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Notre Dame Football: Boston College Eagles Preview

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Notre Dame plays Boston College tomorrow. Time to talk about that, you guys.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT’S UP EVERYBODY?????

I just wanted to send you all a quick note to remind you that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, holding strong in that #16 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings, will host coach Steve Addazio and the Boston College Eagles this weekend for Senior Day and the final home game of the 2019 season, which has seemingly flown by, might I add.

The Irish, as you know, are hot off an absolute dismantling of a ranked Navy Midshipmen team last weekend, crushing Navy 38-3 in the first half en route to winning the game 52-20. Ian Book tossed 5 touchdowns — 4 of which went to Chase Claypool as he states his case as one of the best receivers of the Brian Kelly regime, and plenty of guys saw time and made plenty of plays. Looking at you, Braden Lenzy and Paul Moala!

Now, the 8-2 Irish, ranked 19th overall in SP+, will battle the #64 Boston College Eagles, who enter the game with a clean 5-5 record that essentially matches everything BC has done under Addazio in his nearly 7 seasons there, considering the Eagles are a balanced 43-43 during that time.

BC’s victories this season have mostly come against the dregs of their schedule, knocking off the Richmond Spiders, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, NC State Wolfpack, and Syracuse Orange, but the Eagles also defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies, who have come on strong of late and certainly gave the Irish a scare a few weeks back. The Eagles’ losses, meanwhile, have come against some good/decent teams like the Clemson Tigers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Louisville Cardinals, but also against some not great teams, like the Florida State Seminoles and OUR Kansas Jayhawks (HELL YEAH LES!!!).

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles flaunt an extremely run-heavy offense (one of the best in the country) and an extremely not-good defense, so it will be interesting to see if the Irish can once again bottle up an elite rushing attack to ensure there will be no bitter ending to the final home game for this year’s senior class.

Let’s dive into the match-ups to understand how these two squads compare, and have a little fun along the way — what say you?

Boston College Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense

As I stated above, the Boston College offense is EXTREMELY reliant on the running game, but they are also EXTREMELY good at running the ball. They currently sit at #5 in the country in total rushing offense and #16 in yards per carry, and despite having the #96 passing offense, that rushing game has propped up the BC attack enough that it is the #12 total offense, #21 offense in SP+, #33 scoring offense, and #37 offense in yards per play.

All of that can be linked back to junior running back AJ Dillon, whose 1,451 yards in 2019 so far are the 3rd most in the country, behind only Chuba Hubbard and Jonathan Taylor. Dillon’s 13 rushing touchdowns are good enough for 10th-best in America, and he’s accomplished all of this while being the most-used back in the country, leading the nation in carries with 272 to-date.

He’s CRUCIAL to Boston College moving the ball and scoring, and so it will be CRITICAL that the ND defense employ the same team-wide effort in stopping him that they utilized against D’Andre Swift of Georgia in September and against the entire Navy offense last week.

Another fun note: Dillon is the grandson of former Notre Dame wide receiver Thom Gatewood, who in his time at ND set then-records for single-season receptions (77) and career receptions (157). Gatewood is in the College Football Hall of Fame for his super-successful Irish career, but unfortunately AJ Dillon wanted to blaze his own trail instead of follow in his grandpa’s footsteps. He originally committed to the Michigan Wolverines, though, so I guess Boston College is technically a better choice — way to go AJ!

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish overall this season have not exactly been stupendous in stopping the run — they’re 79th in the country in total rushing defense, and 55th in yards allowed per carry. Their strength resides much more in defending the pass, where ND has been elite (5th in total passing defense, T-9th in yards allowed per attempt). But they had success in containing Georgia’s elite rushing game, and last weekend they managed to hold Navy 68 yards below their per-game average.

Clark Lea’s squad certainly has the personnel to stop the run when needed, and that capability absolutely starts with the linebackers, who have been the biggest and most pleasant surprise on that side of the ball in 2019. Entering the season, all the talk was about how strong the secondary and the pass rush were, and the linebackers were considered the biggest weakness. This year, though, Lea once again showed how good he is at coaching up his specialty position, as Asmar Bilal, Drew White, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah have all had very strong seasons.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Those three will be the most important pieces in trying to bottle up Dillon and this BC running game, as they are normally sure-tackling and aggressive players and will need to doubly be those things against such an elite running back. White (65 tackles, 8 TFL) and Bilal (61 tackles, 8 TFL) will need to really lay the lumber and not let Dillon get through them, and Owusu-Koramoah (54 tackles, 8.5 TFL) will be critical in being the guy who’s able to run sideline-to-sideline and speedily fill gaps before Dillon can slip through and get into the second level.

