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Notre Dame-Boston College: On The Defensive

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In the 19-16 win at Fenway Park versus Boston College two years ago, Josh Adams was limited to 39 yards on 13 carries.
Photo by Bill Panzica

Pennant fever is in full swing in Boston with the beloved Red Sox, so it seems apropos that a baseball analogy can be given to the Boston College Eagles football team: “All field, no hit.”

The Eagles’ identity under fifth-year Boston College head coach Steve Addazio has been that of blue-collar physicality and stout defense with good “hitting” on that side of the ball.

However, the offense has had tremendous problems scoring, averaging only 12.0 points in eight ACC games last year and an anemic 9.1 the year prior, thus resulting in a 2-14 record in league play from 2015-16.

The lack of firepower showed itself again in last week’s 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. Boston College committed four turnovers against the Demon Deacons, averaged merely 4.0 yards per pass attempt (41 attempts, 163 yards), and managed only 142 yards on the ground and 3.5 yards per carry.

Consequently, the Eagles again need to lean on a veteran defense with seven returning starters from last year, spearheaded by All-American and pass rusher supreme Harold Landry (22 tackles for loss, including 16.5 sacks, in 2016) at end to keep them in a ball game.

The scores from the 12 Notre Dame-Boston College meetings from 2000-15 reveal a consistent pattern of defense taking center stage, while the offenses are in a grind mode.

In those dozen contests, the Fighting Irish have outscored the Eagles 221‑211, which averages out to 18.4 points per game for Notre Dame to Boston College’s 17.6.

The most recent meeting between the two — 2015 at Boston’s venerable Fenway Park — was pretty much on the mark with a 19-16 Irish victory. The lack of “style points” against a 3‑9 Eagles outfit dropped 10‑1 Notre Dame to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff committee’s view, and seldom has this series been about “looking pretty.”

In that 2015 game, even though Notre Dame totaled 447 yards of total offense, it committed five turnovers. In seven trips into the red zone, the Irish failed to score three times, and on two other occasions they managed only a field goal.

“It was a game that certainly we did everything we could to keep it close,” recalled Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly during this Tuesday’s conference with the media. “They did a great job taking the football away. We know what kind of game it’s going to be against Boston College.

“Coach Addazio will have his team ready to play. We're going to have to play extremely well.”

Kelly added that his theme in Monday’s meeting with the players centered on how Boston College almost invariably plays one of its best games of the season against Notre Dame.

“Each and every team that we play is going to play their very best,” he continued. “We watched film against Appalachian State to prepare for Georgia — and we shouldn’t have watched it because the team we saw was a different team. Georgia played extremely well against us.

“So, we know it was a great learning experience in terms of knowing how well teams will play against us. Boston College will be no exception to that. They’ll play extremely well.”

Only once in that 12-game span from 2000-15 did either team reach the 30-point mark, a 31-13 victory by Notre Dame in Kelly’s debut season in 2010.

One year later in the home finale, it was back to the mean when the Irish eked out a 16-14 slugfest. Even en route to the BCS National Championship Game in January 2013, Notre Dame had to grind its way through a 21-6 victory that November in Chestnut Hill, Mass., against an Eagles team that finished 2-10.

Former Irish head coach Charlie Weis was renowned for his acumen on offense, but his three meetings against Boston College resulted in scoring seven points in 2007 (the other Notre Dame TD in the 27‑14 loss came on an interception return), a 17‑0 shutout loss in 2008 and then — even with junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen breaking a single-season pass efficiency mark that had stood for 60 years — Notre Dame mucking its way to a 20-16 win in 2009.

The Fremeau Efficiency Index has ranked Boston College 22nd and third in defensive efficiency the last two seasons. Former Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown left for Michigan in December 2015, and his replacement has been Jim Reid, who began his coaching career in 1973.

“They were an outstanding defense last year,” Kelly said. “They bring a lot of players back. Very gritty, tough-minded group. Speed on the back end, experience at the safety position, love to play man-to-man. An aggressive group that likes to take the football away.”

Although the rivalry has been dubbed “The Catholic Bowl,” Kelly said the approach to Boston College is no different than anyone else.

“It’s really about developing a mindset in your program that this is about dominating your opponent regardless of who it is,” he said. “It’s okay to know the history and how they’re going to play you, who Boston College is, the respect that you have for them, how they play Notre Dame — and everybody plays that way.

“But really this is about having a mindset going into this football game. I think from my conversations with the players, what I have seen in front of me, they’re closer to the mindset than they are needing the pep talk to be leery of a fired-up Boston College.”

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