Pregame Six Pack: Here comes the Green Monster


Fenway Park’s iconic Green Monster has transformed, the left field wall now an ode to the Fighting Irish and Notre Dame. Sound crazy? That’s the least of it.

Saturday night’s Shamrock Series game against Boston College will be different. (From TV viewers, here’s your most recent reminder—the broadcast is up the dial at NBCSN, not on NBC Sports.)

Playing in their hometown, the Eagles will be visitors. They’ll also be dressing at home—loading onto buses after prepping for the game across town in the comfort of their own facilities, a much easier logistical move than trying to jam a football team into the already cramped visitor’s locker room underneath the baseball stadium.

On paper, the Eagles are heavy underdogs, with Notre Dame a more than a two-touchdown favorite. But as we’ve seen in this series time and time again, weird things happen. So with the Frank Leahy Trophy on the line, the Irish get a chance to go for their 10th victory of the season.

Let’s get to the pregame six pack.


Without Daniel Cage, how will the Irish defensive line look?

On the stat sheet, sophomore nose guard Daniel Cage’s impact has been minimal. In nine games, Cage has made 17 total tackles, chipping in three tackles for loss. But for the second straight game, Cage will be held out as he deals with a concussion. And as we saw last week, his departure triggers quite a change for the defensive line.

Starting defensive end Isaac Rochell slid inside to tackle, pairing him with Sheldon Day, who still bounced inside and out. That forced sophomore Andrew Trumbetti into the lineup opposite Romeo Okwara. While Trumbetti made one of the biggest plays of the game with his interception for a touchdown, he also was more than a little bit loose on some run fits.

Notre Dame’s rushing defense struggled at times against Wake Forest, a surprise considering the Demon Deacons relative youth along the offensive line. Against Boston College’s anemic offense, the Eagles will take anything they can get—especially on the ground, head coach Steve Addazio’s preferred method of transportation.

Getting Cage healthy is critical, especially with a game against Stanford looming. So is getting the light to go back on for Jerry Tillery, the freshman seemingly stuck in neutral after a strong start to the season.

Last week we saw rare appearances from Jon Bonner and Grant Blankenship. They’ll likely get another chance to compete. But the Irish are at their best with Rochell lined up across from Okwara on the outside and Tillery and Cage sharing time next to Day.

Cage’s progress for next week is worth monitoring. So is how the Irish play this weekend without their starting nose guard.


C.J. Prosise is back in the lineup. Now finding ways to make him productive is the next step. 

Notre Dame’s running game has one of their toughest matchups this season on Saturday night. With Boston College leading the nation in rush defense, it’s foolish to think the Irish want to go toe-to-toe with the Eagles’ front seven.

For as good as the Irish offensive line has played this season, they haven’t been great triggering a north and south rushing attack. The heat will be on guards Quenton Nelson and Steve Elmer and center Nick Martin. They’ll be facing off against a disruptive duo in defensive tackles Connor Wujciak and Truman Gutapfel.

The struggles on the ground aren’t just on the interior of the offensive line. They’re also a product of the learning curve both C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams have faced, each seeing life as a college football running back for the first time.

While we’ll likely see DeShone Kizer throwing the football early and often, Notre Dame won’t abandon the ground game completely. But as the Irish try to manufacture a rush offense, expect to see Notre Dame attack the Eagles on the edges.

We’ve seen Prosise be productive running stretch plays or outside zones. He’s also been a weapon lined up in the slot, taking jet sweeps around the edge. The Irish have to feel good about their matchups at offensive tackle with Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey. But if they can’t get good support from tight ends Chase Hounshell and Tyler Luatua blocking, it’ll be tough sledding outside as well as in the trenches.


The logistics of substitutions are going to be a challenge for both teams. 

We will see the “peculiarities” of Fenway Park from the onset of Saturday night’s game. Mainly, the fact that both Notre Dame and Boston College will be sharing a sideline.

