Our Boston Globe style look at tomorrow’s game between Notre Dame and Boston College.
Notre Dame (1-1 overall) at Boston College (1-1 overall, 0-1 ACC)
When: 3:30 PM EDT
Where: Alumni Stadium, Chestnut Hill, MA (44,500)
Line: Danny Sheridan opening - Notre Dame by 11 1/2, The Book - Notre Dame by 13.2
Series history: Notre Dame leads 14-9, in Chestnut Hill, Notre Dame leads 5-4
Last game vs BC: Notre Dame 19 Boston College 16 (Fenway Park) - 2015
Last game at BC: Notre Dame 21 at Boston College 6 - 2012
Last BC win: at Boston College 17 Notre Dame 0 - 2008
Series Win Streak: Notre Dame 5
My 2017 record vs the Vegas spread: 2-0
My 2017 record straight up: 2-0
Last week: Georgia 20 at Notre Dame 19, Wake Forest 34 at Boston College 10
When Notre Dame Runs:
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame run offense: (2016) 163.3 ypg, 80th in the nation, (2017) 238.5 ypg, 28th in the nation, Boston College run defense: (2016) 108.5 ypg, 8th in the nation, (2017) 161.0 ypg, 86th in the nation
The Eagles are in line to face what many thought pre-season were two of the top 10 offensive lines in the country in the next two weeks with Notre Dame and then Clemson.
The Irish return four starters on that offensive front including first team pre-season All-American LG Quenton Nelson and second team pre-season AA LT Mike McGlinchey, but results in the run game have been bizarrely mixed at best.
In the season opener the Irish ran for 422 yards, over a 9 ypc average and 5 TDs against Temple, but then were squashed vs Georgia, gaining a measly 55 yards on 36 carries for only a 1.5 ypc. Pretty easy to say it was level of competition and that may be true, but Temple held Villanova to 20 yards rushing in their next game and Appalachian State did reasonably well against the Dawgs, gaining 136 yards.
Besides that O-Line, the Irish boast one of the top 10 running back units in the country with three running threats in Jr QB Brandon Wimbush and Jr RBs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. All three ran for over 100 yards vs Temple.
Wimbush is a dual threat QB, who would be considered more run than pass and to date, Boston College has had troubles accounting for the QB in the run game.
BC has definitely been less stout against the run this year than the past several and one can argue has faced two of the weaker run offenses on their schedule to date, despite Northern Illinois’ success against lesser comp.
This one comes to down to which Notre Dame offensive line shows up as I am not sure the reality of who they are has been established yet whereas I believe this is who BC is against the run...good not great.
For the first time in a long time, advantage to the Eagles opponent.
When Notre Dame Passes:
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame pass offense: (2016) 254.3 ypg, 48th in the nation, (2017) 197.0 ypg, 95th in the nation, Boston College pass defense: (2016) 205.6 ypg, 34th in the nation, (2017) 177.0 ypg, 47th in the nation
If there is a belief that the Irish can control the game on the ground, then ND should have reasonable success throwing it.
Despite mediocre sack stats so far, if there was one area that Georgia most exposed on the Notre Dame front, it was pass protection. McGlinchey in particular had a brutal time dealing with speed rushers off the edge and that is like red meat for Harold Landry.
Brandon Wimbush is a much better passer when ND is in control of down and distance, which will be based on 1st down runs. If the Eagles can make him a passer by necessity, in 2nd and 3rd and long situations they should have good success getting home with a pass rush. Remember though, Wimbush is a top ten recruit at his position, so although he lacks game experience, he doesn’t lack talent.
Like their backfield counterparts, the Irish are loaded with talent at the receiver position, viewed as a top five unit in the country pre-season by Phil Steele.
ND has experience, size and skill at the position, led by 6’5 JR Equanimeous St Brown. St Brown topped the Irish receiving list last season with 58 receptions for just under 1000 yards and 9 TDs.
8 of the 12 Irish receivers stand 6’4 or taller, posing a decided advantage in jump ball type situations.
In general, I would give the nod to BC here based on what has transpired to date. However, the advantage is based on Notre Dame throwing on their terms due to the success running the ball. If that doesn’t manifest itself and ND is faced with long yardage situations, the Eagles could feast.
When Boston College Runs:
Advantage: Notre Dame
Boston College run offense: (2016) 149.1 ypg, 96th in the nation, (2017) 145.0 ypg, 83rd in the nation, Notre Dame run defense: (2016) 182.4 ypg, 72nd in the nation, (2017) 135.0 ypg, 63rd in the nation
Without a doubt, the strengths of both teams are on the offensive side of the ball. Certainly, we know the struggles of the Boston College offense, particularly running where that was viewed as a positive pre-season.
The Notre Dame defense though has faced one pretty good and one very good rush offense in its first two games and has accounted itself quite well. Particularly last week against Georgia with its two stud backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, the Irish more than held their own and against the more average attack in Temple, dominated.
