Low-Flying Eagles Still a Threat

Notre Dame (7-3) celebrates Senior Day on Saturday afternoon as the Boston College Eagles (3-7) visit South Bend.  The Fighting Irish have won seven of their last eight contests including a closer than desired encounter against Navy last week. The Eagles are coming off their best win of the season, a thrilling last-minute 21-20 victory at 17th ranked North Carolina State. This week’s battle will be broadcast nationally by NBC starting at 2:30 Eastern time.

A number of Notre Dame players are or could be wearing the blue and gold for the last time. Among them are Isaiah Foskey, Jayson Ademilola, Jarrett Patterson, Michael Mayer, Josh Lugg, Chris Smith, Jon Sot, Justin Ademilola, DJ Brown, Tariq Bracy, Brandon Joseph, Houston Griffith, and Braden Lenzy. Injured linebacker Bo Bauer will also bid farewell to the home crowd.

BC Head Coach Jeff Hafley is in his 3rd season at Chestnut Hill. He is 15-18 overall and in the midst of a challenging campaign marred by a rash of injuries. Hafley is a defensive specialist with an impressive track record at the college and NFL levels.

The Irish had enjoyed a resurgence of late before a gritty Navy team nearly embarrassed them last week. Coach Marcus Freeman was not pleased with the manner in which his team finished that game after firing out to a 22-point halftime lead but managed to send a positive message to his team. “The beautiful part of this is we’ve grown to be a team that can win in those close games,” he said. “A couple weeks ago, we weren’t able to find a way to win.”

Qb Phil Jurkovec has taken a physical beating this season

The Eagles lost their starting quarterback two weeks ago when Phil Jurkovec suffered a knee injury. Jurkovec also remains in concussion protocol and is dealing with a rib and back ailment as well. In spite of these challenges, Hafley stated on Wednesday there is still a chance he could start against the Irish. Jurkovec, who transferred from Notre Dame two years ago, obviously wants to play on Saturday but is still listed as questionable.

Hafley also confirmed that the team has been hit by the flu this week. Up to a dozen players may be affected, including multiple offensive linemen. Irish fans will be able to see former tight end George Takacs, a popular player who graduated from Notre Dame last year and transferred to BC for his final college season. Hafley noted that Takacs has been battling injuries all season. He suffered a high ankle sprain early in the year and re-aggravated it shortly thereafter. Only now is Takacs getting close to full strength.

Notre Dame played without linebacker J.D. Bertrand and safety Brandon Joseph against Navy. Bertrand is expected back this week but Joseph, who also is nursing a high ankle sprain, will sit out once again. Freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather appeared on the injury report on Monday and is listed as questionable. The nature of his injury is unknown outside of the locker room.

NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE vs. BOSTON COLLEGE’S DEFENSE

The Eagles are a bit undersized on defense and may be wearing down as the season moves into its final weeks. They have been vulnerable to the run lately after playing well in September and October. More recently, NC State and Duke each gained over 200 yards rushing against them. Hafley undoubtedly saw the Irish run over Clemson’s basic 4-3 front and then struggle against Navy’s full blitzes last week. Don’t be surprised if he employs a similar plan by stacking the line of scrimmage to force Notre Dame to throw.

If that happens, Drew Pyne will have to get the ball out more quickly to viable targets. Offensive Coordinator Tom Rees has had a week to consider what went wrong against Navy and how to defeat a steady diet of aggressive blitzes. Slow developing, downfield pass plays worked early in the game before the Midshipmen turned up the heat even further and sacked Pyne five times.

Defensive End Donovan Ezeiruaku is an emerging star for BC

BC’s defense has played as well as can be expected this season despite the effects of an erratic offense and subpar special teams. They run a 4-3 basic set with ends Donovan Ezeiruaku and Marcus Valdez leading the way. Ezeiruaku in particular is a disruptive force who continually makes plays in the opponent’s backfield. Outside linebacker Kam Arnold, rover Vinnie DiPalma and middle backer Bryce Steele form the second layer. DiPalma and Arnold are very good players who lead the team in tackles. This group lacks ideal size but are well-coached by Hafley.

While Michael Mayer will likely operate against DiPalma, the rest of Notre Dame’s receivers will battle a veteran secondary. Safeties Jaiden Woodbey and Jason Maitre, along with cornerback Elijah Jones, are fifth year players. The exception is the other corner spot where Hafley has tried a number of freshmen and sophomores in search of a permanent solution.

