Friday, October 23, 2009

Preview: Notre Dame (4-2) vs. Boston College (5-2)

Where: Notre Dame Stadium; When: Saturday 3:30PM ET; TV: NBC


Whenever Boston College faces Notre Dame, the Eagles always play one of their best games of the year. Historically, this game has meant more to the Eagles and their fans than it has to Notre Dame. These contrasting viewpoints have been evident on the field as the Eagles have won six consecutive games in the series.

Over the years, Notre Dame always seems to play BC at an inopportune time on its schedule. Whether it be on the heels of a great win (Florida State 1993, 2002) or a tough loss (Pittsburgh 2008, USC 2009) Notre Dame has frequently entered the contest against BC unfocused.

The task of ending the losing streak will be tough as the Irish face BC on the heels of a heartbreaking, eighth consecutive loss to Southern Cal just last week.

It will be important for Notre Dame to regroup quickly as BC is playing some of its best football of the season. New head coach Frank Spaziani leads a team that struggled offensively early in the season (most notably gaining only 54 yards of total offense in a Week 3 loss to Clemson) but has improved of late.

In last week’s 52-20 victory over North Carolina State, sophomore running back Montel Harris set school records with 264 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Not your typical freshman, 25-year-old Dave Shinskie has established himself as the starting quarterback and provided some stability to the offense.

The Eagles will not be lacking for additional motivation this year. They continue to play in honor of linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with cancer before the season began.

Keys for a Notre Dame Victory

1. Forget Southern Cal -
In 2008 Notre Dame lost a stunning quadruple overtime game to Pittsburgh, 36-33. Unable to forget the tough loss, Notre Dame was mentally unprepared the following week and fell to Boston College 17-0.

Charlie Weis will need to accomplish what he failed to do against BC last season: get the team to forget about last week’s game and come out of the tunnel ready to win.

For Notre Dame to avoid a hangover from the USC loss, it will be vital to get off to a fast start and play well in the first quarter. Points from the offense and productivity from the defense will be just the tonic to help the Irish forget about last week.

Both of BC’s losses have come on the road this season. In those games, the Eagles have struggled offensively, averaging just 10.5 points and 108.5 yards of offense in losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech. Should Notre Dame get out to an early lead, Boston College will struggle to mount a comeback.

However, if Notre Dame lets BC hang around and puts itself into a position where the Irish yet again need a fourth quarter comeback, there may not be any late-game magic left.

2. Expose BC’s inferior Pass Rush - The biggest weakness to the Eagle defense this season has been their inability to pressure the quarterback. Boston College has been unable to find suitable replacements for star defensive tackles BJ Raji and Ron Brace, both of whom were high picks in last April’s NFL draft.

As a team, the BC defense ranks 86th nationally in sacks with just ten. Their inability to pressure the quarterback has made their pass defense susceptible to big plays.

Jimmy Clausen should have plenty of time to distribute the ball to Golden Tate and the Irish receivers. Tate continues to be a dynamic part of Notre Dame’s offense. Despite continuous double-teams by USC’s vaunted defense last week, Tate was able to catch eight passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns.

3. Force Boston College to Throw - Boston College has one of the nation’s better running attacks, averaging 155.29 yards per game on the ground. However, they are much less effective through the air. The Eagles are 106th in FBS with 171 passing yards per game.

Notre Dame will employ the same strategy it used against USC: force a good running team to throw the ball. Coming into last week’s game against Notre Dame, USC was averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground. However the Irish defense was able to hold the Trojans to 121.

In doing so, Notre Dame was able to put the game in the hands of USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. While Barkley ended up playing great, the Irish were able to take the Trojans’ biggest offensive strength, and force them to win in a different way.

Notre Dame will look to do the same thing to Boston College on Saturday. They will load the box and attempt to eliminate Harris. In doing so, BC will need Shinskie to play great.

Keys for a Boston College Victory

1. Establish the Running Game -
The number one priority for BC offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill is to get production from Harris. At 5’8”, 192 pounds, the sophomore from Jacksonville, Florida is not the biggest or the fastest running back. However, Harris has great quickness and is difficult to bring to the ground.

The Boston College running game has been effective against some of the best rush defenses in the country. Going into last week’s game against the Eagles, NC State was giving up just 62.8 yards per game on the ground. Harris torched the Wolfpack for 264 yards and five touchdowns by himself. It will be vital to continue their trend of effective rushing to keep Clausen and the potent Irish offense off the field.

2. Exposes Notre Dame’s Biggest Weakness - The Irish have been terrible defending the pass this season. The Notre Dame defense has continually made other quarterbacks look great, giving up 283 passing yards per game (ranked 117th in FBS). Just last week, Barkley tossed for 380 yards and two touchdowns. Coming into the game, Barkley was averaging 239.5 yards through the air.

Shinskie has had an up and down season, averaging just 116.4 yards passing per game. However he played well last week when the BC running game was at its most effective.

Shinskie’s ability to capitalize on an Irish weakness will be a major factor in the outcome of this game. If he can get the ball to leading receivers Rich Gunnell and Colin Larmond, he will give the Eagles a great chance to steal one from Notre Dame.


Boston College will enter Notre Dame Stadium as they always do: fired up and ready to win. Yet for the first time in a while, Notre Dame will have the proper focus necessary to beat the Eagles. The Irish finally understand that this game cannot be a one-way rivalry.

BC’s inability to get a consistent pass rush on Clausen will provide the talented Irish signal caller with too much time to make plays.

The Notre Dame run defense will do a good job limiting Harris’ effectiveness, holding him to less than 100 rushing yards on the day.

Shinskie will have his best passing day of the year. However, Boston College does not have the offensive firepower to keep pace with the Irish scoring attack.

Regardless, the Eagles will play hard and keep the game interesting in the first half. Notre Dame will pull away for good in the third quarter riding another impressive performance from Clausen.

Notre Dame 41, Boston College 24

Photos Courtesy of Notre Dame Sports Information