New Defensive Coordinator Mike Elko has ND playing very aggressively, but there still isn’t great experience on this side of the ball, particularly when considering the run on the defensive line.
The linebackers are the strength of the run defense. Watch in particular for Nyles Morgan. The 6’1 238 lb senior has lead ND in tackles in each of the first two games.
Questions continue to abound for BC, particularly on the offensive line, with Jon Baker out and the really poor performance to date of the group as a whole, which has certainly not helped get Jon Hilliman back in the groove. The only consistency the Eagles have gotten is on the perimeter via jet sweeps, where Thadd Smith has become the team’s leading rusher through two weeks.
When Boston College Passes:
Advantage: Notre Dame
Boston College pass offense: (2016) 143.8 ypg, 120th in the nation (2017) 177.0 ypg, 102nd in the nation , Notre Dame pass defense: (2016) 196.4 ypg, 21st in the nation, (2017) 193.0 ypg, 56th in the nation
If there is a chance for Boston College to move the ball, it actually looks like it might be through the air. The weakness of the Irish defense is clearly in the secondary, but will the offensive line give Anthony Brown the time to throw and how will Brown bounce back from his 3 INT, essentially 2 pick six effort last week vs Wake.
The pass rush would be considered a strength of this ND team, having five through the first two games.
To date, Notre Dame has faced all first year QBs so far. Temple’s Logan Marchi was fairly effective, even considering the Owls trailed right from the start of the game, yet still completed nearly 55% of his passes with 2 TDs and no INTs. Georgia played it very close to the vest and relied on the run.
Some diversity in the passing game in terms of crossing routes may help shake receivers open, but once again, this is going to come down to how much time Brown gets and how much pressure he feels.
Boston College Keys To Victory:
1. Control the QB run - Boston College has really struggled in the first two weeks containing the QB on designed runs. In both the Northern Illinois and Wake Forest games, the QB was the opposition’s leading rusher. In the past, even if a QB has hit a big run, this hasn’t been an issue as sacks have taken all those gains away, that hasn’t been the case this year. In ND’s game one rout of Temple, Brandon Wimbush ran for 106 yards and an 8.8 yard average, in the loss to Georgia, Wimbush ran for just 1 yard on 16 carries, only 3 of which were sacks. So in the other 13 carries, he was held to just 23 yards. The explosiveness of the Irish offense is very tied to Wimbush’s success on the ground. It’s not like ND doesn’t have weapons at running back, so allowing Wimbush to go off definitely won’t help.
2. Score Defensively - This is definitely a big ask, but with the way the offense is struggling the defense not only needs to create turnovers (currently -4 and #123 in the country) but much like Wake Forest did last week, turn them into points.
3. Hidden yards to gain field position - Whether it be in the punt game, kickoff coverage, creating turnovers, three and outs defensively or ideally creating some first downs offensively, the Eagles need to create short fields and easier scoring opportunities. BC is tied for last in the country in plays of 30 yards or more with just one through two games. It is unlikely the Eagles hit multiple big plays in the game, so these hidden yards are key.
Notre Dame Keys To Victory:
1. Avoid a Georgia hangover - It’s true that Notre Dame is used to playing in what are considered big games and in big game environments, but coming off a 4-8 season a year ago, a lot was placed on the Georgia game. The Irish played well, but ultimately not well enough to win in a game they were favored to do so. This week is the first road game, against a team who views it as a rival, despite the fact Notre Dame doesn’t and with a coach with a history of no patience with his team.
2. The offensive line needs to be better - BC really needs to win the game on defense and that starts with the defensive line. This should really be a great battle of an excellent offensive line and an excellent defensive line, but so far, neither has lived up to expectations. The Irish offensive line looked extremely suspect against Georgia last week, particularly Mike McGlinchey who is bound to have his hands full with Harold Landry.
3. Big plays from the receivers - Should the line hold up, the Irish have some stars on the outside, in particular St Brown. BC has yet to see the depth and talent level of receivers that Notre Dame can field and with the size advantage, big plays are a real possibility.
For some reason, I keep thinking about USC 2014. BC was coming off a physical whooping at the hands of Pittsburgh, USC was riding high after defeating Stanford a week earlier. The game was the third of the season for both.
We know what happened in that one. There was an amazing transformation in both physicality and overall play that allowed the Eagles to knock off the #9 Trojans.
That said, I don’t believe that transformation will happen this year. This Eagle team is already very disjointed on the offensive line and has a QB in Anthony Brown still looking for his sea legs and not the 5th year grad transfer that Tyler Murphy was.
Yes, it is possible that the BC defense we have come to know and love re-appears and keeps the Eagles in the game the way they did at Fenway, but we have no points of reference since 2015 of that happening against any sort of quality opposition.
I believe the Eagles put up a fight in this one, but this is one very talented Notre Dame offense and I don’t see BC moving the ball consistently enough to keep that offense off the field.
Notre Dame 30 Boston College 13