Ladies and gentlemen, I probably don’t need to point this out to you, but in case you’re too caught up in watching Kyren “Bellyman” Williams Blitz Pickup Porn on YouTube to realize the weekend is almost here, I wanted to slap you upside the head and bring to your attention that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has yet ANOTHER game coming up in two days.
That’s right, your #2, 7-0 Irish squad is traveling to Chestnut Hill, MA, where they will take on the 5-3 Boston College Eagles, who followed up their near-upset of the Clemson Tigers on Halloween with an exhilarating 16-13 victory over the Syracuse Orange last weekend.
Considering the Eagles stand as one of the only potential decently-tough match-ups remaining for the Irish in the regular season, I figured I would reach out to my friend Niraj Patel over at BC Interruption, our Boston College sister site here at SB Nation.
I peppered poor Niraj with questions about everything, from former Irish QB Phil Jurkovec and his impact on the BC offense, to who BC’s football rivals really are, to which Eagles players he would enlist to ensure his Thanksgiving festivities go off without a hitch — plus much more!
Niraj took all my ridiculous questions in stride, and there is some truly great info below that we all need to devour prior to Saturday’s game — just like the actual team, we as fans need to make sure we don’t have ourselves a trap game performance and overlook this upstart BC team who appears energized and dangerous under new head coach Jeff Hafley.
So, with all that said, let’s dive in and get to it!
1. There’s nowhere else I can start than with Phil Jurkovec, former ND blue-chip recruit and now leader of a resurgent BC offensive attack. What has his arrival changed in terms of the Eagles offense, what that group is capable of, and what they’ve accomplished so far this season?
Niraj Patel, BC Interruption: Phil Jurkovec’s arrival at BC has meant so much for the offense. It’s not as though Jurkovec taking the lead was the sole reason for this refreshing air-it-out style of play; it’s more of an overall shift in philosophy. The offense was capable of similar output in previous seasons, but it wasn’t how that regime operated from a play-calling standpoint. They were a bit more antiquated, let’s say. Then again, it didn’t hurt having an elite running back either.
Jurkovec has a great skill-set, as you all are aware. He’s a big guy with solid arm strength, and is so tough to take down. He’s garnered a lot of Ben Roethlisberger comparisons because of this escapability. He really looks downfield well and can throw some gorgeous passes like a flick of the wrist. All of this and more I’m sure have encouraged OC Frank Cignetti to open up the offense.
With the new offense under Jurkovec, we see the ball spread out to multiple receivers. The way he extends plays and looks for the home run has raised the offense and team’s ceiling. The offensive play has resulted in less pressure on the defense as well. The predictability is key, or lack thereof. In the past, BC’s run-run-pass formula was so easily telegraphed, things became too easy for opposing defenses.
While the vision of the offense has not yet come to fruition, the signs are clear. Right now, Jurkovec is sixth in passing yards in the country, and that’s not something I would have expected from a BC quarterback even a few short months ago.
2. Jurkovec’s performance this year has certainly enabled a number of skill guys to blossom. Who are the offensive skill players ND fans should know about/be wary of heading into Saturday?
Niraj Patel: A couple of names to watch out for, and Zay Flowers has to be at the top of the list. He’s a speedster that can take the top off the defense and open up the game on all fronts. Jurkovec will look for him, as the sophomore is leading the team in yards from scrimmage (637 yards) and touchdowns (6). He’s pretty much mastered the art of catching deep ball passes with a little help from Antonio Brown.
Last season Flowers was pigeon-holed, running jet-sweeps, but this year the whole route tree is on the table. The way he accelerates and creates separation has popped off the screen. And in the open field, forget about it. He’s already had a number of ankle-breaking plays.
While he’s been quieter these past few weeks, tight end Hunter Long is still the biggest matchup problem on the field. He has excellent hands and lines up all over the field. Look for this athletic big man to garner a lot of attention.
Jaelen Gill hasn’t had too much production just yet, but the Ohio State transfer is as dynamic as it gets in the open field. If BC can figure out more ways to get him in space, he can cause a lot of issues. CJ Lewis is one of the more steady receivers on the team. He always seems to be in the right place and comes in clutch when called upon. At running back, things seemed to click for David Bailey last weekend, but if BC can rekindle the rushing output from last season, it will be with him.
3. How is BC’s defense this year, especially in terms of stopping the run? Do you think they’ll hold up against an Irish offense that just proved itself against Clemson, but also may be due for a hangover game following such a tough, emotional victory?
