Scouting Report

Notre Dame's Fighting Irish travel to Chestnut Hill to play the Eagles of Boston College in a night contest at Alumni Stadium. The Irish are coming off a disappointing home loss to Pittsburgh while the Eagles have their own disappointment from consecutive home losses to North Carolina and Clemson.

Last year Boston College, ranked number four at the time, won at Notre Dame Stadium by a score of 27-14. Charlie Weis is 0-1 against Boston College, while Eagle Head Coach Jeff Jagodzinski is 1-0 against the Irish.

The Irish lead the all time series 9-8, but have lost the last five games dating back to 2001 with a two year hiatus in 2005 and 2006. At Alumni Stadium the Irish are 2-3 against the Eagles.

I think it safe to say that Boston College loves to beat Notre Dame more than any other school. I also think that in some of the more recent graduates of Notre Dame, and among younger fans, there has been an increase in those who would rather beat "BC" as opposed to USC. From an Irish standpoint that's understandable as this rivalry has some hostile elements.

There have been some incidents and situations between the schools, their teams, their students, their alumni, and their fans that have bred hostility. An outsider to the two programs would be hard pressed in ascertaining what has made this such a rivalry since the first game ever played between these two schools didn't occur until 1975 and they are playing only the eighteenth game of the series. Insiders have no problem seeing rivalry red for various reasons.

Some would trace this rivalry back to1941 with Notre Dame luring former Irish player and graduate, Frank Leahy, back to his alma mater to become head coach at Notre Dame. Leahy was coming off an unbeaten season as the Eagles head coach, a win over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, and a 20-2 two year record as the head coach of Boston College. A month after the win in the Sugar Bowl Leahy was off to Notre Dame.

Some would trace it to the institutions being the last two Catholic Universities to engage in Division I football. Bragging rights for the winner between the two Catholic schools is enhanced by their division since Notre Dame is a Roman Catholic University of the Congregation of Holy Cross while Boston College is a Roman Catholic University following the teachings of the Jesuit Order. If you don't understand that one you aren't Catholic.

Some would trace it to 1993 when Notre Dame had just assumed the number one role after beating the former number one, Florida State, only to lose to Boston College 41-39 on a walk-on's last second field goal for Boston College.

Some would trace it to 2002 when Boston College came into Notre Dame, defeated the Irish and Eagle players ripped up chunks of the Notre Dame field holding them above their heads in triumph.

Some would…Aw…shoot. BC doesn't like Notre Dame and Notre Dame doesn't like BC.

Boston College Offense

Boston College is ranked 82nd in total offense with 335 yards per game, 59th in rushing offense with 150 yards per game, and 91st in passing offense with 185 yards per game. The Eagles are 26th in Red Zone offense with 32 trips inside the twenty that have yielded 28 scores consisting of 14 rushing touchdowns, 7 passing touchdowns, and 7 field goals. The Eagles are averaging 28 points a game.

Boston College usually operates from the spread formation and relies on its running game and short passing game to control the ball.

The Eagles are another team that has been fortunate in not having any injuries that cost their offensive linemen any games. All five starters on the offensive linemen have started all eight games for Boston College. The left tackle is sophomore Anthony Castonzo, a sophomore who started all fourteen games last year at right tackle. The left guard is senior Clif Ramsey who started thirteen games in 2007 as the right guard. The center is junior Matt Tennant who is making his twenty-third straight start. The right guard is sophomore Thomas Claiborne who moved from defense to offense this year. The right tackle is sophomore Rich Lapham who backed up in 2007. Last year the Boston College offensive line allowed 22 sacks in a fourteen game season. This year the offensive line has only allowed 10 sacks in eight games. They are in the BC mold, big and aggressive.

Chris Crane, the starting quarterback for Boston College, was the backup to Matt Ryan in 2006 and 2007. He made one start in 2006 in a win over Buffalo, no starts in 2007, and has started all eight of BC's games this season. Crane is averaging 178 yards per game, completing 56% of his passes, and averaging 10 yards per completion. He has 8 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions which weigh heavily in his 98th ranking in NCAA passing efficiency. Inconsistent is the term used by most detractors when referring to Crane. Against North Carolina State he put up 428 yards passing only to drop down to 218 yards passing, 3 interceptions, and 1 fumble the next game against Virginia Tech. Boston college won both games by single digit margins.

