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Friday, October 23, 2009

Irish Host Pesky Eagles

posted by John Vannie
With an eighth consecutive loss to USC fresh in the minds of Notre Dame, Boston College rolls into town seeking its seventh consecutive win in the series between these Catholic institutions. The Eagles are coached by former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who took the job in January and led the team to a victory over Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Boston College is 5-2 this season, having won all of its games at home while losing in its two trips outside of Beantown.

The Irish are trying to put last week’s disappointment behind them and get on a winning streak. Both teams are relatively healthy although Michael Floyd is still sidelined for Notre Dame. Coach Charlie Weis may be tinkering with the defense this week and fans may see a few personnel changes at linebacker and safety.

The Eagles have fought hard to overcome the loss of star linebacker Mark Herzlich, who is battling cancer that was diagnosed in the spring. Herzlich is making strong progress according to recent reports and Weis has taken a personal interest in his recovery by providing encouragement. The two will meet on Saturday as Herzlich will accompany his team to Notre Dame.

Spaziani also had to address a shortfall at an already thin quarterback position when projected starter Dominque Davis left the program. BC managed to find a stop gap replacement among the ranks of minor league baseball in Dave Shinskie, 25, who spent the past seven years after high school as a pitcher in the Toronto Blue Jays system. Shinskie has performed respectably but not spectacularly, and the Eagles remain a run-oriented team that uses multiple Wildcat formations quite effectively.


The interior of BC’s defensive line gave the Irish fits in last season’s shutout win. Stalwarts Ron Brace and B.J. Raji have moved on, but teams are still finding it difficult to run on the Eagles. Sophomore Kaleb Ramsey has filled in well at tackle and ends Alex Albright and Jim Ramella are solid veteran players. Freshman linebacker Luke Kuechly, who leads the team in tackles by a wide margin, has capably filled the hole left by Herzlich. The net result is that Boston College has allowed only 3.2 yards per rush this season, but they have performed considerably better at home.

Notre Dame’s offensive line has a score to settle with BC after being physically dominated last year, and will not be reluctant to attack the Eagles on the ground. Kuechly and middle linebacker Mike McLaughlin will be difficult to block, but they are not fast enough to contain Armando Allen and Golden Tate if the Irish can provide them a crease to run through.

As far as the passing game is concerned, Jimmy Clausen was held in check last year because Boston College was able to apply pressure with its front four and drop seven players into coverage. This strategy is less likely to work this year against the improved Irish, but it will be interesting to see if and when the Eagles are forced to gamble.

The keys to the passing game are once again Notre Dame’s offensive tackles. If Paul Duncan and Sam Young can handle Albright and Ramella, Clausen can utilize tight end Kyle Rudolph as a receiver instead of a pass blocker, and the rest of his receiving corps will have more room to maneuver in a secondary that is only average.


The Eagles had a breakout offensive showing last week against North Carolina State, but they have looked very anemic in two road losses with only 29 and 45 rushing yards. Shinskie is neither mobile nor particularly accurate, and his receivers are not game changing threats. The running game is the key to BC’s success and must be present if Shinskie is to have any success.

Tailback Montel Harris set a team record with 264 yards and five touchdowns last week on 27 carries. Josh Haden and Rolandan Finch also see spot duty and are small and quick as is Harris. The Eagles will use multiple formations to spring Harris loose and are difficult to stop once they gain momentum and keep a defense off balance.

Rich Gunnell is a veteran possession receiver with a knack for getting open on third down, and he is joined by 6’5” Justin Jarvis and Colin Larmond, Jr., who is the fastest of the group. Tight end Chris Pantale has had a quiet season to date with only 12 receptions for 92 yards.

The defensive game plan for Notre Dame should be straight forward. Stop Harris out of a standard formation or the Wildcat and force Shinskie to beat you by throwing the ball. The Irish should not have to routinely gamble with the blitz to accomplish their goal, but the defensive line needs to continue its improved play against a massive Eagle forward wall led by center Matt Tennant and junior tackles Anthony Castonzo and Rich Lapham.


The BC kicking and punting specialists are average but consistent. Senior place kicker Steve Aponavicius has not missed a field goal this season, but he does not have particularly long range. Punt returner Gunnell has recorded a touchdown and always manages to pick up yardage. The coverage units are quite good, particularly on kickoffs.

Nick Tausch had an extra point blocked by USC and did not attempt a field goal in that contest, but he may very well be called upon in a tight situation this week. The Irish kick returners were replaced by front line players Tate and Allen against the Trojans and may continue to supplant Theo Riddick and Barry Gallup in that role. This move may again be strictly cosmetic if Notre Dame’s wedge blockers do not exert considerably more effort to hit people than I witnessed last week.


Boston College is not an impressive team on paper, but they can be difficult to put away if they are allowed to control the tempo of the game. Their strength lies not in the skill positions but in a strong offensive line and solid but not exceptional players along the defensive front seven. This appears to be polar opposite the Irish, who must forget last week’s bruises and be prepared for sixty minutes of brawling. Clausen’s ability creates a gulf between these teams that should be enough to spell victory for Notre Dame, but anything less than a spirited effort by a motivated defense will keep the Eagles in it until the end.

