The Eagles now take a three week break from ACC play and face the Irish this weekend. What could be better than Holy War week?
BC Interruption: Notre Dame's defense can't seem to stop anybody lately. Jon Tenuta's defense currently ranks 104th in total defense and 117th in pass defense. What do you attribute to the Irish's poor play on defense? Personnel? Scheme? Tenuta? A little of A, a little of B, or maybe all three?
Rakes Of Mallow: Up front I’m getting more comfortable with how the line and backers have been playing the last few games after some interesting performances early on. They contained Joe McKnight and the USC run game well, although you would have liked to see some more pressure. The game prior the line held up at the goal line against nearly a dozen attempts by Jake Locker and company. Obviously Montel Harris is very good and the Irish will have to focus on slowing him, but the front of the defense has been playing well. There are still some issues with just plain tackling.
The secondary? I can comfortably say the answer is all three. Irish fans have no idea what’s going on, and would have rated this unit as the trustworthiest coming into the season with the talent assembled and rather solid prior results recorded. Beyond Kyle McCarthy’s sterling play at safety, the secondary has been a trainwreck, with guys running around aimlessly as receiver after receiver streaks freely downfield. At practice this week, there’s a competition for Harrison Smith’s safety spot underway, which is nice, because Harrison had some difficulties on Saturday. Despite his middling results so far this season, it’s very possible David Shinskie will have a nice little Heisman campaign started by midway through the third quarter.
BCI: Speaking of Heismans ... much has been made about Jimmy Clausen and his potential Heisman campaign. How has Clausen been able to succeed this season? Who are the playmakers on offense whose names we'll hear called frequently on Saturday?
ROM: Clausen has been able to succeed because he’s grown into probably the best passer in the country. He’s deadly accurate, throws a great deep ball, and between the improvements of the offensive line and Clausen’s growing pocket presence, he hasn’t been sacked nearly as much as in his first two seasons. Irish fans are just enjoying Clausen for the rest of this season, as his name keeps creeping up Mr. Kiper’s big board.
Clausen’s main weapon is Golden Tate, a former high school running back who has morphed into an All-American candidate at wide receiver. Now a junior, Tate has progressed from a guy who could just run fly routes to a complete receiver who occasionally enters the backfield for some exciting Wildcat (or GoldenEye, if you’ll allow) formations. For his size he is amazingly difficult to bring down, and I can safely say he will break a big play or two in this game. Kyle Rudolph is a beast at tight end and has two critical fourth quarter catches so far this season (and almost had a third against Southern Cal), while Robbie Parris was fantastic as the second wide receiver opposite Tate against the Trojans. All-world talent Michael Floyd has been sidelined with a collarbone injury and isn’t likely to return for a couple more weeks, but if you see Number 3 improbably step onto the field, that is not a good sign.
BCI: It seems that every week Notre Dame is either winning or losing close games late in the fourth quarter. Why would Notre Dame be a 10 point favorite to anyone?
ROM: A fantastic question! Not really sure, although I’m thinking this may be more of a lingering effect of BC’s implosion in Blacksburg than anything else? I honestly don’t know, but I’ve found college lines are a whole lot screwier than the NFL, where Vegas usually dominates. I imagine the money is going to shift it towards the Eagles by a tick, but yeah, not sure why it opened so high rather than trying to sucker in some overly confident Irish partisans (I don’t even know if that group of people exists, but Vegas would want to milk them just in case).
BCI: It's safe to say USC is the #1 game you wanted to win this season. Does Boston College come in at #2 given the losing streak? What does the BC-ND series mean to Irish fans?
ROM: I think Michigan would have been #2 or #1A, at least for me, just because I really hate them. My feeling toward the BC-ND series is sort of ambivalent, but not in the obnoxious "I don’t care about BC/FREDO" sort of way, just in that I don’t have any prior experience with the Eagles that gets me particularly fired up for them. I wasn’t an Irish supporter until starting classes there in August 2004, so I don’t have any sort of grudge from 1993 or 2002, nor do I hail from the New England area, so I don’t have to hear about it after Eagles victories. I’m not sure I’ve ever even had an extended conversation about this series with an Eagle alum before, now that I think about it. I want to beat Boston College Saturday because the Irish haven’t in a while (partly because of good BC teams, partly because Notre Dame didn’t get a crack at them in either ’05 or ’06) and because I wouldn’t be able to deal with the "Hold me, I’m Irish" emoposting that would implode the Irish internets in the aftermath of a loss.
BCI: How secure is Charlie Weis' job? Does a close loss to Southern Cal warrant a stay of execution? What if the Irish lose to both BC and Stanford and go 0-4 against rivals this season? Then what?
ROM: A lot of insane Irish fans wanted Weis to go 11-1 or better to keep his job, but they are think it’s 1977, wonder why Notre Dame doesn’t use a fullback on every play and are still getting over the fact women are now allowed to enroll at our fine university. A realistic expectation for Weis going into this regular season was 9-3, but I don’t think the coach would want that third tick to come against Boston College in the aftermath of the USC loss. If Weis finishes up at 8-4 or better, I don’t think he’s going anywhere, but there will be some howling for his head if he drops one more game, let alone two.
I also wouldn’t list Stanford as a rival. I’m not sure there’s an Irish fan that would list them in the top five of teams they really get fired up to play/beat. It’s USC, then Michigan, then a hazy mix of a half dozen teams in which BC is prominently included. It’s not a matter of who any potential losses are coming to over the last six games, just that they’re happening at all that’s going to turn up the heat on Weis.
BCI: Last one. Notre Dame's two losses on the season have come against true freshman quarterbacks - Tate Forcier and Matt Barkley. Do you expect a third true freshman to beat Notre Dame this weekend? Make a prediction. Who wins this one? What's the score?
ROM: I’m not going to try and glean anything from Eagles games, since they’ve been so topsy-turvy this season, so let’s just go with the prevailing trend this season and say Irish win a close one late? I like the ND defenses chances at bottling up Harris – he’ll probably hit triple digits, but it won’t be like the numbers against NC State – but the BC defense dominated this game last year, and while the offense is light-years ahead of where it was November 2008, Clausen has to go out there and put some points up. I usually avoid making predictions, but since you asked, I’ll say 30-21 Notre Dame, with a late, late touchdown turning a 23-21 nail biter into something a little more comfortable.
BCI: Thanks for joining us CW.