Notre Dame’s size advantage should entice Rees to run right at this group to see how they react. If the Eagles overplay the ground game and bet that Pyne can’t beat them, the Irish must be ready to make them pay a heavy price. Future opponents will copy that strategy with assorted variations until it has been convincingly defeated.  

BOSTON COLLEGE’S OFFENSE vs. NOTRE DAME’S DEFENSE

BC’s passing game carries the team’s offense. Offensive line woes have limited any production on the ground to a measly 2.1 yards per carry. There are no senior linemen on the two-deep and a pair of potential starters, Kevin Cline and Christian Mahogany, were lost to knee injuries before the season started. As a consequence, the Eagles have surrendered 39 sacks and a bone-rattling 67 quarterback hits. By contrast, Notre Dame has allowed 17 sacks and 13 QB hits.

Isaiah Foskey could have a big day against the Eagles

Five running backs are listed on the depth chart led by starter Patrick Garwo. Veteran backup Alec Sinkfield, a transfer from West Virginia, is the tallest of this group of Smurfs at 5’9”. Freshman Alex Broome has injected life into the offense upon returning from injury. He had a breakout performance against Louisville last month before going down. After gaining over 1,000 yards behind a solid line last season, Garwo’s production over ten games has been limited to fewer than 300 yards on 99 attempts. Last week, the Wolfpack outrushed the Eagles by 232 to -1 yards. It’s not surprising that Emmett Morehead threw it on 67% of BC’s plays.  

The Eagles are in better position at quarterback because it doesn’t matter who starts the game. Morehead demonstrated last week against NC State that he can be as good or better than Jurkovec. The redshirt freshman was 29 of 48 for 330 yards, including three touchdowns and two interceptions. Even though he was sacked five times and hit repeatedly, Morehead weathered the storm to make clutch throws down the stretch to complete the comeback on the road.  Not bad for a player making his second career start.

Wide receiver is the strongest group on the offensive side despite having no starter at 6’0” or taller. Zay Flowers is the team’s best player. His 67 catches and ten touchdowns are second in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind Josh Downs of North Carolina. Flowers is joined by fellow senior Jaelen Gill as the top targets. Joseph Griffin, a 6’4” freshman, has steadily worked his way into a prominent role. He now has five touchdown receptions. Garwo has also proven to be a productive receiver out of the backfield and on checkdowns. The tight end is Notre Dame graduate George Takacs, who was a fan favorite with the Irish. Takacs had battled his way back from various injuries this year to contribute 24 receptions and effective blocking.

Tariq Bracy faces a stiff challenge from BC’s top receiver Zay Flowers

The Irish will counter the pass-first Eagles by playing a 4-2-5 defense that pays significant attention to Flowers. The front four should feast on the porous Eagle line, although neither Jurkovec nor Morehead is likely to stop slinging the ball until the final whistle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

An emerging area of concern for Notre Dame is the accuracy of field goal attempts by kicker Blake Grupe. He has failed to convert mid-range tries in each of the past four weeks, including his only attempts against Navy and Clemson. Jon Sot remains a reliable punter and Joseph’s injury means Matt Salerno will catch punts but probably not try to return them. The Eagles rarely send a kickoff into the end zone, so Chris Tyree should get an opportunity to improve Notre Dame’s starting field position.

Boston College’s special teams have made numerous mistakes this season and have cost the team points. Eagle punter Danny Longman has been only fair, although he had his best game last week by averaging over 46 yards on eight attempts. He will be wearing a bullseye on his jersey this week as the Irish attempt to add to their total of seven punt blocks this season.

Kicker Connor Lytton has been somewhat disappointing this year after a strong 2021 season. As has been the case with Grupe, his troubles have been more prevalent in recent games. Lytton has made just 57% of his field goal attempts and his range has seemingly gotten shorter. Punt and kickoff returns are handled by Flowers and Gill, respectively. Neither has enjoyed great success to date as attrition due to injuries has weakened BC’s return and coverage units.

SUMMARY

The expected cold and inclement weather will make the running game a more attractive option. The team that runs the ball best will have an advantage, and the Irish are clearly more powerful in this regard. BC will have to live or die by the pass and will be susceptible to sacks and turnovers. Flowers usually lines up in the slot where he will challenge Notre Dame’s best cover man in Tariq Bracy. Without Joseph to patrol the deep zones, Jurkovec or Morehead could enjoy a measure of success unless the Irish pass rush can engulf them.

