Future of BC football must wait

NEWTON, Mass. -- He dropped straight back and stood tall in the pocket, surveying the field patiently behind sturdy protection, then fired a bullet down the right sideline, hitting a sprinting Bobby Swigert in stride for a 58-yard touchdown. The future suddenly -- so, so suddenly -- looked bright for Boston College.

The present, not so much.

The dazzling scoring strike by Chase Rettig, the Eagles' freshman quarterback making his much-anticipated collegiate debut Saturday night, merely elevated BC's status in the waning moments of the first quarter from embarrassment to uphill battle. After all, the touchdown simply cut Notre Dame's gaudy lead to 21-7.

But a spark had been lit, and who knows what might have happened if Rettig had been able to stick around and nurture the glowing embers?

As it turned out, Rettig did move the Eagles into field-goal range early in the second quarter on their next possession, but as kicker Nate Freese was running on the field to nail a career-long 49-yard field goal, Rettig was limping off with a sprained left ankle after a walloping sack on third down. Rettig did not return, and BC didn't make it back either in a 31-13 loss to the Fighting Irish (2-3) before a packed house of 44,500 at Alumni Stadium.

Coming on the heels of last weekend's 19-0 shutout by Virginia Tech, it marked the first time BC (2-2) has lost consecutive home games since 2003. It also was Notre Dame's second straight win in the series, after BC had taken six in a row.

"It's tough to get in the game and have things start flowing and then you get pulled out," said Rettig, who finished with 5-of-10 passing for 72 yards. "That's disappointing and hard to swallow."

Rettig's replacement, sophomore Mike Marscovetra, who also had been a candidate to make his first collegiate start after playing all three previous BC games in relief of Dave Shinskie, showed the occasional sparkle with 22 completions on 37 attempts for 193 yards -- all career highs. But he threw a pair of interceptions and couldn't find the end zone.

The Eagles did get a second-quarter field goal on Marscovetra's watch, but only after they'd taken over on the Notre Dame 14 following an Irish fumble.

It was neither of the BC quarterbacks who did in the Eagles, though. It was the game's other signal caller -- the game's other inexperienced signal caller.

Notre Dame junior Dayne Crist was making only his fifth start, but he looked like a grizzled veteran right from kickoff, leading the Irish to touchdowns on three of their first four possessions.

First, he ran in from 7 yards to complete a crisp opening drive and make it 7-0 just 1 minute 48 seconds into the game. Then he found Kyle Rudolph with a 2-yard pass to finish off a nine-play, 59-yard march that made it 14-0. The next time he got the ball, Crist made it 21-0 with a 20-yard pass to Theo Riddick, three plays after he'd hit Michael Floyd for 35 to put the Irish deep in BC's end of the field.

Rettig, meanwhile, was overthrowing and underthrowing his way to an inglorious trio of three-and-outs. All week the kid had been touted as "The Quarterback of the Future," a label first attached to him when he was a high school junior -- specifically, the moment he spurned scholarship offers by Southern California and Tennessee to sign a letter of intent to play for BC.

Well, as the first-quarter clock wound down, the future was looking far, far away. Until the next time Rettig had the football in his hands … and suddenly -- so, so suddenly -- Swigert had the ball in his, and the fellow freshman was running for the end zone as the stadium erupted.

Everything can change at the flick of a passer's wrist. Or the twist of his ankle.

"He looked like the guy we thought he was," Eagles coach Frank Spaziani said of Rettig. "He did some good things and made some freshman mistakes."

Back in the day, asking a freshman or even a sophomore quarterback to make his first start against Notre Dame in a prime-time network telecast was throwing the kid to the wolves. But back in the day was way, way back for the Irish, who arrived in Chestnut Hill having not shown a whole lot of fightin' for many a day.

The storied football program from South Bend, Ind., may own more national championships (11) than any other, but none have come during the lifetime of Rettig, who turned 19 last Sunday. So the freshman from San Clemente, Calif., was basically being thrown into a yard -- his own, friendly backyard -- with an oversized puppy.

That may not seem like such a scary prospect, but in its frolicking, that big dog is capable of jumping up and knocking you down, as Notre Dame did to Rettig and anyone else wearing maroon and gold and carrying the football.

Especially Montel Harris. The junior running back came into the game averaging 102 yards, and Notre Dame had surrendered 100-yard rushing days in each of its three losses. But Harris managed just 28 yards on 15 carries. Factoring in Rettig's 6 yards on a couple of scrambles and Marscovetra's loss of 29, mainly on four sacks, BC ended up with a grand total of 5 rushing yards.

"I am very concerned," said Spaziani. "There are certain things that we have to be able to do. We have to be able to run the ball."

And tackle, too.

"We spotted them 21 points," said the coach.

Sophomore linebacker Luke Kuechly did his part with 14 tackles, reaching 200 career tackles faster than any Eagle (17 games). He's had double-digit tackle totals in 13 straight games, the nation's longest streak.

And defensive tackle Damik Scafe forced two fumbles, both leading to field goals.

But those early Notre Dame drives, during which Crist & Co. sliced through the BC defense with cruel efficiency, were killers.

"We came out flat," said Kuechly. "We had good play calls. We just couldn't execute on defense."

And that put both of BC's young quarterbacks on the defensive, delaying the future for at least one more week.

Jeff Wagenhiem is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.