In many ways it’ll look like the Hockey East showdowns between the Irish and the Eagles on Saturday night, with the long change playing a significant part in substitutions, especially down by the opposite goal line. Depending on the direction, there’s a chance each team will have to send substitutes on a significant run—hitting the field from the opposite side of the 50-yard line as they enter the game in goal line situations. That’s been an area of concern for Brian Kelly this week.

“We had to work a lot on the logistics of getting personnel in and out from the sidelines, which is a little more in-depth than you might think, trying to get your group down there,” Kelly said on Thursday.

The biggest difference is bringing personnel in around the goal lines. Both Kelly and Boston College coach Steve Addazio have already been on conference calls with the officiating crew this week, confirming the ground rules for the evening. And that’s set up a new set of circumstances that’ll sometimes have players sprinting off the field inside the 5-yard line, and then running around the opposing team’s bench, with each team controlling 40 yards between the 5-yard line and the 45.

“We can leave from the 4-yard line to the back of the end zone and then go behind their team bench,” Kelly explained. “We can never go and leave the field from the 5- to the 45. But we can leave from the 4- to the end line and then go back around.”

Confused? Let’s hope the Irish aren’t. Because after seeing Notre Dame struggle with personnel changes on the fly last season against no-huddle attacks, getting the right guys on the field in scoring situations is critical.


If the Irish get ahead, it could be another big day for Romeo Okwara. 

Romeo Okwara ranks eighth in the country in sacks with nine. No, that’s not a typo. Okwara’s late surge—five sacks in the past two weeks—has catapulted him into the national picture when it comes to rushing the passer, a sentence nobody expected to read this year (and I certainly didn’t think I’d type).

But Okwara’s great play is coming at the perfect time. And if Boston College’s horrific offense gets forced to play catch up, Okwara could be feasting on walk-on quarterback John Fadule early and often.

The Eagles offensive line has struggled (to be kind). Drilling down a bit farther, ProFootballFocus’s grading system has BC’s five starting offensive linemen as the offense’s five lowest-graded players. Among them are starting tackles Dave Bowen and Aaron Monteiro, who Okwara will spend the evening lining up against.

It’s not ridiculous to think that Okwara could put together another double-digit sack output, especially if the Irish offense scores some early points. That could allow the senior to make an unlikely run at the Notre Dame record books, with Stephon Tuitt (12) and Justin Tuck (13.5) within reach with three games to go.


Will Steve Addazio and Don Brown put Boston College’s secondary in one-on-one matchups with Will Fuller? (They shouldn’t.)

When trying to come up with a game plan to contain Notre Dame’s running game and wide receiver Will Fuller, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi essentially threw up his hands during his postgame press conference.

“We changed it up a little bit,” Narduzzi said after the game. “But he’s a good football player, what are you going to do?”

What you can do is commit multiple defensive backs to containing Fuller, something Wake Forest did as they limited Notre Dame’s All-American candidate to just three catches. But in Boston College’s downhill, stacked-box scheme, the Eagles rely on their secondary to hold their ground, doing so in man coverage with not a lot of help.

That’s likely a recipe for disaster, especially with injuries wreaking havoc on the Boston College secondary.

The Eagles might be finding themselves in a quandary not dissimilar to the one Pitt had. While Boston College’s personnel in the front seven is far superior to Pitt’s, providing help to the back end could erode the rush defense’s superiority, a key piece of the puzzle for the Eagles.

Notre Dame’s big-play ability needs to emerge. The Irish have already scored 11 touchdowns of 50+ yards this season, believed to be a school record.

While the Eagles are the nation’s best statistical defense, big plays have still found a way to derail them. Early in their 24-8 loss to North Carolina State, the Wolfpack hit on a 83-yard touchdown pass. Clemson’s Artavis Scott scored on a 51-yarder on a day that the Tigers racked up 532 yards and 420 through the air.

