A week after being pushed to their limit by a feisty underdog, No. 4 Notre Dame is in Boston ready to take on a school that relishes any opportunity to knock off the Fighting Irish.
Some might say when Boston College plays Notre Dame you can throw away the records. But to do that would overlook some serious advantages for the Irish, who do an awful lot of things good that just so happen to correspond with some fatal flaws of the 2-7 Eagles.
Saturday night could be the game where the Eagles finally fight for head coach Frank Spaziani’s job. Or it could be the game that finally pushes the embattled head coach off the ever-present edge.
As another primetime game approaches, let’s run through a few final questions I have before kickoff.
How many yards will the Irish run for? Notre Dame could put up a really big number on the ground this weekend. Boston College is ranked 119th in the country against the run, giving up 232 yards a game at an almost five-yards a crack average.
The Irish ran for that many yards last week and it felt like they abandoned the run to fight their way back against Pitt. Don’t expect Brian Kelly to let Notre Dame forget about running the ball, getting Cierre Wood involved early and often to shake off that goal line fumble.
Expect a 300-yard output on the ground from the Irish offense. The only BCS conference defense worse against the run is Miami, and Notre Dame racked up 376 yards on the ground against the Hurricanes.
Can Notre Dame turn Boston College’s one-dimensional offense against them? For as bad as the Eagles’ rush defense is, their own ground game is actually worse. Boston College is a putrid 122nd running the football, with only Mike Leach’s Washington State team doing worse in a BCS conference.
The Eagles only average 74 yards a game on the ground, all but turning their offense into a one-dimensional scheme themselves. But with Notre Dame’s stout rush defense, expect to see the Eagles throw early and often.
The good news for Boston College is that Chase Rettig quarterbacks the offense, the Eagles’ best offensive weapon. The bad news? Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo and company will be pinning their ears back looking for sacks.
Alex Amidon is having a terrific season this year as Rettig’s number one target, and he’s a threat to keep an eye on. But for the Eagles to have a shot, they’ll need to run the ball at least somewhat effectively, if only to keep Bob Diaco’s defense honest.
Can the Irish show some offensive efficiency in the red zone? Everett Golson feeling more comfortable behind center is important. But it won’t matter how at home Golson feels if he can’t get the offense into the end zone. With Tyler Eifert and a ground game that’s running for 200 yards a game, there’s no excuse for the Irish to be scoring touchdowns on only 45% of their possessions, a putrid 114th in the country.
Whether its a new scheme, quicker decision making, or just better execution, Golson needs to fair better inside the 20. And that means getting seven points in the red zone, if only to help the offense keep pace with the defense.
Is Bob Diaco auditioning for a job? Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator is starting to become a national commodity. And as the energetic, passionate leader of the resurgent Irish defense, Bob Diaco has started to find his name on some athletic directors’ short-list for upcoming vacancies.
Diaco is a guy that seems like a good fit for the Eagles if they decide to make a change at head coach and look to pluck a young assistant. He’s from the northeast, recruits well, and has learned from a few head coaches that know a thing or two about football.
While he’s still got to learn some of the finer touches that go along with being the face of a program, Diaco might be getting a closer look from Eagles athletic director Brad Bates, the man who was hired last month to take over Boston College sports.
Will Notre Dame keep up their good play away from home and score some style points? A lopsided victory probably won’t do much to sway a pollsters thoughts on an Irish team that’s won in sometimes less than convincing fashion.
But with three games to go — and two undermanned opponents before USC — Brian Kelly needs to get his football team playing their best football in the season’s final month.
Kelly cited his team’s heart of a champion for coming back and defeating Pitt in triple-overtime. He also discussed the need to develop the mind of a champion, something that’s going to be needed if the Irish are going to escape Saturday night unscathed.
A team like Boston College didn’t lose its pride overnight, and they’ll be fighting for their coaches’ job tonight. Notre Dame got away with overlooking an opponent last weekend. With a hostile crowd and a team with nothing to lose, it’ll be key for the Irish to let Boston College know early that they’ve got no place competing with Notre Dame.