Boston College - Notre Dame Preview
Both the Eagles and Fighting Irish will come into Saturday's game looking to erase the memory of last weekend. The Eagles were trounced by Syracuse 39-14 in the Carrier Dome while the Irish were humiliated at home by the USC Trojans 45-14. Needless to say, both the 4-3 Eagles and 2-4 Irish desperately need a victory on Saturday. Boston College will be seeking their third consecutive win over Notre Dame and fourth in five tries. Since the series began, the Eagles are 5-6 against the Irish. Here is my analysis:
When BC passes
Quinton Porter seems to be maturing as a quarterback. His numbers over the past two weeks (38 of 52, 557 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT) are very solid. He's also shown some mobility which has been necessary given the pass rush that he has faced. BC fans should be excited about the emergence of DB-turned-receiver Larry Lester. Lester has caught five passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns over the past two games. Notre Dame's pass defense is a bit of an enigma. The Irish have two outstanding defensive backs in senior cornerback Vontez Duff (a first team preseason All American according to Street and Smith) and senior strong safety Glenn Earl, yet the Irish are ranked 90th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Last week, USC receivers were open all day long. Notre Dame's pass rush was devastating two weeks ago when they sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford eight times. Defensive end Justin Tuck has six sacks in the last three games and is now 5th in the nation in sacks per game. This could be trouble for the Eagles who did an extremely poor job protecting Quinton Porter last week, surrendering five sacks. Analysis: Statistically, the advantage clearly goes to BC, but I'm not convinced that is a great matchup for the Eagles because of Notre Dame's ability to rush the passer. If Porter has time to throw, he will have another big day. If he doesn't, the Irish could use the pass rush to force turnovers. I'll give BC a slight advantage based on Porter's improvement over the past few games.
Advantage: Boston College
When BC runs
Derrick Knight had been decimating defenses all season, but could not get anything going last week against Syracuse. The nation's leading rusher accumulated only 51 yards on 19 carries on Saturday. Was Knight adversely effected by the Eagles 3am arrival in Syracuse? Who knows. I expect Knight to rebound this week but it won't be easy. Notre Dame's strength this season has been its run defense which has allowed only 3.1 yards per rush against some very good competition. The Irish defensive line is led by the aforementioned Justin Tuck who is third on the Irish with 36 tackles. At linebacker, Notre Dame's top dog is senior Courtney Watson, a preseason Street and Smith First Team All American. Watson is the team leader in tackles with 56, four of those for lost yardage. Junior Brandon Hoyte has done an excellent job replacing Mike Goolsby. Hoyte has 38 tackles, 5.5 for lost yardage. BC could have an advantage because of their big offensive line. The Eagle offensive line averages 313 pounds as compared to Notre Dame's defensive front four which averages 277. Analysis: This will be a great matchup on Saturday. BC's strength against Notre Dame's strength. I'll give BC a very slight advantage because of their size advantage. This could become more apparent late in the game, especially if BC if effective running the ball early. Thirty carries for Derrick Knight would be very good news for BC.
Advantage: Boston College
When Notre Dame Passes
The best word to describe Notre Dame's passing game is ugly. The Irish are currently 104th in the nation (out of 117 teams) in passing efficiency and they have earned it. Head coach Ty Willingham replaced ineffective starting quarterback Carlyle Holiday with true Freshman Brady Quinn. Quinn has shown some promise, but he is still learning on the job as his statistics will attest: a 43.1% completion rate with 637 yards, 3 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. All told, Irish quarterbacks have completed 44% of their throws with 4 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Both Holiday and Quinn have seen action in every Notre Dame game. Like BC, the Irish have no prolific receiver. Talented Sophomore Rhema McKnight leads the Irish in all receiving categories (22 catches, 232 yards, 2 TD). Senior Omar Jenkins has failed to live up to an excellent 2002 campaign in which he had 633 receiving yards. He has 18 catches for only 154 yards this season. Maurice Stovall has been nearly non-existent except for a 9 reception, 171 yard game against Purdue. The Eagle pass defense remains highly rated (29th nationally) but could not stop Syracuse quarterback RJ Anderson last week, whether he was passing or running. BC has shown little ability to produce sacks, but Notre Dame has shown little ability to prevent them. Irish opponents have 19 sacks in six games. Analysis: Brady Quinn is still in the learning process and I'm going to give BC's defensive backfield the benefit of the doubt and say that they were adversely impacted by the 3am arrival the night before the Syracuse game. This could be a chance for BC to get the pass rush jump-started. I expected Mathias Kiwanuka, who was one of the few bright spots last week, to put a lot of pressure on the Notre Dame quarterbacks.
