*Nailed the helmet
Boston College (+16.5) at Notre Dame
Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts
Kickoff: 7:30 PM ET
Date: Saturday, November 21, 2015
Television: NBC Sports Network
Here is the One Foot Down preview for Saturday night's Shamrock Series matchup with Boston College.
Fenway Park Part II
This won't be the first time Notre Dame plays a football game inside Fenway Park. Way back in week 3 of 1944--when Frank Leahy and some of the team's best players were off fighting WWII--the Irish traveled to Boston as the No. 1 team to play Dartmouth for the first time. Notre Dame won that day inside Fenway 64-0 and also shutout Darmouth again (34-0) in South Bend a year later. That was the last time the Irish played the Big Green.
A collection of pro teams played football at Fenway beginning in the 1920's and culminating with the Boston (now New England) Patriots playing their home games there in the late 60's. In addition to Dartmouth, the Green Monster also hosted Boston University and Boston College's squads for football games on occasion through the years.
Spread the Wealth
Boston College has started (and played) more players on offense than any team I can remember previewing in recent years. As such, they've given the ball to a lot of different athletes. Through 10 games 5 players have carried the ball at least 50 times and 8 players have at least 20 carries. The leading rusher coming into the Notre Dame game is running back Tyler Rouse with 303 yards.
Spread the Wealth Part II
The Eagles' situation at quarterback has not been fun for anyone. Their opening day starter Darius Wade was lost for the season due to injury in week 3, and thanks to other medical ailments, BC has started 4 different quarterbacks so far this year. Each of those quarterbacks has thrown at least 40 pass attempts. As a whole, it's been a brutal campaign to watch as they've combined for 45.5% accuracy, 5.8 yards per attempt, and 7 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.
A Whole New Offense
No, I'm not talking about a new scheme for Boston College--although they've tweaked things since Florida grad transfer Tyler Murphy left after one season of great running from the quarterback position.
The Eagles came into 2015 welcoming back just 3 full-time starters from last fall in running back Jon Hilliman, wide receiver Dan Crimmins, and tight end Michael Giacone. With Crimmins leaving the team during the off-season and both Hilliman and Giacone lost for the season due to injury that means BC is bringing an entire new starting 11 into this game compared to last year. The only asterisk to that stat would be receiver Charlie Callinan who technically made 9 starts last year but finished as the Eagles' 5th leading wideout.
Being a Dude
Head coach Steve Addazio is finishing up his 3rd season in Chestnut Hill and has lost most of the momentum sustained through his first 2 years. Not long ago, he was the much ridiculed assistant coach at Florida for his caveman-like approach to offense then he took over the Temple job from Al Golden when the latter left for Miami.
After a nice first year in Philadelphia, the second year with Temple didn't go so well but Addazio was able to parlay things into acquiring the Boston College job. After back-to-back 7-6 seasons and bowl losses the Eagles now stand 3-7 on the season. A trip next week to the Carrier Dome against Syracuse will be their last opportunity for a victory in the ACC. If they are unsuccessful Boston College will finish 0-8 in league play for the first time ever.
4 Players to Watch
QB John Fadule
Notre Dame will be facing a true freshman walk-on quarterback making his 2nd career start this Saturday. Sophomore Darius Wade broke his ankle in week 3, leaving redshirt freshman Troy Flutie and freshman Jeff Smith to jostle back and forth for snaps before Smith emerged as the guy in mid-October. Then, Smith suffered a concussion (hasn't played since) and BC gave Fadule a shot over Flutie against Virginia Tech before his first career start against NC State.
All we know of Fadule is that he's built a lot like Malik Zaire with decent running skills and threw for an Addazio Era high 257 yards in BC's last game against NC State. Granted, nearly half those yards (126) came in the 4th quarter garbage time while trailing 24-0 to the Wolfpack.
PK Mike Knoll
Boston College has a solid punter in Alex Howell. However, Howell has been nursing a quad injury that apparently has not been improving and he gave up the place-kicking and kickoff duties earlier this year. Sophomore Mike Knoll has only attempted 8 field goals (he's made 5) over his career while backup freshman Colton Lichtenberg has made just 1 of 4 attempts this year.
