Irish Eyes Scouting Report

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame hosts the Eagles of Boston College this week. Boston College enters the game ranked higher, at number four, than they've ever been ranked against the Irish. Boston College has also won the last four games against Notre Dame. No true Irish fan needs to be reminded of some of the past heartbreak brought about by the Eagles defeating the Irish.

The series, which Notre Dame leads 9 – 7, began in 1975 and arguably pits the two preeminent Catholic Schools in the nation, two different Catholic orders, the Congregation of Holy Cross and Jesuits, and there's also a great deal of animosity between the fan bases of both schools. Charges of snobbery and second choice U are among the constants in the banter of alumni and fans.

In short, the Notre Dame – Boston College match-up has escalated into a Holy War on the gridiron to many alumni and fans on either side. Truthfully, a victory over Boston College this year would soothe my need for revenge and would be more desirable to me than a win over USC. If you once told me I'd ever say that I'd have called you nuts. Boston College, under the tutelage of Tom O'Brien, from 1996 to 2006, is now headed by Jeff Jagodzinski in his first year at Boston College. Jagodinski, a coach for twenty-three of his forty-three years, a former Packer offensive coordinator, and a former Boston College offensive coordinator, seems to be carrying the program forward as Boston College has a chance for their first unbeaten season since Notre Dame's Frank Leahy roamed the Eagle's sideline.

I've seen Boston College against Bowling Green, with snippets against Georgia Tech and Army. It's not hard to see why the Eagles are 7 – 0. The Eagles took it to Georgia Tech on the road and have won six others at home, including a win over Wake Forest.

Boston College Offense

The Eagles average 454 yards of total offense per game with the average play netting 5.8 yards. That ranks them twenty-first in Division I right behind Purdue and Southern California making the Eagles one of the better offenses that the Irish face this year. Their passing offense, ranked eleventh, averages 314 yards per game, while their rushing offense averages 140 yards per game.

The Boston College offense has been termed a West Coast offense. It uses multiple sets to stretch the field, often splits wide receivers clear off the television screen, uses the quarterback under center and in the shotgun, and employs one back and I formations sets with a tight end in at fullback. Their short and intermediate passing game can lull a defense to sleep because Boston College likes to go deep and offensive coordinator, Steve Logan, spends a lot of time on this aspect of the Eagle passing game in practice.

The running game, though not an afterthought, is secondary to the passing game, but does keeps defenses honest. The tailback, Andre Callender, doesn't have the speed of past Boston College tailbacks, but he reads his blocking well, cuts extremely well, is shifty in the open field, and has enough speed to go the distance having a 69 yard TD run. His rushing stats are 537 yards for an average of 5.1 YPC and six TDs. He also catches the ball well, exhibited by his sixteen catches for 176 yards and two TD's, including a 51 yard screen pass against Bowling Green. Blocking for Callender when the Eagles are in the I formation is tight end Ryan Thompson, who blocks more like a basketball player than a fullback in that his blocks look like basketball screens. Thompson's main job is coming out of the backfield to catch passes, be an outlet for quarterback Matt Ryan, or occupy a defensive player.

Matt Ryan, senior quarterback, is a cliché of sorts in the image of a calm, cool, and collected leader, and I mean that as a compliment. Confident leadership is what coaches want from their quarterbacks and he oozes it. He's never in a rush as he moves to the line of scrimmage surveying the defense. Offensive coordinator, Steve Logan, gets the plays in and Ryan always seems to have a lot of time before the play clock winds down. Whether he has more time than any other quarterback is argumentative, but he and the Eagles never seem rushed, always seem in control, and this projects a confident offense to the defenses they face. Ryan can make all the throws, long, middle, and short, with zip and with touch. He reads defenses well and he certainly reads his progressions well. In short, Ryan is the best quarterback the Irish have faced or will face this year and will play at the next level.

As a starter Ryan is 24 – 4.

To further illustrate Ryan's ability one need only look at the Georgia Tech game where Ryan averaged ten yards per attempt, completing thirty of forty-four for 435 yards. That's a first down every time he fades back. Gaudy numbers against a team that humbled the Irish.

Ryan's receivers have no one in the roll of a Derrick Mayes, a consistant go to guy that gets most of the receptions. Most of his wide receivers are in the 5'8" to 5'11" range. Ryan spreads the ball around and no Eagle receiver averages five receptions a game, but they are all comptetent and do a good job after the catch. That could change, especially in the red zone with the emerging Justin Jarvis, a six foot five sophomore who saw a lot of playing time against Bowling Green.The tailbacks, often in motion, get their share of passes in the Eagle passing offense.

