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Pregame six pack: The Holy War

Nov 9, 2012, 2:51 AM EDT

ND BC

When Notre Dame goes to Chestnut Hill, they’ll be playing not just to get to 10-0, but to continue a winning streak against a rival that brings out the ire of Irish fans everywhere. Even with Boston College 2-7 and in the midst of a season that’ll likely end with Frank Spaziani getting fired, you won’t see any sympathy from Notre Dame fans, and certainly won’t see Brian Kelly’s squad take things easy either.

Kelly might not be well versed — or a fan — of replaying Notre Dame football history, but it isn’t hard to understand why this game means something to both sides. The series between the two Catholic schools was fairly innocuous until 1992, when the Irish rolled the undefeated and ninth-ranked Eagles 54-7, going as far as to fake a punt in the third quarter with a 37-0 lead. Tom Coughlin and his squad didn’t take kindly to the move and the next year, the Eagles used that snub as fuel to their shocking 41-39 upset, ruining the Irish’s undefeated season just a week after they beat Florida State. The No. 8 Irish lost the year after that as well, and while Notre Dame rallied to take back the momentum of the series throughout the late 90s, from 2001-2008, Boston College reeled off six consecutive wins, a streak that included the Eagles’ shocking 14-7 win over Ty Willingham’s No. 4 ranked Irish, who donned green jerseys.

With the Irish once again No. 4 and taking on a decided underdog, the Eagles will relish their role as potential spoilers as any postseason aspirations have washed away with seven Boston College losses.

‘‘I would rather knock Notre Dame out of the national championship than go to the Toilet Bowl,’’ offensive lineman Emmett Cleary said. ‘‘They’re not Alabama, but they’re a very good team. They’re winners and they’ve pulled out a lot of close games, so we’ve got our work cut out for us, for sure.’’

As Notre Dame prepares to take on Boston College for the 22nd edition of the Holy War, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings to get your ready for the Irish versus the Eagles.

***

If you were worried about the Irish special teams, you should worry about Spiffy Evans.

There isn’t a whole lot to get excited about for Boston College fans. But in a game where the Eagles will need to win by dominating the turnover battle and making big plays on special teams, one weapon the Irish will need to watch out for is wide receiver Spiffy Evans.

The sophomore from Hollywood, Florida hasn’t been burning up the field as a wide receiver, but he’s been one of the nation’s most explosive punt returners, averaging over 31 yards a return on the season. Evans has only had seven opportunities to field returns on the season, but he’s already broken one for a touchdown, and played a major factor in both of B.C.’s wins this year, racking up over 200 yards on five returns during the two wins.

Frank Spaziani talked about getting Evans involved in the return game.

“I think we’ve done a good job on our punt return scheme, Xs and Os, and then I think Spiffy has gotten a little more confidence and he knows where we’re going,” Spaziani said. “We’re not doing much back there, and it’s a matter of seeing an opening and taking it, and we’ve gotten a couple breaks with kicks and coverage and things like that. You put it all together, and it leads you to a 31‑yard average, which has been a big plus for us.”

Opponents haven’t started to kick away from Evans yet, but it’ll be interesting to watch how Ben Turk handles his punting duties on Saturday night.

***

Stephon Tuitt will be taking dead aim at Notre Dame’s single-season sack record.

With ten sacks through nine games, Stephon Tuitt ranks fifth in the country in taking down quarterbacks. And in his breakout sophomore season, Tuitt is also taking dead aim at the Notre Dame record books. Currently, Tuitt is tied for the third-best pass-rushing season in school history, tied with Bert Berry (1996) and Mike Gann (1984) with ten. He’s just a half sack behind Victor Abiamiri’s 2006 senior season and Justin Tuck’s impressive 2003 junior campaign, when Tuck racked up 13.5 sacks and 19 tackles-for-loss.

Making Tuitt’s season all the more impressive is the fact that he’s doing this as a true sophomore. Tuitt’s numbers for underclassmen are tops in the country, with Oregon State’s Scott Crichton (9.0) and South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney (8.5) trailing Tuitt’s sack totals. All of that done from his 3-4 defensive end position, and often times sliding inside to defensive tackle in pass rush situations.

