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  • Irish Seek to Ground the Eagles

    by John Vannie

    After working overtime last weekend to keep its unblemished record intact, Notre Dame will travel to the East Coast on Saturday night to play Boston College. The 2-7 Eagles have struggled this season under Coach Frank Spaziani, whose job security is very much in question. Two consecutive losing campaigns have followed a dozen years of bowl eligibility, and more was expected of a team that had 19 returning starters from its 4-8 2011 squad. The Irish have too much at stake to show any mercy against a pesky rival that has ended its hopes for an undefeated season in each of the past two decades. The game will be nationally televised by ABC starting at 8:00 PM Eastern time.

    The Eagles are traditionally strong defensively, but have surrendered 31 points per game this season and do not have any players the caliber of recent NFL draftees Luke Kuechly, Mark Herzlich, or B.J. Raji. Opponents have rushed for a staggering 235 yards per game and averaged over 480 yards in total offense. Injuries and suspensions among the front four have not helped matters for Spaziani.

    Notre Dame’s defense did not play especially well for three quarters last week against Pittsburgh, but recovered to dominate the game in the fourth quarter and in overtime when it became absolutely necessary. While the Panthers’ Ray Graham had success on the ground, Boston College has an anemic running game that may be even more limited this week. Starting tailback Andre Williams is doubtful due to an abdominal injury, and last year’s leading rusher Deuce Finch had been banished to the scout team before reappearing behind freshman David Dudeck on this week’s depth chart. Overall, the Eagles average only 2.8 yards per rush.

    Everett Golson continues his education at quarterback for the Fighting Irish. His learning curve has been steep at times and he has regressed on other occasions, but to date his athletic ability has trumped any deficiencies in reading defenses and running Coach Brian Kelly’s complex offense. The rest of the team has all but fully recovered from a flu bug that impacted several players during the past two weeks, and there are no significant injuries to report although virtually everyone has a few bumps and bruises at this stage of the season.


    Boston College does not have the type of defense that can stand up to Notre Dame at the point of attack, but they learned from last week’s film that Golson can be confused into making incorrect reads on run blitzes and pre-snap changes in pass coverages. Their front four is not as talented as Pittsburgh’s, however, and Golson continues to learn from previous mistakes. The Eagle defensive line is a bit undersized, although end Kasim Edebali, tackle Connor Wujciak and other young players show promise.

    When healthy, the linebacking corps is the strength of this defense. Middle man Nick Clancy leads the team in tackles with over 100 and has capably filled the shoes of Kuechly. Steele Divitto has been very productive on the strong side, but weak side starter Kevin Louis-Pierre is injured and will miss the game. Freshman Steven Daniels is his likely replacement. Although Spaziani is a respected defensive mind and could pose a few schematic surprises for Notre Dame, the Irish should be able to get the ground game running downhill by the second half if not before.

    Boston College has also done a bit of shuffling in the secondary. Projected starter Al Louis-Jean went down in the preseason, and the cornerback position is now manned by two sophomores, Manny Asprilla and Sean Sylvia. Both have been inconsistent. Jim Noel has been moved to strong safety where he shares time with Spenser Rositano, and free safety is held down by the highly regarded Justin Simmons. This group has recorded ten interceptions, so they do have some ability. Unfortunately, the Eagles have trouble getting off the field on third down and do not put much pressure on the quarterback. They have recorded only six sacks all season.

    The game will be a test for Golson and Notre Dame to apply the lessons learned from previous weeks by making teams pay for taking chances. A result similar to the contest against Miami last month is quite possible as long as turnovers and sloppy play are left behind in South Bend. The lack of pressure in the pocket should allow Golson to take a few more shots downfield in the passing game, which is a risk Kelly has essentially avoided to date but may have enough of a cushion to try on Saturday.


    Quarterback Chase Rettig, who made his debut against Notre Dame two years ago, is now a junior. His completion rate has crept up only marginally from last season’s 53% to 56% this year, and he has been forced to throw the ball quite a bit. His main target is Alex Amidon, who has 67 receptions for over 1,000 yards. Jonathan Coleman is next at 29 catches, while Bobby Swigert and Spiffy Evans are also in the mix. Another talented receiver, Colin Larmond, lost a starting position due to a suspension and has not yet resurfaced on the depth chart. Senior tight end Chris Pantale is back in action after missing a few games due to injury.

    The Eagle offensive line has not been very strong this season, as evidenced by the paltry 77 rushing yards per game and 22 sacks allowed of the relatively immobile Rettig. Senior tackles Emmett Cleary and Josh Wetzel lead the group, which will start three sophomores at center and guard. Seth Betancourt will fill in for the injured Ian White at right guard. The Irish were humbled a bit by Pitt’s ground game last week, particularly when Louis Nix was out of the lineup. The massive nose tackle is banged up but is still expected to see action.