Crane is not afraid to run the ball and the Eagles actually employ some read option as part of their running game. Crane will also pull the ball down and take off under pressure or due to coverage. As a runner Crane has 237 yards rushing, when eliminating sack yardage, for an average of 4.9 yards per carry. His longest run this year has been 27 yards.

The rushing is primarily the province of freshmen Josh Haden and Montel Harris. Haden, at 5'8", is another of those "hide behind the line" runners who averages 4.3 yards per carry with a longest run of 20 yards and 1 touchdown. Harris, who was offered a scholarship the week before signing day, is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, has a longest run of 37 yards and has scored 4 touchdowns. Sophomore fullback James McClusky, at 246 pounds, often does the short yardage work and averages 3.7 yards per carry with 1 touchdown. McClusky is third in receptions and has 19 receptions on the year for an average of 7 yards per catch.

The receivers for Boston College are led by senior Brandon Robinson's 27 receptions for a 16 yard average and 2 touchdowns. The Eagles love to send Robinson deep, especially on double moves. Rich Gunnell has 26 receptions for a 9 yard average, 1 touchdown, and he's run one reverse on the season. After fullback McClusky the next highest in receptions is tight end Ryan Purvis with 17 receptions averaging 8 yards. Coming on of late has been 6'6" sophomore Ifeanyi Momah who averages 14 yards per reception and has 3 touchdowns in his 10 receptions.

Boston College Special Teams

BC's field goal kicker is Steve Aponavicius. His field goal accuracy is 58 % on 7 out of 12 field goals. This year his misses have been from 30, 24, 39, 32, and 37 yards. He has missed his last two field goals of 32 and 37 yards last week against Clemson.

The main punter with 28 punts for BC, Ryan Quigley, is averaging 40 yards per punt with a longest of 56 yards. He has placed 5 punts inside the 20 yard line. Boston College's other punter, Billy Flutie, has had 6 punts, is averaging 37 yards per punt with a longest of 42 yards, he has placed 2 punts inside the twenty. BC's punt coverage team allows a paltry 5 yards per return and has not yielded a touchdown.

The kickoffs are done primarily by Billy Bennett who usually kicks to the seven yard line and has 3 touchbacks. The kick return coverage team for BC allows 24 yards per return giving up one touchdown of 100 yards by Tj Graham of North Carolina State.

Punt returns are handled by Rich Gunnell who averages 13 yards per return with a 65 yard touchdown against Virginia Tech.

Kickoffs are almost always returned by Jeff Smith who averages 20 yards per return with a longest of 56 yards and no touchdowns.

Boston College Defense

By allowing only 275 yards per game the Boston College defense ranks 10th among Division I in total defense. The Eagles allow 106 yards rushing, 169 yards passing, and an average of 19 points per game. In the Red Zone the Eagles have only allowed 8 touchdowns and 5 field goals in 19 trips by their opponents.

The Eagles trail Pittsburgh by one sack, having 21 sacks on the season. They trail national leader North Carolina in interceptions by only three with 14 interceptions on the season. They've also had 45 tackles for losses.

The Eagle's front, in their 4-3 defense, is led by its tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace. Together they total 6 sacks, 12 tackles for losses, and plug up the middle with 323 and 324 pounds respectively. Left end Austin Giles has 3 sacks and 5 tackles for losses.

The Boston College linebacking corp, is a highly underrated group, even with the loss of Brian Toal. Mark Herzlich, number 94, is a stud. He's also a quarter-finalist for the Lott Award and on the Butkus Award Watch List. He's hard for a young back to block on blitzes, takes good angles, plays well in space, is a demonic pursuer, leads the team in tackles with 68, tackles for losses with 7, he has 1 sack, and 3 interceptions. Mike linebacker, Mike McLaughlin uses his 252 pounds to clog up running lanes, is second in tackles with 44, second in tackles for losses with 6, he has 2 sacks, and has 1 interception.