A season after tallying just two sacks in spot duty, Kelly talked about the confidence he had in his all-everything defensive end.

“We thought that he could pick up and be a better pass rusher for us this year because we were going to give him more of those opportunities to do that,” Kelly said. “So being on the field as much as he has and the kind of player he is, he’s quote unquote an inside player, but as you know, when we go to four down, we can kick him out and he can play at the end position too.”

Against a Boston College offense that’ll depend on the passing game to move the football, Tuitt will certainly get his chances to rack up some stats Saturday night.

***

If the flu couldn’t slow Louis Nix down, don’t expect the Boston College offensive line to do it either.

A week after gutting out an impressive performance after spending two nights in the infirmary, Louis Nix is back and healthy, joking with the media and preparing to take on a hefty load up front with back-up defensive tackle Kona Schwenke battling a shoulder injury. After “going into a gun fight with a pair of scissors,” Nix is back to full strength and ready to challenge an Eagles front that’s struggling with some depth after guard Ian White questionable with an ankle injury.

The Eagles offensive front isn’t one of Spaziani’s most stout, and the mediocre B.C. running game — a horrific 122nd in the country with just 75 yards a game on 2.7 yards per carry — is in for a load with Nix fired up and back to his jovial self.

Nix even jokingly explained how he planned the Irish comeback against Pitt.

“We said, Coach, we’re going to let them go up 20-6 in the fourth. We’re going to try to come back, have the fans sweating,’” Nix joked. “Told Everett, don’t do your magic until the last five minutes. He agrees, ‘Yeah. I’m gonna get the touchdown, get the two-point conversion.’ Then I hit up Cierre, told him fumble the ball. And then he let it go. Then, at the end of the game, I hit up the Pitt kicker, ‘Just go to the right a little bit.’

“I’m just kidding. It was a close one. We’re just happy we won. We just kept fighting the whole game and that’s all that matters.”

Whether it was Nix, or “Touchdown Deal With It Jesus,” a healthy defense — with Manti Te’o also recovered from his own battle with the flu — should help the Irish shut down a one-dimensional Boston College offense.

***

While the chemistry on this Irish team is certainly a key to an undefeated start, some of that groundwork was laid last season by leaders like Jonas Gray.

There is no doubt that the unity and chemistry on this Fighting Irish squad is better than the previous teams under Brian Kelly. Whether that’s a product of entering the third year of the program or strong leaders like Manti Te’o, this team has continued to win close football games thanks to mental and physical toughness that just wasn’t exhibited enough last season.

But that’s not to say it wasn’t there. While the 2011 Irish slumped to a 8-5 record as injuries and turnovers marred the season, they were lucky to have some strong leaders that laid the groundwork for the 2012 team that’s now the surprise of college football. While you’d expect the locker room to miss veteran leaders like Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd, UND.com’s Strong and True moment featuring running back Jonas Gray gives you a good idea of the culture that’s being built under Kelly and his staff.

***

***

Gray’s postgame talk after having his knee demolished against Boston College is one of those moments that help you understand what makes sports so great. That Gray was able to support his teammates when he knew his career at Notre Dame was over — not to mention any professional aspirations — goes to show you that a team like this wasn’t just formed in one offseason, but a team that evolved over time.

Addressing the team on crutches and fighting back tears, Gray cites the same Alexander Dumas quote that Manti Te’o referenced this year, comparing life to a storm. “You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when the storm comes.”

After spending much of the offseason and training camp rehabilitating the knee injury suffered against the Eagles last year on Senior Day, Gray is now back to practicing with the Dolphins. It’s a moment in the sunlight that’s well deserved.

***

Another Saturday, another opportunity to improve for Everett Golson.

The lights might not be as bright as they were against Oklahoma, but Saturday night is another primetime opportunity for Everett Golson to take command of this Irish offense. A week after rallying the Irish back for victory against Pitt, Golson will have another chance to play a team that’s over-matched on paper.