    The loss of Williams weakens Boston College’s ability to field a balanced attack. Dudeck is not a big back and has averaged only one yard per carry to date. He may also have problems in pass blocking if called upon. Notre Dame can play aggressively since the Eagles do not have exceptional speed at the skill positions and Rettig does not look to run the ball. The game may develop into an opportunity for Kelly to rest key defensive performers and allow more playing time for quality second teamers such as Ishaq Williams, Romeo Okwara, Jarret Grace, Elijah Shumate, Josh Atkinson, Sheldon Day, Tony Springman and Kona Schwenke.

    The Irish will attempt to take away Amidon in the passing game and force Rettig into third and long situations by stuffing the ground game. The Eagles have converted only 30% of those opportunities this season, which is well below average. Rettig is talented and has a strong arm, but he may not have much time to set his feet in the pocket. If Notre Dame is successful in limiting his connections to Amidon, Pantale may emerge as a frequent target.


    Kicker Nate Freese has been perfect this year on field goals inside 40 yards, but that is about the limit of his range. The Eagles have covered kicks and punts reasonably well, and return man Evans represents a breakaway threat with one touchdown to his credit. Punter Gerald Levano, a senior, is above average.

     The Irish special teams were outplayed badly again last week, and need to improve despite Kelly’s public statements that he is not concerned. George Atkinson has not been a factor on kickoff returns due to non-existent blocking, and punt returner Davonte Neal has allowed too many balls to hit the ground. Punter Ben Turk’s efforts often lack sufficient hang time or distance, while kicker Kyle Brindza has started to create angst among the Irish faithful due to a recent spate of missed field goals at inopportune times.


    Boston College does not have the size or athleticism to challenge Notre Dame unless the Irish are careless with the football. This game will give the visitors a chance to clean up the missed tackles and blown assignments that plagued them for three quarters last week, and Golson will be able to demonstrate that he can get his team into the correct play while relying less on his ability to scramble.

    The Irish should rush for 200 yards without a lot of contribution from Golson in that area. Ideally, Golson’s completion percentage will be at 70% or better and multiple receivers will share the wealth. Meanwhile, the Eagles will throw the ball a lot and Notre Dame will be rotating in fresh troops along the defensive line throughout the evening. Interceptions are likely if pressure can be applied in the pocket, which could lead to a lopsided score.

    Let’s consider a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

    Can the Eagles hold the Irish under 200 yards rushing while gaining more than 100 themselves?

    Will Golson throw the ball downfield with success?

    Can Rettig find time to complete more than 50% of his passes?

    Will the Irish continue to commit unforced errors against weaker opponents?

    Will Notre Dame’s special teams show any improvement?

    How many Eagle fans will still be in the stands during the fourth quarter?

    If the game is a blowout, will Brent Musburger consume too much liquid refreshment?


    You probably get the idea by now that Notre Dame should win comfortably. There is history between these schools when the Irish have been undefeated at kickoff, but this particular Eagle team is in disarray. Although Spaziani will try to extract an inspired effort from his troops, it is unlikely that they will be able to sustain pressure on Notre Dame beyond the first 20 minutes unless major meltdowns occur. At this point in the season, it’s time for the Irish and Golson to move forward rather than backward on the improvement curve.


    22 Responses to “Irish Seek to Ground the Eagles”

    1. I hope your prediction comes true. Would love to see another dominating performance after last weeks ugliness. Irish need to hang points on BC and Wake. Weather looks good up there for Sat night, the time is now to show the Eagles last week was a fluke. GO IRISH…….. BEAT EAGLES.

      Hope the coaches pay a little more attention to the duplicate number situation this week.

      • I hope the coaches run the QB sneak with Golson when they at or near the one instead of Riddick three times up the middle (see 1st quarter against Pitt).

    2. John Ross says:

      I hope to god that ND does win by that much. Maybe Coffey could start enjoying the undefeated season once again.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        I’m enjoying the undefeated season very very much, not sure where you got the idea that I’m not.

    3. After last weeks tailspin with final recovery, the weaker part of the schedule is anything but.
      With this wakeup call now maybe will get down to business and steam roll BC.

      Plus we are on the road safe from all the home game distractions.

    4. I view this as an important game inasmuch as we will see if the Irish can gather themselves from the letdown(?) we saw against Pitt. At this point in the season they are who we see them to be and the question remains, is this the team that soundly whipped OK or the team that walks the edge like we’ve seen against Pitt, BYU, and Purdue?
      A good beatdown of BC followed by the same with Wake and we have reason to believe they are worthy of a NC challenge or, at least, playing the next most important bowl game. Another “escape” and I’m not sure they’ve really come as far as we might think (or hope) they have.

    5. Good analysis, as always!

      One quibble: Altho it is unfortunately true, we could do without the possible jinx-ing effect of the phrase “as long as turnovers and sloppy play are left behind in South Bend”. I’d rather they were just left as embarrassing footnotes, never to return again!

      GO IRISH!