Fuller already has 12 touchdown catches on the season, needing three more to match his shared school record. He could make some very good progress towards that Saturday night if the Eagles leave him on an island.


Saturday night is all about DeShone Kizer’s ability to manage the game and the offense. 

No player faces a bigger test that sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer. With the gameplan likely hoisted onto his shoulders, Kizer will have to be smart with the football, cognizant of the Eagles’ ability to wrack up tackles for loss, and efficient with his opportunities.

Kizer has passed just about every test he’s faced this year. The Eagles defense is another great one, especially a week before heading to Stanford. Schematically, both teams share similarities. Kizer’s success on Saturday will be predicated on his ability to stay aggressive when opportunities present themselves, while also understanding that sometimes the best play he can make is avoiding the negative one.

The downfield passing game should allow Kizer to take some shots. The screen game could also be a big part of the puzzle, especially as the Irish try to loosen up the Eagles front seven. But all of it demands smart play from the quarterback.

Kizer’s shown himself to be a quick study this season. With the nation’s top defense across from him, we’ll see how he stacks up.



Onward Notre Dame: Brian Kelly’s Journey Home to Boston


One of the many storylines coming into play this week is Brian Kelly‘s return home to Boston. The New England native will have a special memory this weekend, playing a rare football game in Fenway Park, surrounded by family and friends who’ll be watching the sixth-year Notre Dame head coach compete for another chance at a national title.

Yesterday, NBCSN aired the latest Onward: Notre Dame episode. This one focused on Kelly’s return to Boston over the summer, where he threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park and spent time in his hometown, hosting a football camp at his former high school.

Enjoy the entire episode here, which was encapsulated by this quote from the Irish head coach.

“The perception is the head coach at Notre Dame and whatever comes with that. I consider myself a Division II guy that worked his way up,” Kelly said, juxtaposed by the video of him signing autographed cards as his private flight to Boston takes him back to his hometown. “I had to learn how to do the laundry. Used to take eight-hour bus rides into Northern Michigan. Now we’re flying on a private plane to Boston. I’ve never really had it handed to me. And I hope I’ve kept it in perspective.”


Irish offense will look to counter BC’s aggressive defense


Notre Dame doesn’t see a lot of man-to-man coverage. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen Will Fuller beat just about every team willing to run one-on-one with him into submission—starting with Texas and continuing all the way through to the tire tracks he left on Pittsburgh.

As Notre Dame prepares to take on Boston College’s No. 1 rated defense, the Irish will get a chance to go strength vs. strength. The Eagles will continue doing what they do defensively—play downhill, aggressive defense at the point of attack, sometimes leaving their covermen on islands. The Irish? They’ll get a chance to counterpunch, finding great matchups and hoping to make the Eagles pay.

It’s not logical to assume the Irish will be able to get their big-play offense back on track against a defense that gives up just a shade over 2.1 yards per carry and less points than anyone else in the country.  But there will be big plays available if the Irish can execute.  With C.J. Prosise in the lineup and the Irish receiving corps at full strength, that’s the objective of DeShone Kizer, who admittedly got a little vanilla against Wake Forest.

“These guys go hard and they take risks,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said on Wednesday. “And they’ve been really successful throughout the year.”

Kizer knows those risks also signify opportunities. Not just with the chance to hit Fuller when he’s matched up alone on the outside, but to target difficult one-on-one covers like Corey Robinson. The Irish may also be able to find ways to isolate their slot receivers, especially as Boston College is forced to substitute inexperienced defensive backs after injuries hit their starting lineup.

While establishing the running game will allow the Irish to stay balanced, getting vertical with the receiving corps could turn this game lopsided in a hurry. Boston College’s offense hasn’t been able to score points. Take away the 100 points they scored against Howard and Maine and they’re averaging less than 10 points a game against FBS competition.

So while Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford need to find ways to manufacture a running game, what they really need is a quarterback willing to stay smart but aggressive, with Kizer understanding that he’ll have chances to allow his receivers to go make plays.

