defensive line. He recorded 36 tackles in 2010, and played a key role at defensive end.
At linebacker, the Eagles return All-American Luke Kuechly, now a junior. Kuechly led the nation in tackles with 183, and solo tackles with 110. He registered 10 or more tackles in 22 games. Northwestern will have to plan their offensive attack with Kuechly in mind.
In the secondary, Okechukwu Okoroha stepped in at safety and started the final six games of the season after Wes Davis suffered a career-ending neck injury. Okoroha filled in nicely, and will be back to his starting role.
The Eagles’ other returning starter is cornerback Donnie Fletcher, who finished his junior season with five interceptions.
Boston College’s two undoubted stars are Montel Harris on offense and Luke Kuechly on defense.
With an offense struggling to find their identity in 2010, Harris made his mark. This season, many of the Eagles’ questions on offense remain unanswered, but Harris will provide some stability to their offense.
As for Luke Kuechly, there’s not much to say, because all of the accolades do the talking. He is a returning consensus All-American, and is an absolute force. Kuechly flies over the field, and is a factor in nearly every play.
Key for a Wildcat win
In Dan Persa’s return, Northwestern will have a challenge against a tough Boston College defense. They need to establish an early rhythm on offense. NU will feature an offense that returns 10 starters, while Boston College is a defense of many newcomers.
Northwestern needs to use their experience to their advantage by starting off strong.
On defense, the Wildcats will have a challenge against running back Montel Harris, but they have the opportunity to cause chaos. Facing a young and inexperienced offensive line, NU would be wise to throw some blitz packages at the Eagles, and create an early challenge.
If Northwestern sets the tone early and plays a complete game, they will leave Chestnut Hill with a win.