    6. This is the kind of game we should win comfortably.


      One of the few failings of this team is that it plays to the level of its opponent – both up – Oklahoma – and down – BYU & Pitt.

      I would like to see us win 40-7. Lots of ground, lots of air, give the seniors some time, give Hendrix some time. (Sorry Gunner – next year)

    7. BC is no dfiferent than Pitt in its being highly motivated to win the ND game. So instead of viewing the W-L record as a measure of (un)competitiveness, we and the ND players should see it in the exact opposite light —-as an opportunity for an underachieving team to do something memorable from an otheriwse lost season….. parental discretion, and our ‘A’ game, is advised.

    8. Mark P - ND '79 says:

      Given the last 10 (19?) years of mediocrity, every week of experience this group gets as an undefeated football team has to pay dividends this season and beyond. I’m with the rest here: it would be a nice couple of weeks to tweak up the machine and get ready for some inspired Thanksgiving and New Year’s performances. GO IRISH!

    9. Appears to be the weakest BC team we’ve faced in some time (Not that last year’s was all that good). I predict ND will win big and I hope they take control of the game early enough to get a lot of 2nd and 3rd teamers game experience. Maybe we’ll even see a little bit of Hendrix this week (I like the idea of a mobile back up QB who can play a similar style to Golson).

      Irish 38 – BC 13. Go Irish!

    10. Deployed Irish says:

      IRISH. 42-10

    11. WhyAmISoScared says:

      Having the 1993 memory forever haunting me… plus 2002 and 7 other losses to BC… I can’t believe I’m heading into a weekend to watch a 9-0 ND team play a 2-7 team and I have the sickest feeling in the world. The season so far gives me no comfort that this is an easy win. History has shown how easily this could become a torturous loss. Has a 2-7 team ever beaten a 9-0 team in major college football? Is there a rule in Obamacare that would force a physician to put me into an induced coma until this game is over and then only revive me if ND wins?

    12. Bob Howsam, Jr. says:

      Excellent analysis. Hard to believe BC is so down. Given it’s poor record, this is BC’s bowl game. Road games like this are normally trap games, but not this time. I think the score will be lower, simply because ND will likely dominate the time of possession with a punishing ground game that will chew clock, but result in fewer point. Given the sketchy FG kicking lately, I’ll say ND 28 Beagles 3.

    13. irishhawk50 says:

      Hopefully this game is a blowout and gives my fingernails a chance to grow back! Go Irish!

    14. WhyAmISoScared,

      I think you can relax. In 1993 we lost to a very good BC team coming off one of the 2-3 biggest and most emotional wins in the history of ND football (Recall that the FSU team we beat was being touted as one of the greatest teams ever). The 2002 team that lost to a decent BC team was a game group but the offense was not nearly as good as this year’s team. The BC team we are playing this week has some significant issues and is suffering through a difficult year as noted in the summary above. I see this game going more like the Miami game than last week’s Pitt game. I’ll go with something like 38-3.

    15. The Irish can’t lose this game can they? The Irish can’t play another close or overtime game can they? Anyone else remembering that certain game in 1993? Irish win 34-13.

    16. Irish should win easy. maybe they can focus on special team performance for the first time in three years under kelly. would be nice to see a punt return this season for more than 2 yards. all areas of special teams need dramatic improvement if we really want to win a bowl game against a good opponent. this week and next should be ideal times to work on the most neglected part of our team’s game.

    17. Captain Jack says:

      I see all of the predictions by the folks posting and the writer and can’t help but wonder based on how ND plays why everyone is predicting such a blowout. If you say its because they had there let down game last week and BC is such an inferior opponent I would just ask since when does that stop ND from playing down to their competition. Purdue, Pittsburgh, and to a somewhat lesser degree BYU were all inferior opponents who on paper we shouldve had comfortable wins against. They also had one thing in common which was they were all rivalry games which always makes it tougher to predict. I would say the most likely outcome for Saturday night is an Irish team who still kicks to many field goals in spots where they should punch the ball in and a defense that bends a little more then we would all like to see. Also based on this being a road night game against a team who hates us and has a history of spoling great ND seasons I think the final will be ND 20-13 which will do us no favors in the BCS. Of course since the world wants to see Oregon/Bama title game we need one to lost to have any shot to play for the title anyway. GO IRISH prove me wrong and blow this team out!

    18. The BC and Wake games should be low difficulty, with Irish putting away games early in the 3rdQ of each on strong running and turnovers by defense. Both games will hopefully provide 2nd and 3rd teams playing time so that the entire squad is ready for SC. While still too early for SC comments, the game in the Coliseum could be another for the ages. Trojans may deflate the football, but Barkley will be pumped to salvage a disappointing season while trying to move ahead of Teo in Heisman standings. The Kiffins, son & father, will be coaching for their jobs. Kelly & staff will be coaching for 12-0. For the game in Boston, Irish 41 BC 17.