Part 2 of our Eagles-Irish preview is with Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com, the Unofficial Home of Notre Dame football. Be sure to check out UHND.com, which will have our answers to Frank's questions as well as a preview of the BC game. As a primer for this weekend's matchup, be sure to read up on how the Irish steamrolled the Terrapins last week.
BC Interruption: A 23-20 loss to a 5-4 (1-4 Big East!) South Florida team? What ... happened?
UHND.com: 5 turnovers happened - 3 of which came in the redzone. That right there was the difference. Notre Dame doubled South Florida's total yards 508 to 254 and held them to 2 of 14 third down conversions. South Florida didn't turn the ball over once though while Notre Dame fumbled at the one (with the ball being returned for a touchdown), threw and interception in the end zone, and threw another interception inside the South Florida 10. Notre Dame thoroughly outplayed South Florida but didn't protect the football and let the Bulls walk out of Notre Dame Stadium with a victory.
Turnovers have been a MAJOR issue for Notre Dame in their losses this year. In their three losses, the Irish have turned the ball over 13 times while creating just three turnovers on defense in those games. When Notre Dame protects the football, they have won this season.
BCI: Brian Kelly was pretty coy about picking a starting QB at the start of the season, but has now settled on Tommy Rees as the starter over Dayne Crist and Andrew Hendrix. Did Kelly make the right decision? Assess Rees' year to date.
UHND: Kelly actually picked Crist to be his starter heading into the season but quickly pulled him and went with Rees after the Irish offense failed to put up any points and turned the ball over twice in the red zone with Crist under center in the first half against South Florida. Since then, Kelly has stuck with Rees even though the sophomore has had his bouts with turnovers at times this year - including 2 interceptions and fumble against Michigan alone.
I don't think anyone really knows for sure if Kelly made the right decision to switch to Rees yet since no one really knows what Andrew Hendrix can do since he's only had limited playing time. Rees has had his moments at times this season, but he has turned the ball over too much and has not been able to push the ball downfield. Rees doesn't have a big arm so he relies on the short passing game and making quick decisions. This has led him to struggle at times when defenses drop 8 into coverage.
I think we'll see Everett Golson a freshman with a ton of athleticism make a run for the quarterback position in the spring and if Notre Dame can secure a commit from Gunner Kiel, Rivals' #1 rated QB and early enrollment candidate, he could have a say in the matter too.
BCI: When the calendar turns to November and December, Kelly has dominated. Kelly has won 21 of his last 23 regular-season November and December games, including 15 in a row and has the Irish at a perfect 5-0 in such contests. What has been the secret to Kelly's success over the second half of the season?
UHND: Kelly's strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo has made a big difference for Notre Dame in terms of keeping players as strong at the end of the season as they are at the beginning of the season. This might sound like a given, but under the previous coaching regime it was not uncommon for players to lose 10+ lbs throughout the season.
Aside from the strength and conditioning gains, Kelly's teams have just seemed to get better as the season progresses. Part of this could be because his offense is based on timing and the more practice the team has the more efficient they get.
Under Charlie Weis, Notre Dame routinely wilted in November whereas under Kelly they have thrived because Kelly has also shown the ability to adapt his team to the strengths it displays. I don;' think anyone ever thought Notre Dame would be as good of a rushing team as they've been the past two Novembers based on his offenses at Cincinnati, but he's been playing the hand he's been dealt. Again, this is something Charlie Weis coached teams just didn't do. He rarely adjusted his playing calling or offensive philosophy based on the strengths of the team.
BCI: At this point, it is probably "too little, too late" for the Irish and any hopes of making a BCS bowl this season. Falling short of a BCS berth in his second year, what is the general consensus among Irish fans about Kelly's performance to date?
Feelings are still mixed among Notre Dame fans over Kelly. Those who have supported him from the beginning see the signs of progress - things like beating teams handily that Notre Dame should be handily. That too may seem like a given, but under the previous coaching staffs that was hardly the case.
Those who haven't supported Kelly from the beginning keep looking back on the horrible start to the season and the huge let down of the USC game as proof that Kelly isn't the guy to return Notre Dame to glory.
If Kelly leads Notre Dame to a 8-4 season with a bowl win over a team like Florida State in the Champs Bowl, I think most fans will be satisfied with the progress made. Anything less I think will be justifiably seen as a disappointment. Now, if Notre Dame can somehow finish the regular season 9-3 with an upset win over Stanford and win that same Champs Bowl matchup, I don't think anyone will really be able to complain.
BCI: A lot of Irish fans are generally pretty dismissive about Boston College and the BC-Notre Dame football series. Little brother, Fredo, Backup College ... we've heard them all. Taking a step back, what has the BC-ND series meant for Notre Dame football? Is this a series that should continue beyond our current scheduling agreement (five more games through 2019)?
UHND: Personally, I would like to see the series continue past the current agreement since Notre Dame and Boston College are the only two Catholic institutions to have D1 football teams and the series has been pretty intense. Right now the series stands at 11-9 in Notre Dame's favor so the series has been pretty evenly matched as well.
One of the problems with the series, in my opinion, has been that Notre Dame and Boston College have rarely both been good at the same time which has caused the games to be a little less compelling than say the games in the Notre Dame-Michigan or Notre Dame-USC series. In fact, the last time both schools were ranked heading into the contest was the 1993 game - aka the worst day of being a Notre Dame fan of this Notre Dame blogger's life.
Since that '93 game, six of the 15 contests have featured two teams that came into the game unranked. If Kelly keeps Notre Dame headed in the direction he has them and Frank Spaziani can turn things around at Boston College, it will serve this rivalry very well.
BCI: While the conference realignment carousel has momentarily stopped, it looks like the Big East is calling in reinforcements. For some time, the Big East has been rumored to be adding Houston, SMU and UCF as all-sports members. Are the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia from the Big East enough to force the Irish to move its hoops and Olympic sports to another conference?
UHND: I don't think that alone will push Notre Dame to join another conference. I think Notre Dame will stick with the Big East for all sports other than football until forced to do otherwise. Now, if the Big East tries to force Notre Dame to join for football or leave, I think we could see Notre Dame start looking for another conference since both the Big 12 and ACC would make more sense in my opinion for Notre Dame if they are forced to join a conference for football. Personally, I'd prefer the ACC since Notre Dame already has rivalries with Pitt and Boston College and has history with both Florida State and Miami.
BCI: How do you see Saturday's game turning out?
UHND: No matter how good or bad Boston College is, they always play Notre Dame tough and I don't expect anything less this weekend. Boston College can't become bowl eligible at this point so this will be like their bowl game and they will come out fired up. I think the game will be close throughout the first half and into the third quarter until the Notre Dame running game slowly starts to take over the game.
A lot of Notre Dame fans are expecting a blowout, but blowouts have been rare in this series for Notre Dame and I expect a final score in the range of 31-17 with Notre Dame scoring an early 4th quarter touchdown to pull away from Boston College.