The Eagle offensive line is impressive especially at tackle with a veteran senior, left tackle Gosder Cherilios, and freshman right tackle Anthony Castanzo. Both tackles are six seven, giving them that great wingspan that offensive line coaches love, both have excellent footwork, quickness, are good at blitz pickup, and are determined blockers. The guards and center do an excellent job of doubling then sliding off to pick up another defensive player. This is the best coached offensive line I've seen this year. It's certainly good enough to allow motion out of the set by the lone back allowing five receiver patterns for Ryan. Against Georgia Tech's vaunted blitz schemes it allowed only two sacks for twelve yards and has given up only six sacks on the year.

Boston College Defense

Boston College is one of the nation's best against the run. They are third in the nation allowing only 49.7 yards per game. Boston College is also one of the nation's best at intercepting passes. They have sixteen interceptions which ties them with Cincinnati for first in the NCAA. Boston College has sixteen sacks. These three aspects of the Eagle defense are not good omens for the Notre Dame offense.

Boston College isn't afraid of playing a lot of people on defense, both on the defensive line and in the back seven. Who they play and when will depend on what Weis comes out with offensively, but I don't look for many straight 4–3 looks with the starters normally listed on their depth chart.

Frank Spaziani, in his ninth year as Eagle defensive coordinator, does an excellent job scheming. His alignments feature varied fronts, various player packages, straight and zone blitzes, one, sometimes two defensive linemen dropping into passing lanes, and he changes up frequently making it harder on young quarterbacks.

The Eagles' linebackers and secondary do a good job keeping everything in front of them and making the tackle. Only once did the secondary allow any Bowling Green receiver to get behind them. At one point the Eagle defense intercepted passes in four consecutive series, returning two for touchdowns, thereby deciding the Bowling Green game early. Before the debacle occurred the Falcons were doing a good job of taking what Boston College gave them by hitting a lot of crossing routes underneath the linebackers and using five and ten yard out cuts. Bowling Green completed thirty-seven of fifty eight passes against the Eagles in their wide open offense.

Boston College's defense won't make the media noise like a Georgia Tech's will, but they are solid, pursue well, and most importantly, tackle well. Also, they held Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice to 31 yards and a 2.1 yards per carry, so the who have they played argument doesn't fly in this aspect of their defense.

Boston College Special Teams

The Eagle's kickoff man, Billy Bennett, can consistently get the ball deep on kickoffs and has demonstrated so, but for some reason Boston College will squib kick as much as they kick deep. I don't understand why they do so since they haven't given up a kickoff return for a touchdown and average barely over eighteen yards a return. Of course, if that return is off a squib the opponent gets the ball much closer to the fifty than if the Eagles would kick deep. I suppose they have an answer for such strategy, but that would be another article. Personally, I hate the squib and the field position it gives up.

Boston College's field goal kicker Steve Aponavicius is seven for eight this season with a long of forty-five yards and the lone miss in the forty to forty-nine yard range. He's twenty-four of twenty-six on extra points.

Johnny Ayers, the punter averages 40.9 per punt and hasn't had one run back or blocked.

The Eagles pun coverage team only allow 6.44 yards per punt return.

Neither the punt return team nor the kick off return team has returned one for a touchdown this year for Boston College, not do they exhibit any flashy stats in either return game.

Match Ups I Find Interesting

The left defensive end for the Irish will go against a freshman right tackle, Anthony Castonzo, who only weighs 262 pounds. Can Notre Dame's freshmen duo of Smith and O'Neal beat Castonzo to get to Ryan?

The right guard for Norte Dame may face number sixty, 325 pound Ron Brace, who is hard to move on running plays and once he comes on a bull rush and comes clear he's surprisingly mobile for his size. Eric Olson or Chris Stewart will face a huge test. Irish left tackle Sam Young and Paul Duncan line up against light but quick defensive ends. The Irish will have sixty to seventy pound weight advantages in these two matchups. Charlie Weis versus the Eagle defensive coordinator, Frank Spaziani, for the first time really interests me. What does Spaziani forsee and prepare for as the Irish game plan? Bowling Green was a no brainer as to what they would run offensively and Spaziani had a masterful defensive plan that the Eagles implemented very well. What will Charlie implement for the Irish this week in terms of scheme, the running game, and the routes he chooses to run? What will Spaziani's schemes be for the Irish?

Corwin Brown goes head to head with Boston College offensive coordinator, Steve Logan, for the first time as well. Will Brown dial up the blitz packages and stick with them for Boston College? If so, and they are successful, what does Logan do to counter? Or perhaps the Eagle offensive line is good enough to counter any blitz packages that Brown employs.

Keys to the Game

Boston College will run the football, mainly to keep the defense honest. However, Boston College, offensively, is Matt Ryan throwing the ball. If he has the time he'll probably pick the Irish apart.

Will the Eagles show up with fire because they are playing Notre Dame in South Bend, or will they be a little flat like they were against Army?

The Irish must be able to put together TWO complete halves of football.

The Irish need to show some semblance of balance offensively.

The Irish need to tackle far better than they have this season.

Too many three and outs by the Irish offense dooms the chance of winning.

Prediction: Boston College 33 Notre Dame 17 Top Stories