FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Watching Boston College play football can, at times, be akin to studying geology.
Just how much pressure, over how much time, does it take for rock to crack?
Against UMass in the season opener at Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoon, kicking off in near-perfect sunny, 75-degree conditions, it took the Eagles just about a half of withering pressure to begin to crack the Minutemen defense.
“We could start to feel and see they were getting tired,” new BC QB Tyler Murphy said. “Coach always says, 'Let’s get into the fourth quarter and run away.' So we just kept going at them and kept pounding them, and they eventually cracked.”
The Eagles had three times the yards (276 to 84), more than two times as many first downs (13 to five) and held the ball more than twice as long (20:55 to 9:05). Yet at the end of the first half, the BC lead was only 6-0 on a pair of field goals (by two different kickers, Alex Howell and Joey Launceford).
That’s because ill-timed penalties (including three on left tackle Seth Betancourt), a turnover (a Murphy interception by Randall Jette) and a missed field goal to end the half (a 44-yarder by Howell sailed left as time expired) limited their chances.
“If you had to say what was the hardest thing, it was we dominated the game, but we were just one long ball away,” BC coach Steve Addazio said. “But the message at halftime was, ‘Hey, just keep pounding at the rock. The rock’s gonna crack.’ We wanted a big drive to open up the second half. Both things happened. We had the big drive, and the rock cracked.”
After ending the first half with a long drive that ended in the missed field goal, BC opened the second half with a 13-play, 75-yard drive capped off by sophomore Myles Willis powering his way over the goal line. Once he cracked the plane, the young back just dropped the ball as if to say, “It’s about time.”
UMass tried to answer on its next drive, but QB Blake Frohnapfel -- who was under pressure seemingly on every snap and often ended plays by picking himself up off the turf -- watched two throws fall incomplete and then got dropped by BC D-lineman Brian Mihalik for a sack. Three-and-out the Minutemen went, a theme of the afternoon.
Then BC took advantage again, Murphy leading his offense on a 10-play, 52-yard drive and then finishing it with a nifty touchdown run of his own. The quarterback faked a handoff, spun away, sprinted for the left pylon and beat three Minutemen defenders to the end zone for his first score as an Eagle.
Suddenly, it was 20-0, and the Eagles were rolling.
“The first half, the defense really stepped up and helped us out,” wideout Josh Bordner said. “In the second half, we got our stuff going, and we were able to capitalize on a few plays.”
The Eagles didn’t flinch, either, when Frohnapfel finally hit one of the long throws he’d been trying all afternoon. Tajae Sharpe came free over the middle, and UMass’ new signal-caller hit him in stride for a 77-yard catch-and-run for a TD.
“That’s our game. It’s gonna be our game,” Addazio said of the big play. “We’re gonna give up some chunks on those things, but we’ve gotta create pressure. We’re just not gonna sit back and play deep zone. We’re gonna continue to grow and get better in our packages. But all in all, one long chunk play. They ran the ball for 50 yards. That’s it. I thought our defense played well.”
Murphy and the offense didn’t waste much time picking up the defense. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Murphy dropped back to pass from the UMass 43 and saw Bordner come open along the right sideline. Murphy hit him with an easy pass, and the former backup QB cruised into the end zone for the hammer blow in BC’s eventual 30-7 win.
How in control was BC of this one? The Eagles didn’t punt until late in the fourth quarter.
True, they turned it over on downs once, but the stat is telling: The visitors dominated play for the vast majority of the afternoon.
BC finished with 338 rushing yards (including 118 by Murphy) and 511 total yards to UMass’ 55 rushing yards and 202 total yards, nearly twice as many plays from scrimmage (88 to 46) and more than twice as much time of possession (42:11 to 17:49).
The perspective on the home sideline was clear.
“We’re a work in progress,” UMass coach Mark Whipple told reporters. “Overall, I’m not happy but I’m not displeased.”
The rock eventually cracked, but taking BC into halftime down just six points is something Whipple and his staff can build on.
Loaded as it is with young players, BC learned something about itself from the win, too.
“We’ve got fight in us,” Bordner said. “Coach said coming in, it’s gonna be a dogfight, and we’re gonna have to play four quarters. It was just that. We never let up. We fought the whole way.”
And the fight’s far from over, as the Eagles will just move on and find a new rock to crack.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.