Notre Dame-Boston College: Top Five Topics
For the seventh and final time this regular season — and fourth consecutive game this month — No. 15 Notre Dame (8-2) will be facing a team coming off a bye.
This time it is Boston College (5-5), which lost 38-31 to Florida State in its most recent contest on Nov. 9.
Our top five topics from the Monday conference with head coach Brian Kelly include:
1. Maintaining Physicality/Winning The Line Of Scrimmage
Last week, Notre Dame faced the nation’s No. 1 rushing team when Navy entered the contest averaging 357.9 yards per game.
While building a 38-0 lead, the Fighting Irish held the Midshipmen to 79 yards on 29 carries before Navy added the window dressing with 202 rushing yards thereafter in the 52-20 Irish romp. Navy still remains No. 1 at 349.3 — and now Boston College enters this weekend’s matchup ranked No. 5 with a 282.2 average on the ground.
Whereas the Midshipmen relied a lot on option and finesse, the Eagles are more downhill oriented with 250-pound AJ Dillon and 240-pound David Bailey. The grandson of former Notre Dame All-American receiver and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Thom Gatewood (1969-71), Dillon is third nationally in rushing yardage gained this season with 1,451, while Bailey has 765.
This is as meat-and-potatoes football as it gets.
“Again, from our perspective, it’s continue to execute at a high level offensively, control the line of scrimmage as best we can against a team that really wants to assert themselves in running the football,” Kelly summarized. “It should be a great matchup for our football team.”
2. Senior Day
As freshmen, this group endured the throes of a miserable 4-8 campaign, but since then has been a top-10 regular while producing a 30-6 mark and a berth to the four-team College Football Playoff last season. Kelly refers to it as “residual benefits."
“They didn’t seem to be benefits at the time, but they learned quite a bit from  in terms of the preparation and the locker room, and all the things that are necessary to continue to build on your culture,” Kelly said. “Some of those guys are leaders today that have been able to make sure that no one takes our process for granted, and that you continue to work on it every day.
“So that experience definitely benefited those guys in their senior year.”
3. Ian Book Going Away From The Script … Or Not Always By The Book
Since the fourth quarter of the dramatic comeback win against Virginia Tech Nov. 2, senior quarterback Ian Book has excelled as a runner and passer. According to Kelly, some of can be attributed to making adjustments in practice where the offense is scripting less and operating more on feel than in a robotic sense.
“Ian is getting plays from the sideline and getting it in much more of a game-like fashion instead of just standing there and getting it off a script and almost it being formulated for him," Kelly explained. “We wanted it to be one where he had to see it, digest it and then we would coach it after the fact in film study.
“It seemed to me that we look great in practice because he already had the answers to the test. … He had to show us the work by going through all the progressions before he saw it. He did not know what the play was. I think that's really helped him decipher what's going on and what he's seeing out there.”
Quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees has also changed up some of the “pass pictures” for him.
“We felt like we needed to do a better job coaching, quite frankly,” Kelly said. “He's too good of a player and he wasn't playing to the level that he’s capable of playing. We needed to take a good, hard look at how we were coaching him.
“It’s benefited him and he’s playing the way he should be playing.”
4. Shayne Simon/Injury Update
Sophomore Mike linebacker Shayne Simon suffered a dislocated kneecap during Notre Dame’s 52-20 victory versus Navy, and an MRI revealed he will need surgery on the patella tendon this Tuesday, performed by team surgeon Dr. Brian Ratigan.
“It’s what we had feared,” Kelly said. “It’s a fairly significant injury, one that he’ll be able to fully recover from, but it’ll be a lengthy process.”
The injury likely will sideline Simon through spring practice.
Also not listed on Notre Dame’s two-deep this week was senior wide receiver Javon McKinley, who did not play against the Midshipmen on Saturday because of a sprained foot suffered the previous week versus Duke.
Listed as “day to day” is sophomore defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, who played only two snaps versus Navy, per Pro Football Focus, before incurring a sprained ankle.
5. The Streaks
Notre Dame will attempt to finish unbeaten at home (6-0 in 2018, 7-0 in 2019) in back-to-back seasons for the first time since, believe it or not, 1987-89.
The current 17-game home winning streak is the third longest since Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930, and the fourth-longest current streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision, behind Clemson (22), Central Florida (20) and Ohio State (19).
“It's been a big source of pride in terms of our summer workouts,” Kelly said of sessions held inside the stadium. “It’s clearly a goal of ours. Winning at home is important. It sets up your schedule. You’re generally playing six, seven games at home. It sets up your year.
“We love playing in front of our students and our fans, and it's a great atmosphere.”
Part two is that after finishing 4-0 last year in November en route to a 12-0 regular season, and starting this month 3-0, the Fighting Irish could finish out this month with a nine-game regular-season winning streak in the months of November/December — the longest since 1953-55.
While some of the workload in practices are cut back this time of the year, the intensity remains high — and blowout wins the past two weeks by 38-7 and 52-20 scores help the starters get more rest.
“This team has mental toughness,” Kelly said. “You can define mental toughness in any way you want, but I think it’s in the way they play. They’re doing their job. They’re holding each other accountable and doing that in the weight room as well.
“There are no guys in there cutting corners. They’re doing their job in the weight room, in the training room. That training room was packed this morning. And you do that with a commitment towards getting yourself ready to be the best you can be on Saturday. When you're doing that on a Monday, that's mental toughness. That’s accountability in November that you need.”