The explosive Zay Flowers is by far the Eagles’ best offensive player

Pyne made a step forward with four touchdown passes last week before the entire offense took two steps back in the second half. That meltdown was more of a coaching issue than a failure by Pyne. Rees must have quick screens, slants and tosses to the flat available if the Eagles leave those areas undefended by blitzing on Saturday.

That said, the Irish must be able to run the ball no matter what defensive alignment Hafley employs. The hosts cannot surrender a major offensive advantage by allowing the game to become an aerial shootout. Even with inspired play calling by Rees, Pyne is simply not built to win many games in which he throws more than 20 passes.

Here are a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

  • Can the Irish defensive line dominate BC’s porous offensive front?
  • Will Pyne be able to read and execute passes that are designed to defeat blitzes?
  • Can Notre Dame run the ball on the smaller Eagle defense?
  • Which team will win the turnover battle?
  • Can Notre Dame’s special teams provide another highlight reel play?
  • Will the Irish secondary hold Flowers in check?
  • Can either kicker break out of his slump by making a clutch field goal?
  • Will Jurkovec or Takacs have success against their old teammates?

PREDICTION

The Eagles were headed for a miserable close to the season before staging an improbable comeback win last week. They suddenly have confidence in themselves and in Morehead. Their defense may be on the small side but it is bigger and more talented than Navy’s. If they can match the fire and determination of the Midshipmen, the game could become a low scoring nailbiter. Most fans know that BC regards Notre Dame as a major rival and plays these games with a chip on its shoulder. Therefore, the Irish need to be ready to take their best shot and give it right back. The hosts should create enough negative plays and turnovers on defense to get the job done but anyone who believes victory will come easily may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

NOTRE DAME 24  BOSTON COLLEGE 20

Tell John what you think in the comments below

41 thoughts on “Low-Flying Eagles Still a Threat

  1. This is an excellent analysis. This game will be a dog fight down to the bitter end. The weather will be cold and windy with snow showers. Points will be hard to come by. It would not be surprising at all to see ND go down to BC just as they did to Marshall and Stanford. It will be that kind of an excruciatingly frustrating game for Irish fans. The point spread of 21.5 points is laughably unrealistic, and the BC money line of +900 is very enticing. That’s why I’m on my way to Vegas.

    • Irish in the South says:

      It just cannot be that close. ND is favored by 21. BC allows more than 3 sacks per game, among the worst in the nation. And ND defense averages about 3 sacks per game, among the best in the nation.

      • Do you honestly think that in cold, windy, snowy weather, an Irish offense that gained 12 yards in the second half against Navy will score enough points to cover a 21.5 point spread against a BC team that just beat the 16th ranked team in the country? I’m in Vegas now and I’m greedily anticipating a big payoff by betting against the spread. I’ve also got some money line $$$$s on BC because they feel an awful lot like Marshall and Stanford.

  2. You never know which ND team will show up; will it be the team that rolled up 45 points on UNC or the one that only managed 14 against Stanford. Will it be the team that ran all over Clemson or the one that gave up five sacks and couldn’t run the ball against Navy? It’s been a really weird year. I’m going 31-20 Irish.

  3. They were not NEARLY embarrassed against Navy last week – they WERE embarrassed.

    That being said – who will show up this week? It’s not up to the coaches – it’s up to the PLAYERS, especially the captains. This should be a blowout, but I’m not betting on that – I look for another nail-biter. BC would like nothing more than to beat us @ ND in the final home game of the season and they’ll pull out all the stops.

    • It’s naive to think that coaching doesn’t matter. Navy’s comeback didn’t happen because the Irish players fell asleep.

      • I didn’t say that coaching doesn’t matter – I said that it’s up to the PLAYERS, and if they’re not ready for what BC is going to throw at them tomorrow, as in ALL THEY’VE GOT – it’s THEIR fault. I remember the week after the FSU game in 1993 with BC coming to town Lou Holtz was continually quoted as saying that he couldn’t get the team up for BC and we saw what happened.

        So once again it boils down to the question – who’s going to show up tomorrow?

          • I’ll take that as a compliment – ‘good grief’ indeed.

            I listened to the 1966 Southern Cal game on and off on a shortwave in Turkey while on a mid-watch (10:30 p.m. – 6:30 a.m.) on a shortwave radio.