Let’s review a few questions that will help determine the outcome:

Will the Irish have anything left in the tank after last week?

Can the Eagles offense finally play well on the road?

Will Notre Dame be able to protect Clausen without resorting to maximum protection packages?

Will the Irish offensive line assert itself against this year’s Eagles front four?

Can Notre Dame’s special teams gain the upper hand in the battle for field position?

Will the shaky Irish secondary make Shinskie look like an All-American passer?

Will Haden and company run around and through Notre Dame?


It’s no longer a coincidence that Boston College has had Notre Dame’s number in recent years. Their consistently high effort and place on the schedule has enabled them to catch the Irish flat at times, but in other cases they have exhibited a stronger will to win. That should end this year as Notre Dame has stronger leadership and a sense of purpose for the rest of this season. The USC loss was one that the team should use as a confidence builder and springboard rather than an excuse to go into a funk.

In some ways, BC may be the perfect opponent for Notre Dame this week. Still, the Irish have played almost every game close this year and the Eagles’ offense may be ready to roll after putting everything together last week. Once again, fasten your seat belt and hang on.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice write up Jvan. I'm a BC alum and I believe your analysis is spot on. Clausen will probably be the difference tomorrow but you can never underestimate the effort that BC will undoubtedly bring.

10/23/2009 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Charlie's career tipping point. If they lose, back to Dunkin Donuts for him.

10/23/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish the BC were the tipping point, though I seriously doubt it.
Weis seems to have too much support among alums and the administration for the school to seriously consider firing him. I a Weis critic, but the one thing you have to say for the guy is he is an amazing recruiter. He has managed to attract depth at virtually every position, which is no mean feat given ND's tough admission standards for athletes.

The BC game will be interesting. One would expect the Irish to have a bit of a let down after last week, but Clausen is having such a great year, I don't see it. A blowout would be a huge confidence booster for Weis. Irish 34-17.

10/23/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ND is NOT going to lose and quit hoping that they do, so Weis is gone. You think we have problems now? Wait until he's fired. What a message that will send to the ND recruits looking hard at the Irish, not to mention the team we have now, who are obviously 100% behind him. This program could not have been fixed any other better way. It was in shambles. Although, the defense needs obvious recruting work.

BC will not keep this close...for long. They have very little threats on offense, I don't care what they did to NC State. We're not NC State.

10/23/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous NessMonster said...

I have to agree with those who believe that not just this game, but pretty much every game left on the schedule is a "tipping point" game for Weis. I agree he is an amazing recruiter - something that should be pointed out to any future head coaching candidates who insist on academic concessions - but he seems strangely unable to get all that talent to perform to its potential.

I don't dislike Weis, but I have to wonder about a coach whose two signature "wins" are two close home losses to USC. We continue to struggle with mediocre teams; sadly, with the possible exception of Pitt, that's pretty much all we have left on the schedule. We don't play enough good teams in our last six games to attract any attention from the pollsters. I'd have to say a BCS bowl is a pipe dream.

The university's goal seems to be the return of the Irish to college football's elite. So far in five years under Weis's tutelage, the best we've seen is a sort of consistent mediocrity. If we're happy with that, we should keep Weis. If not, we should be looking elsewhere.

10/23/2009 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another BC alum here and I agree its a good article and I also believe that ND will prevail.

I would like to add that your use of "pesky" might be a little off since we are 6-0 in the last 6. Maybe a better headline would have been "Irish Host Dominant Eagles".

10/23/2009 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an overzealous ND fan, but I think ND wins tomorrow comfortably and Jimmy & company win out rest of year including a decent bowl game. Why? Because Jimmy is just so good! I hope they get on a roll, win out, Jimmy's back next year with a seasoned defense and then ... the sky's the limit in 2010! Go Irish!

10/23/2009 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Minor nit - BC lost to Vanderbilt in the music city bowl last year.

10/23/2009 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"ND is not going to lose and quit hoping they do". That is about the dumbest comment I've ever read. The guy picked ND to win. Someone has his head firmly entrenched up his ass.

10/23/2009 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys need to stop dreaming that Jimmy is coming back. He and Golden are gone like the wind, as well as 60% of our starting OL. I'm not sure where all the talk of being in the NC is coming from, but it is ridiculous.

The fake field goal against USC is a summary of Charlie Weis's career. I can't outcoach you, but maybe if I trick you. Did Parris really hide behind that ref? Is this what ND football is about? Hiding behind the ref?

10/23/2009 08:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please, let's keep it clean. Use
the medical term for that condition,which is: "rectal/cranial inversion".

10/23/2009 09:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parris catches the ball at the 25 on the fake field goal. USC player is on the 24 yard line at the near side hash and catches him at the 5. Speed kills peaches.


The talent gap is still big and the team is poorly coached.

10/24/2009 10:47:00 AM  

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