As much as it hurts now, it could hurt even more later.
With games against No. 4 Florida State, No. 10 Clemson, No. 11 Notre Dame and Virginia Tech still to come, the road isn’t getting any easier for Boston College. Which is why Saturday’s 22-13 nonconference loss to Northwestern, which dropped the Eagles to 1-2, hurts so much and could hurt even more down the line.
The Eagles could have won this one. With the score 12-10 Northwestern, BC was on the verge of capitalizing on a Kain Colter fumble in the third quarter when Rolandan “Deuce” Finch fumbled deep in the red zone and gave the ball back to the Wildcats.
Northwestern turned that turnover into three more points and gave itself a lead BC wouldn’t overcome.
Frank Spaziani’s crew now has two weeks to lick its wounds and prepare for its next game, at home versus Clemson on Sept. 29.
“There’s all different philosophies on what you do in the off week,” Spaziani said in his Sunday conference call. “With this squad and its developmental stage, we’ll probably take the approach of fundamentally improving ourselves and worry about Clemson at the end of the week.”
The fourth-year head coach was asked how he would get his players past the loss to the Wildcats.
“I don’t think there’s any magic elixir in there, other than being truthful and honest with them,” he said. “I think they have a good grasp of what needs to be done for them to cross the line over there and become a good football team. We [the coaches] know how to do it and they need to respond to it.”
On Saturday, BC finished with 21 carries for a total of 25 yards rushing -- the fewest rushing yards the Eagles have had since they had 5 in a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame in 2010.
Northwestern, on the other hand, finished with 60 carries for 293 yards rushing -- the most rushing yards BC has given up in more than five seasons.
In part because of that massive disparity in rushing yardage, the Wildcats held the ball for 35:56, leaving the Eagles only 24:04 of possession.
“The running game needs to be infused, yeah,” Spaziani said. “We have to run the ball. We can’t have that kind of effort. That has to improve for a lot of reasons in our offense. The obvious one is you have to be able to run the ball, you can’t be one dimensional.”
The Eagles’ failure to produce on the ground put more pressure on junior signal-caller Chase Rettig, who had a solid day and finished 24-for-44 for 291 yards and a touchdown.
“We left some stuff out there on the table,” the coach said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Northwestern, but we had some things and we didn’t execute.”
Spaziani pointed to a few examples of missed opportunities, including the Finch fumble and a few incompletions in the red zone.
“If you’re going to win games those things have to stop and you have to execute,” Spaziani said. “That’s football. You’ve got to make those five or six [plays]. Then of course the ball’s got to bounce your way a couple of times. But we have to win some of those plays.”
They didn’t make enough of them to win Saturday. And the cavalry may not be coming just yet.
Colin Larmond Jr. missed the bulk of practice leading up to the game this week and didn’t travel with the team. And injured pass-catchers Chris Pantale and Bobby Swigert are still working their way back, Pantale after surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot and Swigert from a knee injury.
“I think Swigert has a chance of participating on some level. I’m not exactly sure,” Spaziani said of the team’s leading receiver from last season.
As for Pantale, Spaziani called the chances of him participating in the Clemson game “very doubtful.”
And ultimately it’s not the passing game that’s been hurting the Eagles. Rettig and his receivers, led by Alex Amidon’s 25 catches for 366 yards, have been just fine. It’s the ground game that’s struggling.
Finch led the futile effort Saturday with eight carries for 19 yards, a 2.4-yard average. And through three weeks of the season, BC is averaging just 2.99 yards a carry -- tied for 108th in the country.
Spaziani was asked if it’s getting tough to trust his backs, considering their troubles early on this season.
“They’re good kids and they’ve got talent. This doesn’t change my mind,” he said. “They haven’t performed up to their capabilities.”
Chances are that if they don’t tighten things up soon, when the season’s over the same might be said of the Eagles as a whole.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.