Those three won’t have it easy even when Dillon is getting a breather, either, as backup running back David Bailey is pretty damn strong himself. The sophomore left the Florida State game a couple weeks ago with an injury, but appears to be ready to go tomorrow and will bring his 765 yards, 6.4 yards per carry, and 7 touchdowns on the season with him to South Bend.

Of course, it’s not just on the Irish linebackers to stop the run, although they will be needed as the primary tacklers of such a big, athletic back like Dillon. But the defensive line absolutely HAS to get a push up front and hold the point of attack so as to not create large creases for Dillon and Bailey to run through. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa (20 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 5 QBH, 1 FR) has been pretty great of late and will need to continue to produce from his defensive tackle spot, and guys like Kurt Hinish (14 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 FF) and Jayson Ademilola (24 tackles, 4 TFL) will need to continue to contribute solid reps in the middle of the line as well.

Furthermore, safeties Alohi Gilman (56 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF, 2 TFL), Jalen Elliott (37 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT), and Kyle Hamilton (32 tackles, 4 PD, 3 INT, 1 TD) will need to be aggressive and swift in providing run support, but also not get suckered into charging forward on a play-action pass that allows BC receivers to beat them deep.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

And, although the BC passing game is mediocre on its best days, the Eagles do have some solid receivers who could cause trouble if they’re given a little breathing room thanks to ND over-committing to stop the run. Tight end Hunter Long leads the team in receiving with 411 yards and a touchdown on 21 catches, and wide receivers Kobay White (22 rec, 363 yds, 5 TD) and Zay Flowers (19 rec, 312 yds, 3 TD) have plenty of ability to make big plays through the air and score the Eagles some points, fast.

Add in a couple more reliable tight ends like Jake Burt (15 rec, 212 yds, 1 TD) and Korab Idrizi (13 rec, 154 yds, 4 TD) and the ability AJ Dillon has shown to catch the ball out of the backfield (10 rec, 163 yds, 1 TD), and this BC offense has some weapons for the Irish secondary to worry about.

NCAA Football: Richmond at Boston College Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Luckily for ND, there are a couple reasons they shouldn’t have to worry too much about all that.

First, Boston College has had to start its backup QB for much of this season after starter Anthony Brown (1,250 yds, 59% completion, 9.1 ypa, 9 TD, 2 INT) went down with a season-ending injury. Dennis Grosel has stepped in as QB1 since then, but despite a solid touchdown-to-interception ratio (4:1 with 8 total passing TDs this season), Grosel has thrown for just 710 yards and completed less than 50% of his passes in Brown’s stead.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The second reason the Irish needn’t worry too much about Boston College’s passing game? I touched on it earlier, but comparing the Eagles’ passing attack to the ND pass defense is like comparing Brian VanGorder to Clark Lea. BC is #33 in the country in yards per passing attempt this season, but unfortunately that’s mostly because they rarely throw the football. The Eagles are 114th in the country in passing attempts per game (24.6), which explains their #96 total passing offense. They’re simply a running team, which means they have to set up some select big-play passes via the run.

So, the Irish secondary, which I might remind you is #5 overall, #9 in yards allowed per attempt, and #12 in pass efficiency defense, will essentially need to just not let BC players get behind them for big plays, and otherwise mostly just stay with their man and keep an eye on Dillon/Bailey in order to provide run support in the second level and on the edge when needed.

Look for Troy Pride Jr. (34 tackles, 5 PD, 1 INT), TaRiq Bracy (28 tackles, 5 PD, 1 FF, 2 FR), Shaun Crawford (20 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT), and Donte Vaughn (13 tackles, 4 PD) to work in conjunction with Gilman, Elliott, and Hamilton to shut down just about any credible BC passing attack, forcing AJ Dillon and that running game to do all the heavy lifting.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

That stifling performance by the secondary will especially be needed due to BC’s offensive line being VERY good at keeping their QB’s jersey clean — the Eagles are tied for 2nd in the nation in sacks allowed, meaning it will be difficult for guys like Owusu-Koramoah (5.5 sacks), Khalid Kareem (34 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 8 QBH), Jamir Jones (17 tackles, 4 sacks, 6 TFL), and Adetokunbo Ogundeji (20 tackles, 4 QBH, 1 FF, 1 FR TD) to get to Grosel in the backfield.

Furthermore, their offense takes care of the ball very well, tied for 9th in the country in turnovers lost this season. The Irish have been elite at forcing turnovers this season (#7 in turnover margin, #3 in turnovers gained, #3 in fumbles forced, #2 in fumbles gained), so we might still see a turnover or two go ND’s way — but for the most part, I would expect Boston College to pound the ball, run some occasional play action, and do a lot of punting, assuming the Irish run defense plays well and the secondary keeps everyone in front of them, per usual.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Not allowing BC to string together long drives and get into the red zone will obviously be important, but especially for the Irish, who have been abysmal at keeping opponents from scoring once in the red zone (#129 in opponent red zone conversions, allowing the opponent to score 95.83% of the time). Considering Clark Lea’s unit is #28 in total defense and #16 in yards allowed per play, I don’t think that will be too much of an issue — but something to think about, for sure.

