IRISH SEEK TO GROUND EAGLESposted by John Vannie
The schedule has been kind to the Eagles, although they looked strong in a 24-10 win over Georgia Tech last month in their only road contest to date. Three straight home wins against weak opponents followed, but the Irish, Virginia Tech and Florida State are next in line. Meanwhile, Notre Dame will play its seventh straight game against a quality team.
Senior quarterback Matt Ryan is the unquestioned leader for Boston College, who otherwise do not boast any star players. First year coach John Jagodzinski has built a balanced and disciplined offense around Ryan’s precision passing skills and hard running by Andre Callender. The defense is tough against the run, having allowed only 1.9 yards per rush. The secondary does not surrender the big play and has already recorded an incredible 16 interceptions.
The Irish offense was not very productive last week at UCLA after making progress against Purdue and Michigan State. Jimmy Clausen and his fellow freshman backs and receivers have been largely kept under wraps, but Notre Dame will need to score more than 25 points this week to have a chance to win.
Corwin Brown’s defense has been energized by first year linebackers Kerry Neal and Brian Smith, while senior Maurice Crum forced five turnovers last week. Tom Zbikowski continues to play well in the secondary and free safety David Bruton has excelled in deep coverage and on special teams.
Notre Dame’s Offense vs. Boston College’s Defense
The Irish have failed to run the ball this year against everyone except Michigan State. The Eagles have shut down all opponents including Georgia Tech’s Tashard Choice, who could manage only 36 yards on 15 carries. Although these facts do not bode well for Notre Dame, the Irish will need a balanced attack to keep the ball away from Ryan and coach Charlie Weis must be willing to stick with the run.
The Eagles are relatively young and undersized along the front four. The lone exception is 325 pound junior tackle Ron Brace, a classic run-stuffer. Rangy and fast ends Nick Larkin and Alex Albright are the type of pass rushers that have caused problems for Notre Dame this season. Albright leads the team with five sacks.
Boston College lost its best defensive player, linebacker Brian Toal, for the season. The Eagles have not missed a beat with Jolonn Dunbar’s solid play in the middle against the run and Matt Herzlich on the outside in pass coverage. Both are underrated and quite effective.
Teams have managed some success by attacking the Eagle secondary, but the team yielded a lot of that yardage late in games and has not been beaten many times with the outcome still in doubt. Free safety Jamie Silva is an accomplished ball hawk and DeJuan Tribble is the team’s best cover man. Both cornerbacks are only 5’9”, and the Irish will go after them with a more aggressive passing attack than they were able to muster against UCLA.
If Notre Dame is unable to run the ball and tries to win the game through the air, Boston College will likely grab a couple of interceptions and come away with a victory. The Irish played a turnover free game at UCLA and finally stopped shooting themselves in the foot with excessive penalties, and they will need to continue this trend in order to have a chance on Saturday.
Boston College’s Offense vs. Notre Dame’s Defense
The Eagles have juggled their offensive line in recent weeks. The result is they are strong on the left side with good size and experienced players, but the right side is a question mark. Freshman right tackle Anthony Costonzo will have his hands full with Trevor Laws, and the Irish will try to exploit that matchup to put pressure on Ryan.
Wide receivers Kevin Challenger, Rich Gunnell and Brandon Robinson specialize in getting open, but they are not very tall or considered to be deep threats. Tight end Ryan Purvis is becoming a favorite target in this offense. Matt Ryan will pick apart Notre Dame if the Irish are unable to mount a pass rush and try to sit back in zone coverage. The best approach is to apply pressure and push Boston College out of its offensive rhythm.
It should be noted that Georgia Tech was unable to rattle Ryan and the Eagles despite the aggressive nature of its defense. Ryan had a career passing day against the Jackets, so one can conclude that his linemen can protect him. Coach Brown’s rush schemes were very effective against a veteran UCLA offensive line, so it will be interesting to see if the Irish can generate similar results this week.
Callender has been the workhorse tailback, but fellow senior L.V. Whitworth has a bit more size and is used quite frequently. Speedster Jeff Smith has not been available to play very much this season, but he is expected to be ready for Notre Dame. Smith adds another dimension to the Eagle attack and the Irish must know his whereabouts at all times.
Boston College has been able to run the ball well enough to make Ryan’s life in the pocket more productive. Notre Dame cannot surrender large chunks of yardage on the ground if it wants to dictate the play call on third down and apply significant pressure with Neal and Smith.
Smith’s presence immediately increases BC’s kickoff return threat. The sophomore averaged 39 yards per attempt before an injury, and Callender could manage only half that number as his replacement. Place kicker Steve Aponavicius is very much above average in terms of accuracy and leg strength, while Notre Dame may be able to generate punt return yardage against Johnny Ayers.
Brandon Walker continues to improve as a field goal specialist for Notre Dame, and Irish fans no longer hold their breath when he lines up a three pointer. Geoff Price has overcome early season consistency issues to reclaim the punting job. In coverage, David Bruton saved the Irish from potential long returns at UCLA with extraordinary hustle, but Notre Dame’s short kickoffs remain an unsolved problem.
Intangibles don’t show up in the statistics, but Notre Dame’s defenders were hitting very hard last week and are bound to carry over that enthusiasm against Boston College given the recent history between these programs. That the aggressive Irish were able to force turnovers and dominate the game on defense without incurring penalties is a major step forward, but the offense must also do its part this week.
The Eagles are not a dominant team by any definition, but they are tough against the run on defense, do not suffer breakdowns that result in easy scores and have an accomplished veteran quarterback. This combination will be difficult to overcome for an Irish team that must have a breakout game on offense. This means that both the run and pass are made to work.
Those who compare Boston College to Purdue are shortchanging Ryan, who is a more polished and accurate passer than Curtis Painter despite the fact that Purdue has better receivers. The Irish could not shut down the running game against the Boilermakers, and that fact combined with numerous mistakes doomed any comeback hopes. In this contest, Notre Dame must take the lead or remain tied in order to maintain the energy level in the stadium.
The answers to these questions will help determine the outcome:
Will Notre Dame be able to hit Ryan in the pocket and pressure him into third down misses?
Is Boston College really as good against the run as the statistics indicate?
Will Callender maintain his five yard per carry average against the Irish?
Can the Irish defense fire up the crowd and keep them in the game?
Will Notre Dame be able to contain Jeff Smith?
Can Jimmy Clausen throw the ball downfield and avoid interceptions?
The Eagles will not overwhelm Notre Dame with talent, but their defense is underrated and they will score points against anyone. The best hope for the Irish is to get an early lead, put pressure on Ryan and win the turnover battle. This is a tall order, but it does not seem impossible after last week’s heroics.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, the offense is still not good enough to outscore Boston College in the absence of significant breaks or an injury to Ryan. The return of Jeff Smith will add enough spark to put the Eagles over the top.
BOSTON COLLEGE 27 NOTRE DAME 17