To preview tomorrow's Holy War matchup between the Eagles and Fighting Irish, we sat down with the SB Nation Irish blog One Foot Down. In exchange, we answered some questions on the Eagles over at OFD.
BC Interruption: First off, it must be exciting for Notre Dame to start off the season 9-0 and be in the contention for a BCS bowl. Tell us a little about how Notre Dame went from a good team in 2011 to an elite team in 2012?
One Foot Down: A lot of it has to do with turnovers. Notre Dame was actually a pretty good team last season, but turnovers cost them at least two games - USF and Michigan. Everett Golson isn't turning the ball over like Tommy Rees did last season and the Irish defense is doing a much better job of creating turnovers.
Speaking of the defense, I think another year in the system has done a lot for a few players. DE Stephon Tuitt and NT Louis Nix are both playing at a higher level than they were last year, OLB Prince Shembo is no longer playing out of position, and the addition of OLB Danny Spond has helped turn ND's linebacker unit into one of the best in the country. Even though the offense has sputtered at time this season, the ability to shut teams down on defense has been critical to the 9-0 start.
BCI: BC fans have a lot of pride in Luke Kuechly, and last year's award winning campaign is something we won't forget. Now it's Notre Dame 's linebacker Manti Te'o who is getting all the attention. What kind of player is he? Do you think he is as good of a player as Kuechly?
OFD: I would probably use all of the same adjectives on Te'o that BC fans would use on Kuechly. He's an instinctive player with a nose for the ball, a sure tackler, and a great leader. He sniffs out screens better than any player I've seen and his pass coverage skills have greatly improved this season.
But besides just being a fantastic football player, Irish fans will remember Te'o for what he meant to this program the four years he was here. He committed to the Irish after they won a total of ten games the previous two seasons. He stuck with the Irish after the coach he committed to got fired after his freshman year. He chose to come back for his senior year after two tumultuous years under the new head coach. The whole time he's been a leader both on and off the field.
As for the comparison to Kuechly, I just don't know. I only ever watch him against Notre Dame and came away highly impressed every time. Keuchly was so productive - with both the stats and the awards to prove it - that I don't think it'd be fair to say Te'o is better than him, so I guess I'll wimp out and call it a tie.
BCI: I have turned on a handful of Notre Dame games this year (my wife's uncle was a lineman for the 1973 National Championship team), and I have noticed Tommy Rees and Everett Golson both getting snaps at quarterback. Can you talk a little about how will be starting, and the strengths and weaknesses of both?
OFD: The notion that there's some kind of QB controversy at Notre Dame is overblown. Everett Golson is the starter and I don't expect to see Rees unless Golson is hurt, Notre Dame is up by four or five touchdowns, or Golson completely implodes.
Golson is the type of quarterback that has been missing in Brian Kelly's offense since he arrived. He has a big arm and can make plays with his feet. However, as a redshirt freshman, he's prone to redshirt freshman mistakes. He still doesn't have a firm grasp of the offense and misses wide open receivers streaking downfield on occasion and has a habit of dancing out of the pocket instead of stepping up and going through his full progression. But he's so talented and so good at improvising that I think he'll be a star once everything starts to click for him.
Tommy Rees is... well, Tommy Rees. He's the same quarterback Eagle fans saw last year in South Bend. A defense that drops eight into coverage is still his kryptonite, he still stares down receivers, and still has zero athleticism. I appreciate the fact that he guided this team through a tough end to the 2010 season, played marginally well last season, and had a hand in wins against Purdue, Michigan, and BYU, but I'm ready to move on from him and get some talented players into that backup role.
BCI: Notre Dame's defense has been dynamite this season. Other than Teo, what players should BC fans be aware of?
OFD: I mentioned them already, but the most important players on defense besides Te'o are DE Stephon Tuitt and NT Louis Nix. Nix is a force in the middle of the line and commands double teams on every play. Tuitt is an athletic freak of nature and the best passrusher Notre Dame has had since Justin Tuck. The two of them, along with DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, eat up blocks and make it very difficult to run on this defense. On pass plays, Nix can collapse the pocket while Tuitt and OLB Prince Shembo come off to edge to pressure the quarterback. Tuitt is the players that gets all of the praise because he puts up impressive numbers, but Nix is quietly one of the most important players in this defense.
BCI: Prediction Time: How badly are you planning on hurting the Eagles on Saturday?
OFD: Despite the stats and the records, I just don't see this being a huge blowout. This Notre Dame team just isn't built to win games by forty points. The only teams Notre Dame has really blown out were Navy (undersized) and Miami (quit because it was cold and they were losing). Boston College isn't undersized, they certainly don't quit in the third quarter and the Rettig/Amidon combination is a little scary.
Luckily, this game is on the road, were the Irish play much, much better than they do at home. This game will come down to Notre Dame's ability to pressure Rettig and establish a strong running game. Despite all of the praise I've heaped on Golson, he just isn't ready to carry a team for a whole game. If Boston College can keep it close and stop Notre Dame's running game, I'll probably be sweating bullets in the fourth quarter.
Hopefully the Irish defense can shut down Boston College early and keep some of the pressure off the offense. If the Irish can build an early lead, they'll probably just salt the game away on the ground and let the defense lead the way. I'll say Notre Dame wins 24-10.
For more on Notre Dame, check out One Foot Down.