Weis Turns to Boston College

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to talk about Boston College. Weis has been impressed with what he has seen out of Boston College quarterback Chris Crane in replacing Matt Ryan and with the Eagles' defense.

Charlie Weis and Notre Dame will try to put the memory of a difficult lost to Pittsburgh behind them with a win at Boston College this weekend, but it will not be easy.

"Obviously, Boston College is sitting in a similar situation as us at 5-3," Weis said. "One of the things they've done very well, in their non-conference games since 2004 they've won 20 in a row."

Heading to Chestnut Hill will give the Irish a chance to pick up their second win on the road this season.

"This will be a very hostile crowd on Saturday night at little bit after 8 o'clock," said Weis. "It's a small stadium and it's right on top of you and it's kind of an us-against-the-world type mentality and I think that that's the way the players are going to have to go in there."

Last year, the Eagles were led by Matt Ryan, who was the first quarterback taken in April's NFL Draft and has been impressive as a rookie, but the Notre Dame staff has seen that his backup, Chris Crane, has stepped up nicely.

"Everyone will say because they lost the quarterback last year when he went on to the Falcons that there'd be a huge drop off, but Chris Crane has really done a nice job for them," Weis said. "He'd been the backup for the last couple of years and he's a senior who has kind of paid his dues and waited his time. He's not the same type of quarterback, he's actually a guy who likes to run the ball a little bit more and is not afraid to run it.

"They actually do that, run some read-option with him actually carrying the ball. The other thing is, if he doesn't see something in the passing game open, he's not afraid to pull it down and go. He does a nice job of feeling pressure, avoiding the rush and getting out of the pocket and throwing the ball away when he's under duress."

BC also has some new faces at running back where they play two true freshmen in 5-foot-8, 198-pound Josh Haden and 5-10, 192-pound Montel Harris.

"We'll probably see Haden as the starter, he's been their starter," Weis said. "Last week he had 15 carries for 71 yards. He's not a big guy, but he runs hard, he's very quick and he's also a good receiver out of the backfield."

Not much changes when Harris comes onto the field.

"He's not that much different than Haden," said Weis. "They're not real big guys, but they're both backs that run real hard."

Sophomore James McCluskey is the starter at fullback and will give Crane an athletic option out of the backfield.

Ryan Purvis will give Crane a big target at tight end that can also block.

"Big guy, 6-4, 260, but he's still got good hands," Weis said. "He's a good receiver, runs good routes. He really gives good effort at both protection and especially in the run game."

The Eagles have weapons at wideout with last year's top receiver, Rich Gunnell, back while Brandon Robinson has become the number one target in 2008. Boston College will play a number of guys at receiver, but 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore Ifeanyi Momah caught Weis' attention.

"Where they really like to put him in the game is in the red zone and after watching (Jonathan) Baldwin play the other day, I could see them seeing some things that happened in the game and trying to use him in the same way," he said.

The BC offensive line features a number of players who have moved from different positions, but it has allowed just 10 sacks all year.

"It's a nice composition of players," Weis said.

Junior center Matt Tennant is the leader of the group.

"The whole offensive line starts with Tennant. He's their center, he's a returner, he's the most experienced guy they've got, he's started 22 games, he's athletic," Weis said. "He reminds me a lot of Dan Koppen to tell you the truth, who is another BC guy who I coached. He gets on the second level, he moves OK. He's a try-hard guy who plays physical."

6-3, 323-pound Thomas Claiborne is the starter at right guard, inside of tackle Rich Lapham.

"That right side of their line with Lapham right next to him, he's 6-8, 322, so they've got some really good size over on the right side of their line," said Weis.

The Boston College defense is the most impressive unit on the team. The Eagles are ranked in the top 30 nationally in sacks (21, 28th), points per game (19.0, 27th), rushing yards allowed (106.25, 19th), passing yards allowed (168.5, 14th) and total yards (274.75, 10th).

"So they're statistically up there in a whole bunch of different categories," Weis said.

Weis said that the Eagles, at least going by the numbers, are the best defense that Notre Dame has faced this year.

"Statistically, it's not close. They're different than a lot of teams that we've played because they've shown statistically that they're good against both the run and the pass," he said. "Usually there's one side that they do the best. Like they'll shut down the running game and everyone has to throw against them, but people have had trouble running against them and people have had trouble throwing against them. So I would say that they're definitely the most balanced defense that we've gone against."

Weis gave a lot of the credit for the defense's success to defensive tackles Ron Brace and B.J. Raji.

"Their defensive line starts with the two big bodies inside," he said. "Brace and Raji, these guys are big guys. They're both well over 300 pounds, they're very good against the run, big, physical players and one of the reasons they're playing so solid on defense is because it all starts with those two guys up front."

Mike McLaughlin will play middle linebacker and Robert Francois will play the weak side, but it is strong side linebacker Mark Herzlich who caught Weis' eye on tape.

"The guy who is their big adjuster in all the do, which gives them a lot of versatility is Herzlich," he said. "You'll see him all over the field, he plays physical, he's a good tackler, he's smart, he's tough, he runs to the ball and what it looks like to me, it looks like he's a leader on that defense."

Cornerback Kevin Akins gives the Eagles a similar type of flexibility.

"He starts as their boundary corner, but when they go to nickel, he moves inside to linebacker, which is a very unusual combination. He also when they run this odd package, he's the guy that will walk all over the place," said Weis. "He gives them a lot of versatility."

Boston College has threats in both return games too.

"The biggest problem we have is their punt returns are averaging just under 15 yards a punt return," Weis said. "(Jeff) Smith has a reputation as an All-American type kickoff returner."

Weis also said that it is doubtful that right guard Chris Stewart would be available and that he would be replaced by freshman Trevor Robinson.

"He had an MRI yesterday and we'll get the results back today. I would imagine, just from looking at him, I'd imagine that he'd be gone for awhile. Based off a MRI, it could be when they come back he might have to get it scoped," he said. "I don't want to be premature with what I'm saying, but just looking at him it didn't look like he'd be ready for awhile. So that just means we move Trevor up and let's go."


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