Offensive Eagle to Watch

RB AJ Dillon

This BC offense NEEDS Dillon to carry the load, both just to drive production forward but also to enable the occasional big play through the air, set up by the run. Dillon is a beast and will certainly have some nice runs tomorrow, but for the Eagles to have a chance in this one, he will need to dominate Clark Lea’s defense.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Irish to Watch

LB Drew White

The ND linebackers will have their hands full with this Boston College rushing attack, and so White is certainly one to watch, as he will need to be all over the field and making sure not to miss many tackles, considering how dangerous Dillon and Bailey can be once they get into the second level.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Halftime Funtime

Best Names in the Game

  1. Notre Dame RB C’Borius Flemister
  2. Boston College DE Shitta Sillah
  3. Boston College TE Tito Pasqualoni
  4. Notre Dame LS Axel Raarup
  5. Notre Dame S Litchfield Ajavon
  6. Notre Dame TE Tommy Tremble
  7. Notre Dame DL Hunter Spears
  8. Boston College OL Eddy Fish
  9. Notre Dame LB Ovie Oghoufo
  10. Boston College OL Christian Mahogany
  11. Boston College OL Cam Reddy
  12. Notre Dame DE Nana Osafo-Mensah
  13. Boston College DB Mehdi El Attrach
  14. Notre Dame CB Temitope Agoro
  15. Notre Dame DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji
  16. Boston College DT Ireland Burke
  17. Notre Dame RB Jafar Armstrong
  18. Boston College OL Blerim Rustemi
  19. Boston College TE Korab Idrizi
  20. Boston College OL Finn Dirstine
  21. Boston College DB Jahmin Muse

Notre Dame Offense vs. Boston College Defense

Whereas the BC offense vs. ND defense match-up was intriguing due to their specific strengths, looking at the Irish offense vs. the BC defense is a much less interesting exercise.

The Boston College defense is bad, just about any way you look at it. The Eagles are #107 in the SP+ defensive ratings, #128 in the country in total defense, #116 in yards allowed per play, #91 in rushing defense, #85 in yards allowed per carry, #125 in passing defense, #123 in yards allowed per passing attempt, #98 in scoring defense, #122 in sacks, #78 in turnovers gained, and #118 in fumbles forced.

Essentially, the only area BC’s defense can really hang its hat is tackles for loss, where they are tied for 15th in the country. Turnover margin, in which they are #33 nationally, seemed like a possible second data point in their favor, but unfortunately for the Eagles defense, that turnover margin is much more driven by the offense taking care of the ball than BC’s defense making any plays.

So, there ya go — the Boston College defense really doesn’t do anything very well.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Boston College Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, despite a few rough showings (Georgia, Michigan, Virginia Tech), the Notre Dame offense has been solid-to-good this season. They stand as 26th in SP+, 58th in total offense, 35th in yards per play, and are 19th in the country in scoring. They also have mostly taken care of both the ball and their QB (21st in turnovers lost, 13th in sacks allowed) and have been efficient in the red zone, turning 92.7% of red zone trips into points (11th in the country) and scoring a touchdown 80% of the time (5th in the country).

With all that said, I definitely expect Ian Book to continue his recent string of solid play, seemingly having been rejuvenated by his game-winning drive against Virginia Tech a few weeks back. Book has thrown for 801 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions in the last 3 games, while also picking up 220 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

He’ll likely once again find WR Chase Claypool for some big plays, considering Claypool’s been spectacular in his own right in the last three games, snaring 20 passes for 332 yards and 5 touchdowns against the Hokies, Blue Devils, and Midshipmen. Overall on the season, he’s now collected 49 receptions for 768 yards and 9 scores.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Finke has been much better of late as well, and is now second on the team in receiving yards on the season with 339 (on 28 receptions and scoring 3 touchdowns). Book will also likely connect a number of times with TE Cole Kmet (29 rec, 327 yds, 5 TD), who was strangely catch-less last weekend.

Senior Javon McKinley will likely try to have himself a nice final game for his senior year (although he qualifies for a 5th year if both he and ND want him to come back in 2020), looking to add to the 11 receptions, 268 yards, and 4 touchdowns he has on the year.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Furthermore, especially if this game gets out of hand, look for the Irish to call the numbers of a number of young guys like Braden Lenzy, Tommy Tremble, and Lawrence Keys III, as all of those guys have shown the ability to make some big plays so far this season and are starting to get more looks as the season gets older. Lenzy, for instance, had himself a beautiful little deep ball pitch-and-catch with Book for a 70-yard touchdown last weekend.