            Q: – This is YOUR site and the decision is YOURS as to whether or not you will allow me on site – Do you have the cojones to post this or will you block me again?

            Until we meet again.

          • I was sitting on the 50-yard line with my dad when Gus Dorais started chucking the ball to Knute Rockne as the Irish upset Army by 35-13. It was the dawn of the forward pass and the year was 1913. I almost missed the game but we sold our tickets to the maiden voyage of the Titanic the year prior. Made a nice profit but never saw those suckers again.

            Years later, I was Ronald Reagan’s stunt double during the making of “Knute Rockne, All-American” in 1940. Like you, I learned that if Rockne (or Tommy Rees in today’s generation of coaches) could just give a rousing pregame speech, the fired up lads would run onto the field and slaughter Army, BC, or anyone else. Easy peasy.

            When we get old and senile we ND alums tend to romanticize the glory days of Irish football. After a while even a Historian can get disconnected from reality. Don’t worry though – you may be too old to remember most things clearly but you can still run for President.

      • Although both Dan Orlovsky and Bryan Driskell put most of the blame on Pyne for the Navy 2nd half. Both noted Pyne did have open receivers and time to throw the ball but held on too long. Also, Greg Flammang broke down two RPO plays where Pyne handed off when passing to wide open receivers was the correct play.

        • Pyne certainly shares the blame for these failures. He’s not very good but most of his deficiencies are physical rather than mental. One would think three years of coaching by Rees would have him in a better place by now. Honestly, the problem goes back even further. The talent evaluation, recruiting, and development of ND’s quarterbacks has been a disaster for many years now. The program will not be a serious contender until that changes.

          Given three years of teaching, film study and practice, I’m pretty sure I could get a dead cat to make those basic throws. Why can’t Rees and Pyne figure it out? It’s mystifying.

  4. If you play the Irish you make Pyne have to beat you. Fredo will attempt to do that and be pretty successful. ND- 21 Fredo 17. Prepare to yell at your tv.

  5. The dictum is that college prepares you for life, so Jurkovec’s transfer wasn’t about leaving Notre Dame, it was about leaving Brian Kelly who always bungled what he was doing with Fighting Irish quarterbacks. As a five star recruit it must always have been Jurkovec’s goal and everyone else’s expectation he’d be playing in the NFL when he was done with college ball, but riding the bench at Notre Dame wasn’t going to make that come true. Unfortunately, injuries have done him a disservice at Boston College.

    • Stop with the Brian Kelly hate. Jurkovec couldn’t beat out Book at ND and it looks like he can’t beat out Moorhead at BC. The cold truth is that Jurkovec was overrated coming out of high school. Finally, if Kelly is such had bad coach, explain how he took an LSU team that was in shambles and won the toughest conference in college football?

    • I have tremendous respect for PJ, in that he held his mouth shut for so long after he left ND. His comments for which he received some pushback from ND fans were MILD compared to what I would have said. Kelly’s departure is the best thing that has happened to ND FB since Holtz. I hope PJ transfers to a mid-level school and uses his one remaining year of eligibility to light it up and earn an opportunity in the NFL. Fingers crossed. GO IRISH.

      • I’ve got to believe emotions play a huge roll in how a college team plays, but it is the coach’s role to make sure their young men understand what they are up against. How else do you explain the total beatdown of a team like Clemson and the total meltdown in the second half against a team like Navy. Same ND team and same coaches. We have not played two bad games in a row and I believe our boys were embarrassed enough at the end of the Navy game to come out on fire. Look for us to dominate the first half again and then cruise to an easy win. 35-17.

  6. The way the Navy game went coupled with BC’s weak defensive linemen make it hard for me to believe this game is close. We should have 250 yards on the ground and just enough in the air to cruise to a comfortable win.
    ND 31-13.

    • Timothy Miller says:

      Classic trap game. 1993, 2002? Hopefully the team’s experience this year will argue against a letdown. But unfortunately this team has a track record of playing down the competition, so they’ll have to prove me wrong. Nailbiter indeed.

  7. Michael Murray says:

    I think a good question is, which Rees shows up. The one who put the beat down on Clemson or the one who had no idea what to do in the second half of the Navy game.
    I think the Irish win but it’s 21 – 20

    • The more immediate question is what Rees showed up during practice this week? I have no confidence he can lead the offense to a victory in a tight game involving a team with talent somewhat near ND’s talent. He lucked out with Navy; 5 more minutes, and Navy wins.