“If you’re not going to challenge them vertically, then challenge them on the outside,” Kizer explained. “They have the ability to do a bunch of different things. They like to play their man coverage, but they play some really cool zone coverages in which there are not many open areas, and you’ve got to be able to understand when those are coming at you.”

Kizer is evolving still as a quarterback. While he’s clearly shown a mastery not often seen in a first-year player, sometimes you still see the gears churning. That was evident on some passing downs against Wake Forest, when the Demon Deacons changed looks and made things tough on the young quarterback, forcing him to do a little too much thinking.

That’s likely the mission for Boston College’s defense, knowing they have little offensive support. While the Eagles offense is decidedly vanilla, the defense will continue rolling the dice, hoping to change the game while the offense bleeds the clock, hopefully able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded them.

Kizer has shown the ability to hit the long ball. More importantly, he’s shown the smarts to stay out of trouble, his only two-turnover game coming against Temple. This Boston College defense is a new challenge for him. Not necessarily because it’ll be scheme heavy, but rather because they are just really good at what they do.

“They have complete confidence in what they’re doing right now,” Kizer explained.”They know what they’re doing, they know who they are, and they’re really good at what they do. And when you have confidence in what you’re doing, it allows you to play more competitively and be able to take a couple more risks that end up in game-changing plays on defense.”

And in that corner… The Boston College Eagles


It’s time for Boston College. No traditional opponent has done a better job playing the spoiler against Notre Dame than the Eagles. Whether you harken back to 1993 or prefer the turnover-plagued, green-jersey debacle of 2002, Boston College has been there to celebrate some of the most misery-filled moments in recent memory.

The Eagles walk in a woefully lopsided football team. They’re among the worst offenses in the country. They’re the opposite on defense, one of the best statistical units in the country.

In Steve Addazio’s third season in Boston, many hoped that the former Temple head coach and Urban Meyer’s old offensive lieutenant would be able to reboot the scoring attack. Instead, Addazio has coached college football’s version of a four-corners offense. Outside of the 100 points the Eagles scored in non-conference cupcake wins over Maine and Howard, Boston College hasn’t scored more than 17 points, doing that only twice.

Joining us to talk Boston College is the Eagle in Atlanta, Bill Maloney. With B.C. relegated to the role of spoiler amidst a really disappointing season, Bill took the time to talk about the state of the program and if he sees another shocking upset in the cards.


Last we chatted, I think we both knew the consensus was that 2015 was going to be a trying season. Just three wins later — even with a very good defense — that’s certainly been the case. It’s Year Three of the Steve Addazio era. How are you feeling about things?

Not good. My expectations were rather high for this year. I thought that with Addazio overachieving with someone else’s scraps and leftovers meant that as he got his own team, he would thrive. Injuries hurt the offense as well as youth, but I don’t feel like the season and many games were managed well.


Staying on the offensive side of the ball — what’s going on with the quarterback position? Who should the Irish expect to prepare for? And does it matter? We knew the departure of Tyler Murphy was going to hurt, but how tough has this been?

I think (freshman John) Fadule will get most of the snaps. Smith and possibly even Flutie could play if Fadule is disastrous. I think it matters in the sense that Fadule has shown the ability to pass the ball that the other two did not.

It has been tough, but also very frustrating. I don’t think Addazio nor his OC Todd Fitch adapted to any of their QBs skill sets.


Let’s flip to this defense. To me, it’s really impressive that the Eagles manage to be the No. 3 team in the country from a scoring perspective—especially with an offense that’s unable to protect them. It looks like Steve Daniels is having a monster season. Matt Milano as well. Harold Landry and Connor Wujciak are wreaking havoc in the trenches. Is there a weakness to this defense? And have they played an offense that’s been as explosive as the Irish?