The BC passing defense that currently ranks as one of the worst in the country will be manned by DBs like Mike Palmer (64 tackles, 3 PD, 2 INT), Mehdi El Attrach (58 tackles, 3 PD, 1 INT, 1 FF), Brandon Sebastian (34 tackles, 5 PD, 1 INT), and Nolan Borgersen (30 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 3 TFL). Tate Haynes and Jason Maitre will rotate in as well (51 tackles, 7 PD, 2 INT, 1 TD combined).

That group clearly has the ability to make the occasional play, but I do not expect them to have many chances to create turnovers, as Ian Book will likely not be pressured much by the Eagles’ unproductive pass rush. Guys like LB Max Richardson (3.5 sacks) and DL Brandon Barlow (2.5 sacks) have had some success in getting to the QB, but Boston College only has 11 total team sacks on the season, and so it’s unlikely this group will get to Ian Book much at all. That should mean Book will have ample time and comfort to stay in the pocket and hit his targets as they get open, leading to some big plays through the air for the Irish.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The ND running game should also have a very good day tomorrow, considering BC is pretty bad at stopping the run as well, as outlined above. Tony Jones Jr. has been fairly quiet since the first half of the season, but he still has 611 yards and 5 touchdowns on 5.9 yards per carry this year, and so I expect Chip Long will try to establish the run a bit and wear BC down, especially in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Jahmir Smith should be able to help there as well, what with his 5.1 yards per carry average.

The BC defensive front will do its best to contain that rushing attack, as defensive linemen like Tanner Karafa (44 tackles, 2 PD, 3 TFL), TJ Rayam (36 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 QBH), Brandon Barlow (28 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 FF), and Marcus Valdez (22 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 FR) will man the front line and try to hold the point of attack against a weakened ND offensive line that is still likely going to overpower them. Guys like Joey Luchetti (5 TFL) and Richard Yeargin (5 TFL, former ND commit before he went to instead went to Clemson out of high school) will also cycle in to try to throw various bodies at Irish ball carriers to contain the run.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, the guys who carry the load in tackles for the Eagles defense — the linebackers — will be tasked with trying to bring down Jones Jr., Smith, and Book whenever they inevitably get past the first line of defense. Max Richardson leads the unit with 95 tackles on the season to go along with his 14.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 passes defended, and forced fumble. John Lamot (67 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 PD) and Joseph Sparacio (42 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT) will do their best to help Richardson out, but overall I don’t see that group being able to make enough plays to keep the Irish from moving the chains and driving down the field essentially at-will.

Defensive Eagle to Watch

LB Max Richardson

Richardson is the defense’s best tackler and pass rusher as well as one of its leaders, so he will need to play OUT OF HIS MIND tomorrow for the Eagles defense to get enough stops to keep the team in this one.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Irish to Watch

RBs Tony Jones Jr. and Jahmir Smith

The Irish haven’t run the ball all that well lately, besides some success from Ian Book and Jahmir Smith against Duke. Against a defense that shouldn’t be able to stop much of anything the Irish do, it’d be nice to see TJJ and Smith own the game on the ground and even maybe overshadow AJ Dillon a bit, who will hopefully at least sort of struggle against Clark Lea’s defense as they key on him.

NCAA Football: Navy at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams???

There’s not too much to report on here. Notre Dame is 46th in SP+ in special teams, while Boston College is 113th.

The Eagles’ kicker, Aaron Boumerhi, is 42-of-42 on the year one extra points, but is just 8-of-13 on his field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Jonathan Doerer has made all 44 of his extra point tries, and has a better make percentage on his kicks, having drilled 8-of-10 with a long of 52 yards this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 02 Boston College at Syracuse Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From the perspective of the return game, neither team is super skilled here, but ND’s Chris Finke has a slight advantage over Boston College’s Travis Levy in the punt return game, as Finke is 19th in the country in average yards per return, while Levy is 28th. Levy is also 35th in the country in kickoff return average, for the record. Neither have returned any kicks for touchdowns, however.

Alright, Let’s Predict the Result of This One

Notre Dame 44, Boston College 20

Notre Dame is better at every single position except for running back, and although AJ Dillon is an All-American back there, he will not be able to carry the entire Eagles team to a victory, especially considering he doesn’t play defense. Ian Book and the offense will jump all over BC early, and this one will be a blowout by the middle of the 3rd quarter. The Irish roll on Senior Day, and all the seniors get some PT in this one.