Niraj Patel: They’re ... fine. About middle of the pack statistically speaking, and they have had their ups and downs to prove it. The defense is slow, but they had a stellar performance last weekend at Syracuse (not saying much, I know), and pitched a solid outing against Clemson the week prior. They’ve produced a number of takeaways, but it sometimes feels as though there is a reliance on them. The BC defense operates in a bend-don’t-break sort of way. Offenses can generally accumulate plenty of yards, and tackling has been a sore subject.
Against the run, BC can get got on the right day. The linebacking corps is stressed, and when backs can get around the edge, that spells trouble. What makes it more challenging is when running backs catch passes out of the backfield. Travis Etienne was kept under the century mark on the ground, but exceeded it and then some on only a few passes, for example.
Against a quarterback with some mobility, it only adds to the dilemma. The team struggles with those options and lacks the athleticism to match up. Virginia Tech dominated BC on the ground, amassing 350 yards on 8.5 yards per carry with both quarterback Hendon Hooker and running back Khalil Herbert moving at will.
They sure are fiery though. What the team lacks in team speed and athleticism, they try and make up for with heart. This team plays with its emotions on their sleeves, and Saturday will be emotional as it is the Red Bandana Game. If the Irish offense is still reveling in its performance from last week, the Eagle defense can take advantage of some mistakes. I expect Hafley to have a trick or two up his sleeve to cause problems, as he is a bit of an expert on defensive back play. I still expect Notre Dame to move the ball effectively as the game progresses, however. The size and speed up front might be too much.
4. How are BC fans feeling about Jeff Hafley in his first season at the helm? Do you think he’s got this program on track to be an ACC title contender in the near future?
Niraj Patel: We love Jeff Hafley. We’re still on a bit of a honeymoon, but the energy, the passion — it’s truly galvanized a jaded community. The excitement is palpable and it’s all thanks to Hafley. In a lot of ways, he embodies much of what BC is all about, and he’s meshed wonderfully with the community.
You can see how he’s embraced it from the get-go. Each and every interview or press conference, he’s transparent, emotional, and leaves a run-through-a-brick-wall feeling with the audience. It’s refreshing. His reputation as a wizard has proven true, and he’s instilled a focus on fundamentals to the team. While his vision has yet to be fully realized, the acclaim he has received from NFL stars has proven genuine.
Hafley is a top-notch recruiter as well. That’s the first step to putting the program back on track to be an ACC title contender. He’s changed the outlook of the program almost immediately, and recruits are paying notice. Many have taken note of the complete change in philosophy and how much more fun the team looks like they’re having.
While there are no moral victories, the game BC played against Clemson the other week might be proof enough that Hafley has put them well on their way to contending sooner rather than later (assuming he stays). He says he was called back to college prior to joining the Ohio State staff, but you know it could always go any way.
5. Being a former Big East team now in the ACC, whom would you say are BC’s biggest rivals in football? Do Eagles fans look at playing ND as playing one of their biggest rivals, or have other rivalries developed in the ACC or otherwise over the years?
Niraj Patel: That’s a great question, but I feel BC is sort of in a rivalry limbo right now. It’s budding, if you will. Of course, there is the natural animus towards the other side of the Holy War, but not exactly our arch-rival at the moment.
In the ACC, we’ve been warped into believing Syracuse is our rival, as it’s typically dubbed ‘Rivalry Week,’ but I’m not so convinced still. The orange cutouts plastered all over the football offices, it was all so … inorganic. We’re just two northeast, Big East transplants, but I guess those are all of the conditions that need to be met. Both programs surely believe they should win the matchup each year, but I don’t know if I’ve seen the intensity on the field that screams rivals, nor do I think I personally hate them enough. We are about even since we both joined, and I have been left in shambles during a couple of the losses. Maybe I’ve convinced myself.
BC has played Wake Forest every year since 2003 (sadly not this year), and that game has been dubbed “The Rivalry,” possibly originating in this 2015 encounter.
The games between the two have been competitive by and large. However, there still lacks some history, even though I know I said we’ve had a back and forth for quite some time now. They may be our rival on Twitter more right now. To me, this one feels better, but it’s not there yet.
6. Notre Dame fans have definitely hated various BC players and coaches over the years, but I’d argue Doug Flutie has reached a new, or maybe different, level of hate thanks to his...subpar work covering ND games on NBC. On the Boston College side, what ND players/coaches would you say have been the most hated by Eagles fans over the history of these two schools facing each other in football?