The only emerging weakness are the DBs. Both starting DBs — who were awesome — are out for the year with injuries. The team that was most similar to ND’s offense was Clemson. They were able to challenge the DBs and make big plays downfield. BC needs to stop that this weekend.


Wake Forest laid a pretty nice blueprint against Notre Dame last weekend, keeping the football away from the Irish by dominating the time of possession. They couldn’t score in the red zone and gave up a Pick Six. Do you expect Addazio to devise a similar game plan?

That is Addazio’s plan regardless of the opponent. I think you will see more the same this weekend.


Is it safe to call this game the biggest one of the season? Postseason hopes are gone. A rival comes to town—to play a home game. There’s a great chance to wreck a very good Notre Dame season. Is that what it comes down to?

With nothing to play for, this game becomes huge. I think Addazio could use the goodwill that would come with a win and it will help legitimize his “rebuilding” narrative.


You’ve been writing about Boston College football for a long time. I was thinking back to the decision to fire Jeff Jagodzinski after he interviewed for an NFL job. It got me thinking about the chaotic decade Boston College football has had. The move to the ACC. The changes since Jags. Not just at the head coaching position, but at AD as well, with Brad Bates taking over in 2012. What’s your take on the state of BC football and maybe through a wider lens, the athletic department in general?

A lot of that chaos was a result of our former AD. Brad Bates is more mild-mannered and deliberate, so there has been less chaos, ruffled feathers and controversy. Both his big coaching hires are still in the too early to tell stage, so everything seems fine.


Last one (I promise): BC doesn’t need to be a great team to beat Notre Dame. What’s your confidence on the Eagles—wearing 1984 throwbacks while the Irish wear green—pulling off the upset?

It could happen, but I don’t have a lot of hope.

Irish offense ready for another stout defense


A week after being held to their lowest yardage total of the season, Notre Dame travels to Boston to take on the nation’s best statistical defense. Yes, Boston College is a three-win team. But that’s courtesy of an imploded depth chart at quarterback and an offense that makes anemic sound like a compliment.

But the Eagles play defense. Stout, tough, aggressive defense. Giving up just 236 yards per game and under four yards a play, Boston College is giving up a relatively insane 2.1 yards per carry and just five rushing scores on the season, both numbers the best in the country.

The Irish will welcome C.J. Prosise back after missing last weekend. But after freshman Josh Adams was held to gains of less than two yards on 10 of his 17 carries last weekend, Prosise will have a major challenge as he looks to cross the 1,000 yard mark on the season this weekend.

Brian Kelly knows about the challenge the Eagles present. This is Notre Dame’s seventh Top 40 defense they’ll face this season and likely the best of the group. Boston College defensive coordinator Donnie Brown has built another dominant group, doing it behind productive players like Steven Daniels, Harold Landry and Matt Milano—largely anonymous to Irish fans until they’re wreaking havoc in Notre Dame’s backfield.

On Tuesday, Kelly talked about Notre Dame’s struggles against a good Wake Forest defense (a group that managed to beat the Eagles 3-0). And if you think the Irish looked at that game tape and immediately wanted to get into a rugged ground war this weekend, you obviously haven’t been following Brian Kelly for that long.

“I would say that we just have to be probably a little more aggressive. I thought we were a little conservative at times,” Kelly said, when asked about the offensive struggles last weekend. “Probably a little more aggressive in the areas where we’ve been pushing the ball vertically. So we’ll get back to being more aggressive offensively.”

That vertical passing game will have chances against a Boston College secondary that’s a bit beaten up. Cornerback Kamrin Moore is done for the year. True freshman Taj-Amir Torres will likely start, with corner Isaac Yiadom banged up as well.

That leaves the Irish hoping to find ways to get yardage in chunks, even if that’s been hard to do against the Eagles.

“I don’t think you can make a living with this team or win or score enough points just trying to stack three-yard runs against them. It’s going to be a long day,” Kelly said. “They would hope that that’s the way you kind of play the game. We’ve got to try to find explosive plays.”