This time, it’ll be up to the young quarterback to bury the opponent.

For the Irish to do that, they’ll need to play better in the red zone and get a more efficient performance out of Golson. When asked about the young quarterback’s week of practice, Kelly praised the progress Golson made staying in the pocket and making the correct throws.

“The thing we really asked him to do was to get his footwork settled within the pocket,” Kelly said. “That was probably the priority from last week’s game. Get settled in the pocket. I think you can say it all you want. They have to decide to want to do it and I thought he decided this week that he was going to work on that and he made some progress.”

Golson’s inability to settle in behind center cost him a few easy reads, including one to tight end Troy Niklas that Kelly acknowledged Thursday after practice. And with a young quarterback learning as he goes, mastering the basics and adding that to his game-breaking abilities will help catapult this offense to new places.

***

There’s a chance Notre Dame could come up smelling like Roses this year.

Thanksgiving weekend might not be the only trip the Irish take to Southern California this season. While there are plenty of permutations possible as postseason bowl implications continue to sort themselves out, there’s a growing chance that Notre Dame could find itself heading to Pasadena this year, matching the Irish up with the Grand-Daddy of them all, the Rose Bowl.

The Irish have only played in one Rose Bowl, way back in 1925, but if the Irish find themselves the odd man out in the National Championship game, a date on New Year’s Day in Pasadena might be quite the consolation prize.

“There is still so much that can happen, and of course the biggest story out there is whether we would take Notre Dame, but there is a lot to play out before it starts to become a serious conversation within our group,” Rose Bowl spokeswoman Gina Chappin said Wednesday.

The Irish playing in Pasadena will likely mean Oregon makes its way to Miami, bumping the No. 1 Pac-12 team out of its traditional spot in the Rose Bowl. And if Oregon State stumbles against Stanford and Oregon, and the Irish give USC another loss, the Irish all of a sudden look mighty attractive as an at-large option, with potentially no Pac-12 team even in the BCS top 14 .

‘‘There are so many variables that go into the conversation of the matchup. It’s not a conversation we have a lot,’’ Chappin said. ‘‘We’re at a position right now where it’s too early to focus on the what-ifs.’’

Any what-if that don’t include Notre Dame (and perhaps an undefeated Irish squad) in the national championship are obviously relegated to back-up duties. But January 1 in Pasadena certainly isn’t the worst fall back in the world.

  1. irishking - Nov 9, 2012 at 4:45 AM

    This has been an exciting season for Notre Dame football and its fans everywhere. They need to steam roll BC on Saturday night and run up a bunch of style points. And yes, Golson has to rise up and play his best game from start to finish.

    • seadomer - Nov 9, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      Yup, As posted earlier, while style points do matter, I still don’t think we can get to NC unless someone on top mess up.

      For e.g the O-ducks can drop 50-70 on anyone (so far)
      I don’t think that’s for ND but we should we able to shoot for 38 to 41 every game whilst limiting opponents to under 20. That’s a championship team.

      That said I called 60-6 and I still stand behind that. Go ahead and throw BC, our secondary can’t wait to intercept, btw, we are going to run, throw, run, run TD, throw, run TD, run, throw, run TD, …… you get the idea. I strongly believe we should not punt the ball at all. Thank you.

  2. yaketyyacc - Nov 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM

    Notre Dame will not be 10-0 until AFTER the game. it is one thing to have confidence in one’ s ability. It is quite another to begin to have arrogance and complacency replace well-founded confidence. with one comes victory… with the other, a stunning defeat, that makes all the prior wins valueless.
    Boston College is not taking the field as a sacrificial lamb to add to Notre Dame’s undefeated season. NOW, if we have not learned that lesson with Pttsburgh, then get ready to learn it with Boston College.
    They know they can beat Notre Dame. Hey, they’ve done it serveral times in the past. they are not interested in salvaging a bad season or in saving Spaziana’s job. They intend to beat the Fightiing Irish. Period!

    • mtndguy - Nov 9, 2012 at 12:01 PM

      Not sure a loss makes all the prior wins valueless, but good points otherwise.

