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Off and stumbling: Mistakes, missed opportunities cost Cougars in opener vs. Boston College

PROVO — Boston College limited BYU's newly designed offense to pitches instead of bombs and waltzed out of LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday with a nifty 20-3 victory.

No. 22 Boston College (1-0) sent BYU (0-1) to the drawing board to redesign how to trade touchdowns for drive-stopping penalties.

"We're very happy to escape here with a victory," Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said. "This is a very difficult place to play — especially to think you can hold BYU to three points. That offense, I think, they're going to be pretty good down the road once they figure out what they're doing."

The polished, veteran Eagles knew exactly what they were doing.

Boston College quarterback Quinton Porter completed a personal-record 27 passes, including a pair of scoring strikes to tight end Chris Miller, to spoil the home opener and coaching debut of Bronco Mendenhall. BYU is 4-9 in its past 13 home games.

"Boston College is a solid football team, which is exactly what we saw on the field today," Mendenhall said. "They run the ball effectively, they play-action pass effectively and they're hard to score points on. They play well and they're well-coached. They're worthy of where they're ranked to this point."

Mendenhall got a tough welcome in his debut. His squad never led and didn't score a touchdown. At one point, trailing 17-3 with nine minutes left in the game, Mendenhall elected to punt on 4th-and-two at the Eagle 36, a move that gained about 16 yards when Derek McLaughlin punted in the end zone. The move met with a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

"It was a mistake," Mendenhall said. "I wouldn't do it again like that."

Defensively, BYU's Michael Marquardt forced a fumble, which was recovered by safety Spencer White. Ryan Kehl blocked an Eagle punt to set up BYU's only score of the game, a field goal. Safety Dustin Gabriel led the Cougars with 11 tackles, seven solo. But Cougar tackling could use some help.

Porter credited the B.C. defense. "Our defense played great," he said. "We bend, but we don't break."

Big defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said the Eagles toughened up whenever BYU had a big play or was moving down field.

"That's the staple of our defense," Kiwanuka said. "We followed up a big play by them with a big play of our own. That's how you stop people."

BYU players will argue that point. They said they hurt themselves more than the Eagles did.

Offensive lineman Eddie Keele said the Eagles were "nothing special" and not "scary."

"I respect them," he said. "They will be a great team in their league and have a good season, but they were nothing special.

"We couldn't get it done in the blue zone. I guess we need more fire to know what it is. We've got to get it in the end zone."

Both teams had 22 first downs. B.C. gained 365 yards to BYU's 338 in total offense and out-rushed the Cougars 133-8. BYU had 10 penalties to six for the Eagles, and they were costly.

In the first half, the Cougars were their own worst enemy and Boston College had only to wait for BYU to self-destruct. After completing high-percentage passes against the Eagles' 4-3 front backed by a soft cover-two zone, Beck was 24-of-33 for 186 yards in the first half, completing passes to nine different receivers.

But it was mid-field play. The Cougars couldn't scare paydirt.

Beck finished 41-of-60 for 330 yards without an interception, but had no TDs.

BYU first-half drives stopped on a dropped pass by Joe Griffin, a bad shotgun hike for a loss and three second-quarter holding penalties. On a fourth drive, Beck appeared to have converted a 4th-and-two inside the Eagle 30 with a twisting run, but officials spotted the ball short of where his momentum looked to be stopped.

When the Eagles blocked a Jared McLaughlin field goal with just more than 25 seconds to play before halftime, Boston College used three plays to go up 10-0 on a 39-yard field goal by Ryan Ohliger. The Eagles' first touchdown came with 30 seconds left in the first quarter, a 14-yard strike from Porter to Miller, capping an 80-yard drive. Porter and Miller connected again to start the fourth quarter and go ahead 17-0.

Boston College's final score came on an Ohliger 26-yard field goal with 4:25 to play. Other than Jared McLaughlin's 35-yard field goal at 10:16 of the third quarter, the Cougars were shut out.

The biggest problem? Mistakes. And none were bigger than holding calls. On five occasions, BYU had drives to Boston College's 33, 13, 37, 26 and finally, at the end of the game, to the Eagle 5-yard line. Each one stalled following holding penalties on Cougar offensive linemen.

"We've got a lot of work to do," center Lance Reynolds said. "Especially offensively. We looked great going down the field and then shot ourselves in the foot several times in a row and then we're three-and-out and done."

The holding calls were especially frustrating, said Reynolds. "You can call a holding penalty on every play of every down and I think we got a lot more than they did. They're trying to do their best. We've got to work harder at keeping our hands inside."

"I guess it was the refs' take on the blocks," guard Brian Sanders said. "We didn't execute. Whether missed reads or missed assignments by the line, we didn't execute to our potential. We'll look at it on film. They are a good team, but we didn't do our job."

"We'd march, march, march down the field only to end up with a 3rd-and-20 and it killed us," receiver Zac Collie said. "We'll see what it is (holding) when we watch film. ACC refs. I don't blame anything on the refs but they didn't help us at all. Bottom line is, there are things we could have done to win and we didn't do them. We could blame it on the refs and stuff but the bottom line is that we didn't do what we needed to do and we have a lot of work to do."

Unlike a year ago, Beck could not find Todd Watkins deep. Early in the game, he overthrew Watkins, who had a couple of steps on his man. Watkins caught two passes for 19 yards. Beck's longest pass was a 26-yarder to freshman Michael Reed.

BYU took what B.C. gave it — the short stuff. Nathan Meikle had nine catches for 45 yards to lead the Cougars. Running backs Fahu Tahi (eight catches, 46 yards) and Curtis Brown (eight for 43) were nearly tied for second on touches. Both tight ends Jonny Harline and Daniel Coats had four catches for 44 and 32 yards, respectively.

Watkins was frustrated afterward and was unable to explain why the Cougars couldn't stretch Boston College, which played back to protect the long ball.

"It's hard to say," Watkins said. "They didn't do anything we didn't expect. We just didn't convert. Penalties and not converting on third downs cost us. I got behind them that first time and then the majority of their defense was that cover-two look with a corner on me and a safety moving over to help. We thought they'd do it more on the boundary. They varied that a little bit. "

Watkins, like his teammates, was frustrated. When asked why he only caught two passes, he said he had no comment.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com