BC needs better in red zone

The Eagles' first play from scrimmage got the game and the season off to an exhilarating start.

Chase Rettig took the snap, turned left and handed off to Andre Williams. Williams found a hole on the left side, burst through it untouched and was off to the races up the left sideline.

The 6-foot, 222-pounder rumbled over midfield and seemed destined for the end zone before Northwestern senior cornerback Jordan Mabin ran him down and tackled him at the 4-yard line. First and goal to go for the Eagles, just seconds into the season's first quarter. The Chestnut Hill crew seemingly couldn't have asked for a better start.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, a problem that plagued them throughout the 2010 season reared its ugly head again.

"The problems are always there," BC coach Frank Spaziani said Sunday in his weekly conference call with reporters. "They don't disappear, they just become minimized when you win and magnified when you lose."

While the Eagles finished a respectable, if underwhelming, 74th in the country in red zone scoring percentage (putting up points on 80.49 percent of their opportunities), those numbers merit a closer look. The Eagles finished the 2010 season last in the country among FBS schools in red zone touchdown percentage, scoring seven points only 31.71 percent of the time. They ranked first in the country in red zone field goal percentage, at 48.78.

In simpler terms, the Eagles had 41 forays into the red zone. They scored 33 times, punching it into the end zone 13 times and settling for field goals 20 times.

"That's an area where we just have to be better," Spaziani said. "There's not a margin for error there and when we get down there we've got to get touchdowns."

The Eagles went 3-for-4 in red zone scoring opportunities on Saturday, with a field goal on that oh-so-close opening possession, two touchdowns and a missed field goal. (The Eagles would have had a fifth chance, with the ball on the Northwestern 19-yard line with 18 seconds left in the game, but a false start called on left guard Mark Spinney moved the ball back to the 24.) But in a 24-17 loss, the failure to score a touchdown on the opening drive proved costly.

"We need better execution," Spaziani said of the team's play in the red zone. "We had a couple penalties. We had some mental errors. Not the quarterback only -- we had a couple routes run wrong, had someone miss a block that we practiced.

"It's one thing getting physically beat, it's another making a mental error and getting beat. On the first series, we had three mental errors."

The Eagles have to clean up those mistakes if they hope to right the ship quickly, especially after losing their leading receiver to an ACL tear for the second straight season. Ifeanyi Momah tore the ligament in his left knee when his cleat got caught in the turf while covering a kickoff late in the game.

"I'm very disappointed for Ifeanyi," Spaziani said Tuesday. "He worked so hard to get himself to this point and was making tremendous strides. The future looked bright and all of a sudden it came clamping down on him.

"It was a surprise to all of us, the reading on the MRI. I don't think anyone thought it was season-ending. That's why it was shocking, more of an emotional hit than normal."

Momah led the Eagles with eight catches for 157 yards -- both career highs for the fifth-year senior -- against Northwestern. Colin Larmond Jr., the team's leading returning receiver after 2009, missed the entire 2010 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in training camp.

Larmond is back now, with four catches for 84 yards on Saturday, and will have to step up in Momah's absence. More also will be asked of sophomores Bobby Swigert, Alex Amidon and Johnathan Coleman. Spiffy Evans, whom the team had hoped to redshirt this season, also may be pressed into service.

After spending some time at defensive end in 2010, when he had just 19 catches for 296 yards, Momah focused entirely on being a wideout this offseason. He had a good training camp and was selected as an offensive cocaptain by his teammates. While the Eagles will certainly miss Momah's production, as Spaziani noted Tuesday, the young and inexperienced offense will miss his leadership as well.

"Production can be gained from other people stepping up and doing it," the coach said Tuesday. "Senior leadership, when you subtract somebody you subtract them. There's no other senior leader. It's one less voice."

The rest of the receiving corps will have to work a little harder, and other offensive players also will be asked to pick up the slack. Williams must continue to fill in for Montel Harris, himself rehabbing a knee injury and hoping to be back for Week 3 against Duke. Rettig must continue to progress and the offensive line must improve its protection.

There's a stiff test coming Saturday, as the Eagles travel to Orlando, Fla., to face Central Florida. The Knights blasted Charleston Southern 62-0, allowing the FCS program 119 yards of total offense while piling up 560.

UCF was in the red zone eight times in its opener. The result: eight touchdowns.

That's a performance the Eagles should attempt to emulate. Spaziani called UCF a team "ready to take the next step," and said the Knights seem "ready to set their sights on bigger and better things" after an 11-3 season in which they won the Conference USA title and defeated Georgia 10-6 in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

For the Eagles to take the next step, two things must happen: the run defense has to improve in a hurry after allowing 227 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Northwestern, and the offense has to consistently hit paydirt when it visits the red zone.

Anything less than that, and the Eagles likely will continue to come up short where it counts most: the final score.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.