    • papadec - Nov 9, 2012 at 5:21 PM

      yakety – don’t you ever get tired of spewing shit, and eating crow? Try savoring the sweet taste of victory. GO IRISH!!!!!!

  3. keelio19 - Nov 9, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    As much as I continue to read and hear that this game is going to be close, I’m finding myself on the other side of the fence on this one. I think the fact that we played so flat last week, and I’m sure the team was nervous throughout the Pitt game of possibly losing to a 4-4 team, I think the captains and seniors really turn it up this weekend. Now I said this about the Pitt Game, but I didn’t expect us to come out so flat, but I’m getting the feeling that with it being an away game, on primetime, against a subpar 2-7 BC team, I think we get it done handedly. I think BC tries to pass early, we get pressure on their QB throughout the game, they attempt to balance their offense with a poor running game and they end up turning into a similar Hurricanes team with less speed, which plays into our favor. I know BC has played us tough for years and years, but I feel a difference sense from this team this year and how their playing on the field. The past 20 years we’ve been playing average to below average football, this year has proven to be different, and whether we’ve had some tough and close fought games against teams like Purdue, Michigan, Stanford, BYU and Pitt (I guess you could put OKLA), I just get the feeling the team is going to bounce back strong after such a tight one last week.

    On a side note, I think the BC and Wake game should be big wins for us. BC played Wake just last week, so we’ve got excellent video coverage on both teams in one game, should help with the studying and planning in the film room these next two weeks.

    42-10 Irish!

  4. bajacibola - Nov 9, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    It has been a heck of a year for the Irish. Thinking about BC, I am reminded of when the Dream Team (’92) went to the Olympics and the first team they had to play was some team like Angola. All the guys were saying things like, “well, we cannot take anything for granted… blah, blah, blah.” Then the camera cuts to Charles Barkley and he says emphatically, “They in trouble.” That’s how I feel about BC this year.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Nov 9, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Nov 9, 2012 at 5:03 PM

        FF to the 1:08 mark

  5. dudeacow - Nov 9, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    I think that Kappy will get the first sack of the game (as always), but I think the Stephon Tuitt will have his biggest night and get a whopping 2.5 sacks. Te’o, Jackson, and Russel all get an interception, Eifert catches two touchdown passes and has over 100 yards recieving, Brown catches another ball, Golson won’t finish the game due to Rees or Hendrix coming in for practice snaps, and a mostly unknown player will come in and make a huge play (kind of like Baratti’s UM interception).

  6. 4horsemenrideagain - Nov 9, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    I have been a ND fan since as far back as I can remember and I have a laundry list of favorite ND players. Jonas Gray is at the very top of that list. If heart counts for anything, this kid will catch on and have a great NFL career.

  7. ndirish10 - Nov 9, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    Just in case our Irish go undefeated and don’t get the NC game, I’m going to go camp out at the Rose Bowl like those Twilight fans do for their movies. I only live a few miles away, in Monrovia, so I could just drive bike home in case I need to shower and change my undies. I doubt my wife will miss me, especially after my behavior during the Stanford, BYU, and Pitt games.

    • mtb1996 - Nov 9, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      Save me a spot in line, I’ll join you. I live in Orange Country. Our wives can go get mani-pedi’s or somthing.

  8. irishdodger - Nov 9, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    If ND gets up comfortably, I prefer to see Hendrix get reps behind Golson. Face it, if the backup QB goes in, it’s not going to be to throw passes which is all Rees can do. It will be to burn clock. I’d like to seen Hendrix come in & run some read option w/ GAIII….giving our opponents something to think about should Golson go down to injury.

    As far as the Rose Bowl, I’m not big on playing the same team twice in one season…especially when my team wins the first game. I’d rather play a respected team that people deem us an underdog to…not MeatChicken.

    • papadec - Nov 10, 2012 at 3:15 AM

      irishd – usc will not be going to the Rose Bowl (as a participating team).

  9. irishal81 - Nov 9, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    A small correction–BC won six games in a row in the series beginning in 2001 (not eight). There was a two-year gap in the schedule during this period.