This is something to keep an eye on for a team that struggles mightily to score, and generally has poor special teams. Also, Lichtenberg has only notched 4 touchbacks on 17 kickoffs this year.
DE Mehdi Abdesmad
The 5th-year senior from Montreal has dealt with a lot of injuries (missed the last 10 games last year receiving a medical redshirt) over his career but is finally staying healthy for once. At 6-7 watch for Adbesmad's length to cause some problems especially on some of Notre Dame's slower developing outside runs. On the season, he's totaled 38 tackles, 13 TFL, and 4.5 sacks.
LB Steven Daniels
Daniels will be making his 24th career start this weekend and is the leader of the linebackers from the Mike position. The senior from Cincinnati is really active and leads Boston College with 15 tackles for loss. He's also put up 6 sacks and 1 interception among his 70 total tackles.
BC's Front Seven
Boston College leads the country in tackles for loss and is tied for 8th nationally in sacks. Think they haven't played a tough enough schedule for that to matter? The Eagles' defense is loved by the advanced stats and they still are #2 in Havoc Rate and #1 among D-line Havoc Rate. This could be a game where it's very difficult to surpass the 100-yard rushing mark for Notre Dame.
Surprises on Offense
The Eagles offense is so bad (127th FEI & 125th S&P, both worst among Power 5 teams) that it might not matter at all. However, there have been so many moving parts on the BC offense and so little film on quarterback John Fadule that the Eagles could devise an entire wacky gameplan for Notre Dame that does just enough to eek out an extra 6 to 10 points and make this a super tight game.
Shamrock Series Nightmares
The annual Shamrock Series has mostly been a painless neutral site entertainment spectacle for the Irish since its inception in 2009. Notre Dame is currently 6-0 in these games and won each game by an average score of 37 to 15. Despite a somewhat tight game in 2013 against Arizona State each contest has been more of a blowout than a competitive game.
This would be a terrible time to lose the first Shamrock Series game. Playing at Fenway against Boston College is a ballsy move and certainly tempts fate against a program that has relished playing spoiler to Notre Dame in the past. Losing the game would be terrible enough but it would accompany a cacophony of hissing about the absurdity of the traveling road show, the uniforms, etc. etc.
2 Sides of the Ball
The Eagles headed into this season with serious question marks on the offensive line as they had to replace all 5 full-time starters from 2014. The only player for 2015 with starting experience coming into the fall was 6th-year senior Harris Williams (6-3, 296) who played all of 2013 at guard but suffered a broken ankle in the first game of 2014 and missed the rest of the season. He started out at right guard for 3 games this season but has been at left guard since.
Sophomore Jon Baker (6-3, 293) began the season at left guard and has switched to center since the 4th game. Redshirt junior Frank Taylor (6-3, 289) started at center early in the year but is now on the bench. Over the last 7 games at right guard the Eagles have turned to true freshman Chris Lindstrom (6-4, 260).
Left tackle was manned by 5th-year senior Dave Bowen (6-7, 289) for BC's first 7 games but he has been benched in favor of true freshman Aaron Montiero (6-7, 336) for the last 3 games. On the right side, redshirt junior Jim Cashman (6-7, 302) made the first 7 starts, then gave way to redshirt freshman James Hendren (6-7, 293) for 2 games, before Bowen got the last start against NC State.
If the lineup holds from Boston College's last game their starters will be collectively just 83 pounds heavier than Navy's offensive line.
Boston College relies on a core of 5 players on the defensive line. Along with Abdesmad (6-7, 286) the Eagles use sophomore Harold Landry (6-3, 245) and junior Kevin Kavalec (6-2, 253) on the edge. Landry is having a great year with 51 tackles, 13.5 TFL, and 4.5 sacks while Kavalec is no slouch with 18 tackles, 7 TFL, and 1 sack.
On the interior it's mostly 5th-year senior Connor Wujciak (6-3, 300) at the nose guard and junior Truman Gutapfel (6-3, 281) at tackle. They have similar numbers and have combined for 46 tackles, 15.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks. We might also see 5th-year transfer from Richmond in Evan Kelly (6-1, 285) and freshman Ray Smith (6-1, 264) in very limited roles.
I'll be honest this game scares the heck out of me. The main reason is that Boston College's defense could play so well that some other weird stuff happens (I'll get to this in a second) that they pull off the upset.