Advantage: Boston College
When Notre Dame Runs
Two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, the Irish found a running game when senior running back Julius Jones set a Notre Dame record for rushing yards in a game with 262 (on 24 carries). This, after Jones had rushed for a paltry 38 yards on 21 carries over the previous two weeks. After a great start last week against USC, the Irish ground game again came to a grinding halt. For the season, the inconsistent Jones has rushed for 498 yards (an impressive 5.9 average) and 4 touchdowns. Take away the Pittsburgh game and his totals are 236 yards for an average of 3.9 yards per rush. Junior Ryan Grant hasn't fared well since the season opener. He's carried the ball the same number of times as Jones, but is averaging just 3.2 yards per rush. Boston College's run defense has been very good at times. Last week they held Syracuse's Walter Reyes in check, but could not stop quarterback RJ Anderson who rushed for 73 yards on 12 carries last week. Notre Dame's inconsistency with the running game surely has a lot to do with the inexperience of the offensive line which replaced all of its starters from last season. Analysis: The big question is which Julius Jones will show up on Saturday afternoon. If it is the one who ran wild against Pittsburgh, BC could be in trouble. If we see the Julius Jones that gained less that two yards per carry against Michigan State and Purdue, the Eagles should have a very good game defensively. Though Holiday, who will probably see limited action, has some running ability, I don't expect to see a repeat of what RJ Anderson accomplished last week. Quinn is not a likely running threat.
Advantage: Boston College
Last week, Julius Jones became Notre Dame's all-time leader in kickoff return yardage. He needs just 3 yards to pass Tim Brown to become the all-time leader in total return yardage (kickoff and punts). This season, Jones is averaging only 18.8 yards per kickoff return while Vontez Duff leads the team with an average of 22.4 yards per return (the same average as BC's Will Blackmon). Duff has been the main man on punt returns, averaging a very good 13.0 yards per return (as compared to 10.0 for Blackmon). Notre Dame's kicking game is normally on the capable foot of Nick Setta. Setta has made 9 of 10 field goals this season and is averaging 40.9 yards per punt, but has missed two consecutive games and may not play against BC (I have no definitive information). Setta's replacement at both kicker and punter is DJ Fitzpatrick who is 2 for 4 in field goal attempts and is averaging a weak 36.1 yards per punt. Analysis: Notre Dame would have a major advantage in the kicking game if Setta were playing. Vontez Duff has been a better punt returner than Will Blackmon so I'll give the small edge in special teams to Notre Dame.
Advantage: Notre Dame
This Saturday's game will be a matchup of two teams that have been a disappointment this season. Notre Dame has played a very tough schedule so the 2-4 record is probably not as upsetting to their fans as the way they have played. The Irish have been outscored by an average of 13 points per game and if not for an amazing fourth quarter comeback in the opener against Washington State, the Irish would be 1-5. They were absolutely demolished by Michigan and USC. After winning four of five games, the Eagles expected to beat the Orangemen last week, but were routed 39-14 in a key Big East game. Lack of emotion should not be a problem this week for either team. The Irish would love to avenge the 14-7 loss to BC last year and erase memories of last week's beating at the hands of the Trojans. The Eagles will need to rebound from a beating of their own and a loss this week could jeopardize the Eagles chances for a fifth consecutive bowl game.
The Irish are a difficult team to judge because of the murderous schedule they have played. The Irish have played five teams in the top 15 in the country. Last season, Notre Dame won because of big plays and turnovers. The Irish scored nine touchdowns last season via a punt, kickoff, interception or fumble. This season they have not scored by any of those methods. In fact, the Irish are -3 in turnovers for the year. It is critical that BC forces Notre Dame to earn their scores and not give them a short field to work with. The Irish offense has rarely been capable of moving the ball for long drives and their red zone efficiency has been very weak (only 3 TD and 9 FG in 16 red zone trips). Notre Dame has had five plays of 25 or more yards in each win but two or fewer such plays in each of their four losses so big plays remain a key to their success. BC also needs to avoid penalties which have killed them all season. The Eagles have been called for more penalties (10 per game) than all but seven Division 1-A teams. The key to the game for BC, other than not making big mistakes, will be to contain Julius Jones. If the Irish can't run the ball effectively, they will have little hope of generating a passing game. The Irish have been terrible in third down situations this year (103rd in the nation at 30.8%) so the Eagles will benefit greatly from slowing the Irish ground game and forcing them into passing situations. Gaining yards on the ground with Derrick Knight may be tough again this week so Quinton Porter will need to continue to look downfield. He has plenty of options and Vontez Duff can't cover all of them. My biggest worry is the Notre Dame pass rush. If the Irish are getting to Porter, the offense will need to make better adjustments than they did a week ago. It will be very good news for BC if Nick Setta is not able to play. I expect a very close, low-scoring game on Saturday afternoon. I think BC has the mental edge after two consecutive wins over the Irish and playing at home won't hurt.
Final Score: Boston College 20 Notre Dame 16