  8. JVAN,

    The inexperience of both Freeman and Rees showed up last week in the terrible 2nd half of football against a team that was dominated by Delaware!!

    After watching Morehead the last two weeks, he really has a nice touch and gets the ball out quickly. Flowers is going to torch us if we’re not careful. IF he does, the Irish are in trouble..

    This is the bowl game for BC and they will show up in a big way.. Throw the 21 point spread out and it’s emotion that will dictate who wins the game.

    I have a bad feeling that BC takes us down to the final minute just like a bad Cal Berkeley team did earlier this year..

    Irish 28
    BC 27

    • I agree but I’m not sure why people are saying that it’s all about the emotional state of the players. That last for ten minutes tops before the game settles into a more strategic contest. Hafley against Rees seems like a mismatch to me when you look at their comparative credentials. Notre Dame has better players but they must be put in the right position to win.

      • I agree. As Jocko Willink says, (paraphrasing here somewhat) “it has nothing to do with motivation; it has everything to do with discipline.” In essence, motivation = emotion, while discipline = will.

  9. Timothy Miller says:

    Classic trap game. 1993, 2002? Hopefully the team’s experience this year will argue against a letdown. But unfortunately this team has a track record of playing down the competition, so they’ll have to prove me wrong. Nailbiter indeed.

  10. Agreed… Rees does not put players in a position to thrive if you look at the whole of the season. You’ve seen my comments over the last two years about this!

    REES has potential but hasn’t done it yet consistently.. It’s so frustrating to watch every week..

  11. This is a Notre Dame team that lost to a bad Marshall team, a horrible Stanford team, both at home by the way, and almost lost to the mid-shrimp-men in a game that featured the worst half of ND football I can ever remember. Tommy Rees on the job training continues which provides infuriating inconsistency to the offense. And our defense has a habit of making heroes out of opposing QBs. I can easily see a loss so I’m gonna say BC 30, ND 28. Lord I hope I’m wrong.

    • VERY disturbing similarities to the Syracuse game in 2008. Cold and snowy weather, loser team with nothing to gain, Senior Day game, November. The more I look at this game, and consider the outcome in the context of the shitshows of OkSU Fiesta Bowl, Marshall, Cal, Stanford, and Navy, the less and less confidence I can muster. I pray your prediction is wrong, but fear it’s correct. Sad.

  12. Always appreciate your thoughtful pre and post game analyses (no skipping to the end for me!). We’ve had some strange Senior Day games in the past. Hoping (but not expecting) that this will be a thorough beat down of BC from start to finish.

  13. Vannie,
    I’ve given you grief in years past on your predictions, but not this year my friend. I wouldn’t blame you after watching the past 10 games if you said, “Hell if I know” and left it at that. This feels like a game we could win by 28 or lose by 2, especially after what we saw last week and the week prior. Kudos to you for actually attempting a prognostication. I’m going to stick with “Hell if I know”.

    Go IRISH

    • I don’t worry about hitting the correct score because it’s only one game. What I mean by that is I believe my predictions would be pretty close to the mean if the teams played ten times. Since they play only once and weird stuff usually happens, we get what we get. I think many people here do a good job of predicting the outcome based on reasonable logic. It’s just impossible to get everything right on any game, which is why I don’t gamble. I try to be thorough in my research but the actual scores are not at all scientific.

  14. Joe Sukola '74 (Zahm) says:

    So Freeman is learning and I love him and want him to succeed. Reese has a great football mind – never had physical tools to be a great QB. But he has screwed up some things recently -especially Navy second half. Pyne is a gutsy kid but never more than a backup. Tyler big question mark. Go to transfer portal -even with Coan we would be 9 and 1 right now. Weather will definitely be a factor but BC sucks out loud despite decent coaching. Talent and Pride win out ND 28 BC 10.

    • Joe,

      I apologize for yelling at you and your mates from our lounge in Keenan back in the day. I’m sure you had no idea as an incoming freshman that Zahm was a nest of social misfits. I’m glad you came out okay but also relieved they finally shut the doors on that place. I think Norman Bates lived in Zahm before our time. Cheers!

  15. Joe Sukola '74 (Zahm) says:

    Norman lived across the hall from me freshman year -he was pretty normal given rest of Zombies. I went off campus senior year. 74 grad good year ND24bama23 followed shortly by ND71UCLA 70. thanks for great write -ups.

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