Four specific areas concern me with the Eagles' defense. One, they are really good at limiting big plays which has been a huge aspect to Notre Dame's success on offense. Especially on the ground, where Notre Dame has ripped off 23 runs of 20+ yards, the Eagles have only surrendered 9 such runs all season.
Two, they're the best in the country in tackles for loss which gets your offense off schedule and forces a greater reliance on big plays. Now, they've got you right where they want you.
Three, BC is medieval on 3rd downs and no one this year has even come close to sniffing 50% conversions. The best this year was NC State at 35.2% converting 6 out of 17 opportunities.
Four, no one is better at limiting touchdowns in the red zone. For the season the Eagles are only allowing 30% touchdowns inside their 20-yard line and over their past 4 games they've only surrendered 4 on 11 attempts.
Add all this up, and on average, Notre Dame could get 1 run of 20+ yards, a lot of negative runs, among the worst 3rd down conversion ratio of the season, and 1 red zone touchdown. So you may be thinking the Irish aren't an average offense--okay duly noted but how much better do these averages get for Notre Dame on Saturday?
Put it more simply, I think there's a 20% chance Notre Dame's offense scores 1 touchdown, a 50% chance they score 2 touchdowns, a 25% chance they score 3 touchdowns, and a 5% chance they score 4 or more touchdowns.
My other concern is that this is a game where we are tempting fate and outright laughing in its face. I know it's not entirely rational but the stars have aligned for an epic upset. Boston College can play the Irish harder than anyone and here we are playing a game inside Fenway Park, as heavy favorites, in our spiffy green uniforms, in Brian Kelly's home state, and looking forward to a potential playoff-clinching game in California next weekend.
Surely the grass won't be terrible and hamper Notre Dame's athletic advantage? There's probably a low probability the tight quarters on the field lead to a serious injury to a crucial Irish player? Of course there won't be a sideline brawl since we're sharing the same side of the field, leading to ejections that hurt Notre Dame more than BC? Obviously with Doug Flutie (prayers to his parents) in the booth and BC wearing his 1984 throwback uniforms we won't turn the ball over 5 times and open the door to Troy Flutie coming off the bench to lead a stupid, stupid, stupid game-winning touchdown drive?
None of this is happening Saturday night, right? Tell me the Irish won't lose this game and see a massive revolt against the Shamrock Series come out in full force.
Okay, I'm back to my senses now.
Part of me wondered if BC's opponents have been extra cautious on offense knowing the Eagles can barely move the ball. Yet, the Power 5 teams have only ran the ball 56% of the time against Boston College--certainly not conservative by any means. Even Clemson and NC State, both of whom were nursing 3 score leads late in their games against BC, kept the run/pass mix right near 50% in the 4th quarter.
It would seem the best course of action is to stick to the run to a degree and hopefully move the ball enough through the air. The two best quarterbacks the Eagles have faced (Clemson's Watson & NC State's Brissett) combined for 3 interceptions but still threw for 632 yards and 4 touchdowns. If Kizer is somewhere around 8 YPA, 250 yards, and 2 touchdowns it's almost a lock the Irish win this game.
Plus, Clemson and NC State's touchdowns drives covered 75, 66, 80, 69, 98, 85, 83, 84, and 44 yards respectively. That's a lot of long drives so it's not like Boston College has suffocated good offenses all the time or is getting an enormous amount of short fields to defend.
Notre Dame just needs this to not be an abysmal effort on offense. I'm sure you've heard about Boston College's much publicized struggles on offense. In 7 games against Power 5 conference teams the Eagles have scored 7 total touchdowns--including just 1 offensive touchdown in the first half.
If the Irish score just 10 points in the first half this game could be wrapped up. I think Brian Kelly and the rest of the coaching staff knows that. In games like this they've been known to trust the defense and protect the lead. I doubt they'll really risk it by slamming down on the throttle. So for those hoping this is a blowout statement game I'm not sure that's coming.
I'll predict a decent lead after the first half (10-0 or 13-3, something like that) with the Irish adding the first score of the third quarter and putting the game away as the team's slog their way through the formality of 4 quarters.
Notre Dame 23
Boston College 9