We all have quirks, those little things we say or do that make us unique.
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani is no different. The fourth-year head coach is in his 16th season in Chestnut Hill. He’s been there, seen that, and whether consciously or not he often reminds listeners of that fact.
“Once again …” he’ll say, starting to answer a question.
It’s a place-holder, really. A way of marshalling his thoughts before he answers, a version of the ahs, ums and ers we all use every day, often without even noticing it. But it also implies that he’s said this before, that he’s done this before, that he’s seen this before.
And sometimes, that’s true.
Once again, the Eagles lost a game they feel they should have won.
Up 31-27 with just more than two minutes to go in Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., all the Eagles had to do was pick up a first down to seal an important, losing-streak-snapping road win. They had piled up 30-plus points for the fourth time in five games, they had a ball carrier with 180-plus yards on the afternoon and their maligned defense had just made a goal-line stop on the indefatigable Army offense.
But in that moment, when they had to have it, the running game sputtered to a stop. Andre Williams -- who already had 18 carries for 184 yards and two touchdowns on the day -- carried three times but got only 7 yards and left BC with a fourth-and-3 at its own 8-yard line.
After a short punt by Gerald Levano, Army had the ball on the BC 38 with a chance to win the game. Quarterback Trent Steelman delivered a few plays later, ripping off a 29-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds left to lift Army (1-4) to a 34-31 win.
“Well, after looking at the tape it’s still a very tough defeat in a lot of ways,” Spaziani said on his Sunday conference call.
No less so because the schedule gets only more difficult in coming weeks. BC (1-4, 0-2 ACC) has to travel to Tallahassee on Saturday to take on Florida State. The Seminoles entered the weekend ranked No. 3, but after getting upset by NC State fell to No. 12 for the matchup with the Eagles.
“I can’t speculate on their mindset or their motivation,” Spaziani said of the 'Noles. “I will tell you this, despite what happened last night to them they have a bevy of football players and that’s a very good football team. They were beat by a very good NC State team last night in a hostile environment.
“We have to prepare for everybody’s A-game and go from there.”
Before the Army game, Spaziani and his Eagles talked about how important it would be to (A) run the ball and (B) stop the run. They did run the ball, with Williams finishing with 191 yards and two TDs (one a record-setting 99-yarder), but they didn’t stop the run. The Black Knights had 516 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, holding the ball for 37:38.
“It’s something that we’ve always preached since we’ve been here,” Spaziani said when asked how the Eagles can move past this disappointment. “You have to keep one eye on the past, look at why you didn’t get it done. And then move forward. You have to compartmentalize and do it. As a team that’s what all teams have to do. And coaches, too. It’s not easy.”
Though the offense has clearly improved, the Eagles have been done in by a too-hospitable defense.
“Looking at what has happened the last couple weeks, I think we’ve been in right places, we just haven’t been able to execute,” the coach said. “There’s nobody erasing the mistakes and making some big plays. We made a couple in the last few weeks, but not enough. [The defense] did make a couple of big plays down at the goal line in the end.
“If we make some more [big plays], we’ll be better off.”
At 1-4 through five games and with two Top 25 opponents left on the schedule, it’s looking like the Eagles are once again headed for a lost season.
“Realistically we knew our margin for error was slim and we had to have some things go right,” Spaziani said of the team’s outlook coming into the season. “We’re 1-4, we’re playing hard. A couple of games could’ve gone either way. We have to figure out why that’s happening.”
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.