You want numbers? The Boston College defense has numbers.
The Eagles (3-7), who “travel” to Fenway Park this weekend to take on Notre Dame in its Shamrock Series “home game,” can overwhelm any pre-game conversation with statistics.
Boston College is ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense, rush defense, yards per rush and yards per play.
Does anything else need to be said? Perhaps not, but here’s a bit more. Boston College is third in scoring defense, second in third- and fourth-down conversion defense and first in first downs allowed.
“Their numbers speak for themselves,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. “It’s the No. 1 total defense in the country, and deservedly so. They are very difficult to run the football on, a very aggressive defense. They get up in your face. They’re big, physical and strong with outstanding linebackers.”
The Eagles have overwhelmed most of their opponents, including some pretty good offenses like those possessed by Florida State, Northern Illinois and Duke.
Some of the other numbers are worth quoting, simply because they’re so outrageous. The Eagles allowed two first downs to FCS Howard in week two after allowing just eight in week one against Maine, another FCS program.
Florida State managed just 217 yards total offense while Northern Illinois could muster just 153. Duke – the No. 45 total offense in the country – had just 228 yards.
Boston College has an incredible 98 stops behind the line of scrimmage with 31 sacks, and that’s with two games to go. Notre Dame has had more than 31 sacks just once in the last seven seasons. The Irish have just 20 on the season right now.
Six Boston College players have at least eight tackles for loss, including 15 by linebacker Steven Daniels, 13.5 each by linebacker Matt Milano and defensive end Harold Landry, and 13 by defensive end Mehdi Abdesmad, which only qualifies him for fourth on the team.
The most startling stat of all is Boston College’s 2.2 yards per carry. To put that in perspective, if a team took over the football at its own one, it would need 45 runs of 2.2 yards to score a touchdown.
Okay, now that’s going a bit too far with the numbers, which is where we’re headed with this. Make no mistake, this is, at worst, the second best defense Notre Dame has faced in 2015. Clemson is loaded with personnel that will play on Sundays.
But is it really that good? The Eagles have pounded poor offenses, holding No. 112 total offense Wake Forest to 142 yards and No. 88 total offense Virginia Tech to 275 yards.
When Boston College faced Clemson’s No. 19-ranked total offense, it allowed 532 yards, including a 420-yard passing day by quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Tigers had scoring drives of seven plays, 75 yards; seven plays, 66 yards; 11 plays, 80 yards; six plays, 98 yards; and nine plays, 85 yards.
Two weeks ago against North Carolina State, the Wolfpack scored on an 83-yard pass and had a seven-play, 84-yard drive.
The good fortune of the schedule draw – including those FCS schools -- finds Boston College missing North Carolina and its No. 20 total offense.
“I would say we have to be a little more aggressive,” said Kelly when asked about Notre Dame’s sporadic offensive production against Wake Forest.
“I thought we were a little conservative at times. We probably need to be a little more aggressive in the areas where we’ve been pushing the ball vertically. We’ll get back to being more aggressive offensively.”
Look for the Irish to throw early and often against Boston College. As great as the Eagles’ defensive numbers are, nine of their 31 sacks came against Maine and Howard. Remember, the Howard game was so uncompetitive that a) Boston College scored 76 points despite its anemic offense and b) the officials had a running clock in the second half to put a quicker end to the debacle.
Kelly likely will have those tough, physical Boston College linebackers and ends running all over the field as the offense stretches the football field to its full width. Don’t be surprised if the Irish exceed their high-water mark in passing attempts (36 vs. Temple).
You don’t run the ball to set up the pass against Boston College; you pass the ball until you force their overloaded box to loosen up.
“I don’t think you can make a living with this team or win or score enough points just trying to stack three-yard runs against them,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a long day (if you do that). They would hope that’s the way you play the game.
“We’ve got to try to find explosive plays, so that’s why C.J. Prosise needs to be in this game.”
Quick-outs to the sideline, bunched trips formations with quick passes to the back man of the three, shovel passes, push-passes to get Prosise and Josh Adams to the edge, up-and-out routes to the sideline, maybe even some reverse runs…anything to get the Boston College defense moving laterally will be in Notre Dame’s arsenal against the Eagles, which makes a living taking everything away between the hash marks.
By the end of Saturday’s Fenway Fracas, we’ll know just how good the Boston College defense is…or isn’t.