  10. yeaimirish - Nov 9, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    Now the real question is, How many fair catches against the sub par BC team? 2-3

    Irish 35-7

  11. pm407 - Nov 9, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    BC only won 6 straight – they did not play 2005-2006.

  12. clearwall - Nov 9, 2012 at 2:14 PM

    Keith, you and the rest o the media need to stop with making up these rivalries to generate interest in games that you cover. BC is not a rival in any way, shape, or form for ND. ND fans, students, and players could give a rat’s *** about this game and if BC were forever wiped off our sched, no one in South Bend would bat an eye. You wouldnt nearly see the kind of disappointment or reaction that we did when we removed Michigan purely because no one cares about Backup College. ND has THREE rivals(and soon to be two): USC, Michigan, and Navy. No one else needs to apply.

    • ndirish10 - Nov 9, 2012 at 2:56 PM

      bc IS an ND rival THIS week. Those who coined the rivalry “The Holy War” will disagree. And a 12-9 (ND wins v bc wins) may say otherwise. GO IRISH BEAT THOSE eagles!!! ONWARD TO VICTORY!!!

    • domer77blowsgoats - Nov 9, 2012 at 4:05 PM

      completely agree clear

      big game from the standpoint of an undefeated season, NC game hopes, etc.

      NOT a rivalry game

      i’ve been to plenty of ND/BC games and they aren’t even in the same ballpark as say a UM or USC game

      tailgating is less rowdy, stadium is quieter, no one is all fired up in the stands (except maybe those from the BC area)

      Example: while walking across midtown I see someone wearing a UM ballcap and am immediately hit with nausea. See someone wearing a BC hat, nothing.

      BC=Wake Forest = Pitt = Purdue = NOT A RIVAL

      • ndirish10 - Nov 9, 2012 at 4:17 PM

        domer…..,

        That would explain the 6 game losing streak from ’01-’08, no one was fired up.

      • papadec - Nov 9, 2012 at 5:26 PM

        domer – you actually see someone wearing a BC hat? Outside of Beantown?

  13. irishadrian - Nov 9, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    41-14 Irish….get the young kids in early.

    • seadomer - Nov 9, 2012 at 6:57 PM

      41 ok then but let’s not do 14, that’s insulting to our D … keep it at 6.

  14. runners00 - Nov 9, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    My favorite thing about Boston College is that their ex-coach won ten games for three straight years and they canned him for having the gall to look beyond BC. Now they stink.

    I haven’t done much research on BC at all so my usual work is missing this week. But they are floundering. And we’re good — better on the road. I think we walk out 10-0 and saying, “Shhh” again to the doubters.

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Nov 9, 2012 at 5:07 PM

      i agree 1000%….they’d be a perennial power in their conference if they hadn’t fired him. I forget his name, but i think it had lots of consonants and not many vowels….or else it ended with a “ski”

  15. danirish - Nov 9, 2012 at 6:07 PM

    What I would love this Saturday night:
    1. A butt whipping – no ifs, ands or buts. Just a whoopin’ of epic proportions
    2. No injuries TO ANYONE
    3. Daniels has not scored yet – let’s get him a few

  16. mtb1996 - Nov 9, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    I wouldn’t miss BC if they disappeared from our schedule, and I see the point not calling them a rival. But not calling them a rival is like not calling it a fight when someone is punching you in the face. The fact is that BC has handed us some very hard losses in the past couple decades… none greater in my opinion than the 1993 for which I was in attendance. I would like to keep them on the schedule for at least another 5-10 years, just so we can blow them out 70-0 every year… then I think I could bury the hatchet. …. Nope, nevermind, I’ll never bury the BC hatchet… I hate that freaking classless piece of sh*t school. Back when then beat us in 1993, the next day there were mutiple places on campus where someone has spray painted “Eagles” on the buildings. Talk about soar winners… defacing the buildings of a campus like ND is unforgiveable.

    ND 102 – BC 0… I hope!

    Go Irish!