The Eagles' secondary starters, as a group, have no highly touted high school recruits. This blend of two star and three star recruits, and their backups, have produced 10 interceptions. The biggest ball hawk is free safety, senior Paul Anderson who has 3 interceptions. Kevin Akins, the boundary corner, has made the move from linebacker to corner. He may be at linebacker more than corner since that's his slot when BC goes into its nickel coverage.

The Game As I See It "Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital." Aaron Levenstein.

Irish Offense

You've heard from me and others this week that Boston College is ranked 10th in total defense among Bowl Championship Schools. That's all well and good, but their three losses have come at the hands of offenses that are ranked 59th, 71st, and 115th. Their five wins have come against one Division II school and four BCS schools whose offenses ranked 80th, 96th, 112th, and 116th.

I'll concede BC their prowess against the run versus the Irish running game, but the Eagles can be passed on. Their defensive passing statistics have been accumulated against the 59th, 71st, 80th, 96, 112th, 113th, and 115th passing offenses. Their losses have been to the 59th, 80th, and 115th passing offenses. Their loss to North Carolina came after the Tar Heels had lost super wide out Brandon Tate in a game against Notre Dame.

Notre Dame should be able to throw against BC. The Eagles have not faced a receiving corps as talented as the Irish receivers. Most likely the Eagles will try to keep everything in front of them forcing the Irish to make long drives to score. BC's strength is against the run, so the Irish need only run to keep them honest. Should the Irish run well the Eagles will have a long night.

The offensive keys will be patient Irish play calling and the patience of Jimmy Clausen. We've seen how a defense can essentially take away the deep ball from the Irish so play calling has to develop some patience versus the throw it up and let Golden Tate or Michael Floyd grab it. Notre Dame needs to use a wider variety of short and intermediate pass plays. Also of note is Clemson's tailback caught 6 passes for 105 yards against the Eagles. Armando Allen should have a career day catching the football.

The Irish offensive line and Clausen will face a well thought out blitz package and possibly a lot of rush three and drop eight. The patience must be there. I can't say that enough. Throw short, dump off, move the chains. Go deep when they creep.

Jimmy Clausen needs to be aware of BC's tendency to jump underneath routes.

Notre Dame Defense

The Irish defense needs to capitalize on Crane eyeballing his receivers too much on anything deep, but they also need to keep him under containment. Were I the Irish defensive staff I'd be attacking the right side of the BC line defensively. The right tackle for BC is slow and sometimes fails to adjust and move well on twists and blitzes that overload him and the guard next to him. I'd love to call stunts and blitzes when that's the case.

The Irish corners must also be aware that BC has to throw the Red Zone jump ball to 6'6" Momah just as Pitt did last week.

I think the Irish can really slow the BC running game. They've faced better runners so it comes down to the Irish front handling the Eagle offensive line.

Special Teams

The Irish can't afford any punt blocks going against them this week. The Eagles spent a lot of time last year on trying to block punts. It carried over this year. Their touchdown return against VT was set up by max protection on VT's end to avoid a block and a good return by BC. The Eagles also blocked a punt against Virginia Tech. Essentially the Eagles out Beamered the Hokies in Beamer Ball and the Irish need to be at their best in special teams play.

The Irish have the advantage in the field goal department as Notre Dame's field goal kicker, Brandon Walker, is hot and Boston College's kicker, Steve Aponavicius, is not. Walker is 7 of his last 8 and Aponavicius is 1 out of his last 4 and all misses have been at distances less than forty yards.

Intangibles

The Eagles' only marquee win was over Virginia Tech. The 5-3 Hokies, whose passing game is inept, gave up 10 penalties, many of the foolish type, and couldn't overcome five BC turnovers. Virginia Tech managed to lose to BC despite the fact the Eagles committed five turnovers. The Hokies lost because of their anemic passing attack and a boatload of penalties.

North Carolina handled the Eagles and the Irish gave their game against the Tar Heels away through turnovers.

The Eagles have not lost three in a row in this decade.

The Eagles could well have lost to the 3-9 Irish last year.

This is a game in which the Irish must match the emotion that BC will bring against them. Notre Dame has no "marquee "game in the win column this year. This is the opportunity to win such a game against a rival, on the road, and in what will be a most hostile setting.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34 BC 24


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