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Notre Dame vs. Boston College: Keys To An Irish Win

By · November 6th, 2008 · 0 Comments
Notre Dame vs. Boston College: Keys To An Irish Win

After a heart-wrenching loss to Pittsburgh, Notre Dame hits the road for the second time in three weeks traveling to the East coast to take on Boston College. The Eagles have owned the series in recent years, but the Irish look to redeem themselves after squandering a two-touchdown lead last week.

Entering Saturday’s contest, neither team has proven much as both have 5-3 records against very pedestrian competition. About the only signature win for the Eagles was against Virginia Tech, while the Irish have yet to beat a team with a respectable resume.

Boston College gets it done in the running game, averaging nearly 150 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry while holding opponents to almost 50 yards per game and a full yard per carry less. On the year, 16 touchdowns have come on the ground for the Eagles.

While the pass defense is also good for the Eagles, their passing offense leaves much to be desired. Boston College has held their opponents to fewer than 170 yards passing per game but has managed only 185 yards per contest. The Eagles also pressure opposing quarterbacks fairly well, recording 21 sacks on the year.

Eagles quarterback Chris Crane has only thrown eight touchdowns (compared to 12 interceptions) and averages only 5.6 yards per attempt and under ten yards per completion. The lone bright spot of the passing game has been allowing only ten sacks on the year.

On third down the Eagle offense converts about 38 percent of the time, while their defense allows opponents to move the chains at a rate of 35 percent. Boston College is +1 in turnover margin and doesn’t commit penalties with any regularity.

The Eagle offense converts red zone opportunities into points 88 percent of the time, coming away with a touchdown about 66 percent of the time. On the opposite side of the ball the defense is very strong in the red zone. Boston College only allows 42 percent of opponent red zone tries to result in touchdowns.

Against an anemic Irish rushing attack and poor front four on defense, the ground game matchup figures to be in favor of Boston College. Conversely, the passing game is advantageous for the Irish as the respectable numbers posted by the Eagle defense are largely a function of their competition.

However, if the red zone trends of both teams continue in this game Notre Dame could be in for a long day. The Irish are woeful inside the 20, particularly scoring touchdowns, and will face a stiff challenge Saturday.


  1. Win the one-on-one battles up front – If recent history is any indication, the Irish offense will test the Eagle secondary by spreading the field and throwing the football. As such, winning the battles up front will be important. Success will require a better effort on the part of the offensive line than they put forth last week. Defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani has been around a while. After watching tape of the Irish against North Carolina and Pittsburgh, he’s sure to know how to defend Notre Dame’s spread passing attack; drop seven or eight, rush three or four, and force quarterback Jimmy Clausen to hold onto the ball. This puts the onus on the Irish front five. If the apposite offensive adjustments are not made and/or Notre Dame’s offensive line cannot play with more fire, this defensive scheme will work well again.
  2. Mix it up – Similar to last week, offensive coordinator Mike Haywood must force Boston College to commit more defenders to the box. Against the Panthers, Haywood mixed the run with the pass and became less predictable in the shotgun. In fact, the Irish offense was at its best mixing the running game with short passes underneath the coverage. Haywood must force Boston College to commit defenders in the box. This will open up the vertical passing game and enable the Irish to employ their best offensive weapon(s).
  3. Run it red – Notre Dame’s poor red zone efficiency can be directly linked to their inept running game. In the first overtime against Pittsburgh, head coach Charlie Weis and Haywood didn’t trust their ground game, instead choosing to continue spreading the field on the three yard line. The spread offense is at a disadvantage on a short field, and the Irish would be better served getting in a tight formation and handing the ball to bruiser James Aldridge. Coming away with touchdowns in this game will be crucial against a stingy Eagle red zone defense.


  1. Tenuta, it’s your time – Crane isn’t efficient, doesn’t throw the ball down the field particularly well, and has 12 interceptions compared to eight touchdowns. This practically begs for pressure early and often. The aggressive, blitzing scheme assistant head coach Jon Tenuta brought to Notre Dame needs to come of age and (finally) wreak havoc on an opposing quarterback. It’s time for phrases like “downhill,” “playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage,” and “not letting the quarterback set his feet” to become more than taglines.
  2. Play it tight – In conjunction with the first point above, the Irish secondary needs to play tight on the outside. This has been a theme all season, but against a team that averages a mere ten yards per completion, it is a foregone conclusion.
  3. Respond to Corwin – Against Stanford the Irish defense responded to Cardinal offensive lineman Chris Marinelli. Now it is time to respond to defensive coordinator Corwin Brown’s challenge. The Irish defense needs to take accountability, play for each other, and show the intensity they are capable of.


More than any of the things listed above, the Irish need to play with passion Saturday. After a disappointing second half of effort against Pittsburgh, the Irish faithful have begun to doubt the team’s resolve. A strong showing against Boston College would go a long way in winning back some trust. Moreover, the Irish will certainly get the Eagles best effort and must match their intensity.

The matchups in the game are typical for Notre Dame and very similar to last week. The keys to winning are obvious but without a good effort execution will, once again, suffer. The strength of Boston College’s offense coincides with the weakness of the Irish defense while the strength of Notre Dame’s offense will be matched up against the weakness of the Eagle defense. The contest will come down to who makes fewer mistakes, who wants it more, and, quite possibly, who plays a more complete game.

So far this season the Irish have lost to every team above them in the AV Ranking. The Irish have also beaten every team below them in the AV Ranking. Heading into this game Boston College and Notre Dame are separated by less than 0.002 points. In other words, this game is a toss-up on paper.

Going 5-3 against a pedestrian schedule doesn’t prove anything. Winning this game might not do much more for Notre Dame’s resume. However, a loss would have the Irish staring a 7-5 season straight in the face. Coming off a three win campaign and with a much more manageable schedule, seven wins is only marginal improvement.



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