    • papadec - Nov 10, 2012 at 3:23 AM

      mtb – I think my brother would have to agree with you. He lives in the Boston area, and takes a lot of shit from the BC fan/neighbors over being a ND alum/fan. GO IRISH!!!!!! Kick the shit out of BC!!!!

  17. seadomer - Nov 9, 2012 at 7:03 PM

    Apparently Bill Romanowski (former eagle) is cheering for BC telling them to be the “Fist” when tackling, blocking etc and drive the Fighting Irish out because he believes BC can win.

    Link below: the video is on right side

    http://espn.go.com/college-football/team/_/id/87/notre-dame-fighting-irish

    • 9irish - Nov 9, 2012 at 11:58 PM

      Romanowski…real class act there..hope they checked him for hypo needles before he left the psychiatric ward to visit BC.

  18. deaconjack - Nov 9, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    I would find it hard not to rate Michigan State as a rival.

    • 9irish - Nov 10, 2012 at 12:03 AM

      I kind of agree, but it’s so hard to define with Notre Dame. Michigan is in there, and USC of course. Navy lives to kill us (not quite as big as Army), and all these schools that we have played so many times. Bottom line, I’ve never seen the Irish so happy about beating whoever that they planted a flag on the 50 and tore up chunks of turf.

  19. steincj36 - Nov 10, 2012 at 12:43 AM

    BC is a rival. I was there in ’93. We can never win enough against BC to make up for the ’93 game in my eyes.

  20. dermmite - Nov 10, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    Romanowski is a dick!

    • papadec - Nov 10, 2012 at 3:31 AM

      derm – nah – our dickasman is a dick! Romanowski is just your run of the mill loudmouth asshole.

  21. nchdomer - Nov 10, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    It is very hard to define who is a rival. Oftentimes it is a function of the time period. Certainly, Army was once a rival but I doubt anyone would consider them a rival today. Navy, in my view, has never been a rival. It is a long and wonderful series but has rarely risen to the level of rival, at least in the eyes of ND.
    In my time, MSU and Purdue were considered rivals. Whether they are today is hard to say. I would hate to lose them on the schedule, though.
    USC is a rival and always will be. Michigan is a rival and always will be. Miami was a rival in the 80s but not really considered a rival before or after.
    Maybe its a DNA test. Rivals sometimes can be like the brother you want to win against. But that usually only goes one way. Big brothers expect to beat younger brothers. Younger brothers have a passion to beat big brothers. BC is more like this type of rivalry.
    Ultimately, I think rivals are the team that is most like you and that you compete with to occupy the same position. ND, USC and Michigan are very similar in their makeup and always believe that they define college football. Oklahoma, OSU and Alabama may also believe they define college football but neither they nor their fans are not like the former three. ND, USC and Michigan are like brothers and their fans could easily don the other teams colors and you would not see a difference. Not the case with the other schools mentioned. They are more like cousins. Yes, we like to beat them. But winning against them doesn’t touch the soul the way beating USC and Michigan does.
    Just one persons observation.

  22. 1historian - Nov 10, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    I watched the ’93 game on TV. In the middle of the 3rd quarter with BC leading 38-17 Austin Collinsworth’s dad made the very perceptive comment that the seeds for what was happening at that point had been planted the previous year when ND ran up the score, specifically the fake punt in the 3rd quarter. The camera showed the ND players yukking it up after that, and the BC players watching.

    Running up the score and rubbing s..t in your opponent’s face is a no-class thing to do.

    Period

    p.s. – I love the place

    • bernhtp - Nov 10, 2012 at 9:14 AM

      Cris Collinsworth will be gratified to discover that his identity is now relegated to be Austin’s dad.

      You love what place?

      • 1historian - Nov 11, 2012 at 8:09 AM

        I love Notre Dame.

        You have won the weekly “I don’t get it and I’m darn proud of it!” award.

        My congratulations

  23. seamus0317 - Nov 10, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    We’ve played enough big ten teams this season. We don’t need to play another one in the Rose Bowl!

  24. 1historian - Nov 11, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    10 wins

    no losses

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