Niraj Patel: This makes me quite happy. I had always assumed there was a level of contempt with his ironic presence covering games, but never really understood the degree until last year. Love that guy, forever and always. Keep doing you, Douglas.
I’m not sure anyone has this sort of special place in our hearts. Personally, Brian Kelly bothers me because of his Boston roots but alleged disregard for BC growing up. Senile Lou Holtz deserves a special hate, but I know many recall the fake punt on BC even though the game was far over. Class act, that one. I know Brady Quinn and practically his entire team have ruffled some feathers as well. None so much recently.
Also, I wanted to work this video into a question, but I couldn’t think of any place to weave it in. Here seems as good as any. So here it is:
7. FAN QUESTION:
Does Phil throw for more than Ian?— Jeff (@jeffNDfan) November 9, 2020
Niraj Patel: Notre Dame should be able to run the ball at will, including with Book. I’d say Jurkovec airs it out more.
Either way this one goes, I’d expect Jurkovec having to throw the ball. Plus, that’s what we’re more effective at doing, quite frankly. Maybe it’s a hope.
8. Festive question: you need to pick 5 current BC players to organize and host Thanksgiving for your family — we’re talking grocery shopping, prep and cooking, making the table seating chart, organizing any games/entertainment for the evening, etc. Which 5 players do you pick and what are their roles in ensuring you have a fantastic Thanksgiving?
Niraj Patel: Love it. Let’s see.
Zay’s fast, so we’ll need him in case we forget something at the grocery and to just get them in the first place. Alec Lindstrom pretty much has a food podcast that sometimes talks football and is actually an avid food reviewer on the interwebs, so he’s a must have. He’ll be in charge of the cooking this evening.
Our punter, Grant Carlson — who has been fantastic I must say — has a Waffle House sleeve, and he’s from Texas. That has to count for something, right? Anyone who pinned Clemson inside the five on back-to-back punts, only to be nullified each time, has to take his craft seriously. Prep work, undoubtedly. Give me Max Richardson as well. Not only does he entertain, but I consider him my glue guy. He’ll primarily be responsible for games and entertainment.
Is that four? Umm … Hunter [Long] can build a computer and they like mentioning that on broadcasts. I’m sure we could use his expertise with the malfunctioning oven and to program the timer.*
*Pat Rick Note: Niraj absolutely rocks, so many writers punt on a question like this. Instead, he absolutely nailed it.
9. Alright, prediction time: who wins, what is the score, and why do you say that???
Niraj Patel: I know the past game and a half have been a sore sight to see for the Eagle offense, but I still believe they can make this game uncomfortably close. While the fans won’t be in the stands at our responsible institution, I still expect strong emotions for the annual Red Bandana Game honoring a real hero.
With Hafley’s game planning, I think the Eags can trouble an Irish offense that is still on a high from last weekend. The BC offense has been a one half team for much of the year. Not necessarily the first or the second, just remember regardless of how this one starts.
My fake prediction is 34-27 BC, but my other prediction is 38-24 Notre Dame.
BONUS CONTENT: PAT RICK PICKS HIS FAVORITE NAMES ON THE BOSTON COLLEGE ROSTER
Due to some of the...lacking...answers provided to me in past weeks, and because asking this question every week is 75% just for me anyway, I chose to not bother Niraj with this question and instead just give you my personal favorite names on the Eagles roster.
Here they are:
- DE Shitta Sillah
- LS Tito Pasqualoni
- OL Christian Mahogany
- DB Jahmin Muse
- WR Zay Flowers
- OL Finn Dirstine
- DB Nick Bearup
- TE Hans Lillis
- DT Chibueze Onwuka
- OL Ozzy Trapilo
- DT Cam Horsley
- LB Joseph Sparacio
- LB Thomas Hovsepian
- WR Ezechiel Tieide
- PK Danny Longman (I included him because he’s only 6’1”...not a very LONG man, is he?????)
Also, BC has a couple sons of famous footballers, so that’s pretty notable:
- RB Javian Dayne, son of Wisconsin Heisman winner Ron Dayne
- OL Tyler Vrabel, son of former New England Patriot and current Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel
Okay, I want to give Niraj a MASSIVE shout-out for answering all my questions with great aplomb — especially the Thanksgiving one, which would probably have been billed as “too silly” by some other sites’ writers. The answer we got here is fantastic.
I implore you all to head on over to the BC Interruption site to check out what Niraj and the team are cranking out over there, as you will find any and all information you need leading up to Saturday’s game — including my rambling answers to their Q&A!
That’s all I’ve got for this week, you guys — as always, GO IRISH!