Who, and What, to Watch?

Your weekly handful of storylines for Saturday’s contest.

1 – You’re Going the Wrong Way: Notre Dame’s all-or-nothing running game encounters a major challenge in Boston College, the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense in terms of rushing average (2.2), rushing yards per game (71.7), and total defense (236 allowed per).

The Eagles are likewise among the nation’s elite in scoring defense (3rd), third-down defense (2nd), and fewest ventures into their red zone (2nd). As a result the Irish will have to work for every yard it gets on the ground against a stout front that possesses four individual defenders with at least 13.5 tackles-for-loss this season. (For the sake of reference, that was Manti Te’o’s career best season total at Notre Dame.)

“They have controlled defense, they like to move around,” said Irish center Nick Martin. “They're tough players. They play the whole play. And they're older, too, which really helps. They've been in that system for a few years now.”

Roughly 34 percent of competitive-game rushing attempts by the Irish have ended in gains of 2 yards or fewer (none of which include a short-yardage conversion).

Expect at least 15 more Stuffs against the Irish offense tonight – and expect a pair of big gains downfield to either Will Fuller or Torii Hunter to eventually loosen the Eagles’ early stranglehold on Notre Dame’s offense.

2 – No Intangible Edge: The Eagles remarkable defensive performance notwithstanding, Notre Dame is clearly the superior football team. Tangibly, the Irish doubtless are a prohibitive favorite.

"The Temple and Clemson atmospheres prepared us for really being in a team's home town,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the unique nature of being a home team in the opponent’s city. “We think inside will be a partial Notre Dame crowd.”

Inside will also house an angry, hungry, bitter, and vicious defense. One with a chip on its shoulder directed at Notre Dame and one that dwarfs the size of the venue’s 37-foot green wall.

The unique, dichotomous situation surrounding Saturday’s contest is easily explained:

-- One program hates the other while conversely, one is apathetic in that regard
-- One is playing its most important game of the season while the other’s most important date is seven days later.

It’s Boston College’s season-saver vs. Notre Dame’s placeholder prior to bigger things. In short, NOTHING about Saturday’s matchup favors the Irish from the neck up. There’s a reason this series is only 13-9 in Notre Dame’s favor and the Irish are 0-2 vs. the Eagles when ranked as a Top 5 team.

3 – Hey, Great Game!: Boston College’s pre-game media notes included the following statistical leaders: John Fadule, 400 passing yards; Tyler Rouse, 307 rushing yards; Thad Smith, 216 receiving yards.

An impressive game by each to be sure…Of course, the numbers listed represent their Season stats.

Boston College possesses the worst offense in the nation, but every offense is capable of putting together at least one touchdown drive over the course of four quarters. Yet even with the Eagles outstanding defense in tow, a singular touchdown drive won’t be enough to take out the Irish.

A second touchdown, however, could, and that would likely be attained – as it has been by most Irish foes to date – as the result of a big play through the air. If Notre Dame’s secondary does not allow a scoring pass from long range, or a pass to the shadow of its goal, the Irish will not lose to the Eagles Saturday night.

4 – The Better Defensive Front? Not on the season, of course, but Saturday night. Notre Dame has a chance to field the most effective front seven in the park – largely because the Irish will face an offensive line and quarterback they should dominate.

Boston College’s defense owns the gaudy numbers, but Notre Dame has four players up front playing at a championship level. Look for Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, and the surging Romeo Okwara to rule the line of scrimmage inside Fenway Park, and for Jaylon Smith to overwhelm the Eagles with his athleticism.

5 – Scoreboard Watching: On the topic of shared allegiances Saturday, here’s your wish list in order of importance:

-- Baylor to win at Oklahoma State (-1)
-- Stanford (-11) to win against California
-- Michigan State to win at Ohio State (-13)
-- TCU to win at Oklahoma (No line)
-- Purdue to win at Iowa (-21)

And of course:
-- Navy to win at Tulsa
-- USC to win at Oregon
-- Pittsburgh to win against Louisville
-- Temple to defeat Memphis


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