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BC v ND: Q&A with Notre Dame’s One Foot Down

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NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Boston College Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Boston’s College heads to South Bend to take on #15 Notre Dame this weekend in the hopes of attaining bowl eligibility (bear with me). They may be the worst kind of people, but they were kind enough to divulge the secret to beating them.

Here’s what known good-guy Pat Sullivan, no, not that Pat Sullivan (I don’t know which one you’re thinking of), from One Foot Down had to say about the Irish season so far and general fan expectations.

1. Who’s the best playmaker on this Notre Dame offense? How about the defense?

Offensively, the best playmaker is, without question, wide receiver Chase Claypool. The senior from British Columbia is an absolute freak athlete (6’4”, 230 lbs, very fast for his size) with fantastic hands and an incredible penchant for being able to drag/tap his toes at the last second to make an unlimited number of spectacular sideline catches.

He’s been exceptional all season (49 rec, 768 yds, 9 TD), but in the past 3 games specifically he has absolutely dominated, catching 20 passes for 332 yards and 5 touchdowns, including a 4-touchdown performance last weekend against Navy.

Defensively, it’s a little harder to decide on this, just because of injuries (Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes) and the fact that the defensive unit is definitely more of a solid overall group that plays well together than any one guy being a superstar. With that said, I’d probably say the best playmakers on the current healthy defense are linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive end Khalid Kareem.

Owusu-Koramoah is the “Rover” in Clark Lea’s defense, a hybrid linebacker/safety position that showcases his speed, tackling ability, and athleticism in coverage. He’s 4th on the team in tackles on the year with 55, 2nd in tackles for loss with 8.5, and has also managed 2.5 sacks, 3 passes broken up, and a forced fumble. Expect to see him everywhere on Saturday.

Kareem was the thunder to Julian Okwara’s lightning in the pass rush, and with Okwara out he is now the premier pass rusher on the team (although Jamir Jones has been fantastic in Okwara’s stead). Kareem’s got 4.5 sacks on the season to go along with a team-leading 9 tackles for loss and 8 QB hurries, and also has managed 34 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. He will be the guy the BC tackles will be most worried about and preoccupied with blocking, which will probably end up giving guys like Jones the opportunities for actual sacks.

Another name to quickly note that I will touch on more later -- true freshman safety Kyle Hamilton, who seems to show multiple times a game why he was a 5-star prospect and why he’s expected to be a guy who doesn’t need to stay 4 years.

2. What’s the Achilles heel of this team?

I think it’s clear, after 10 games, that the 2019 Fighting Irish have one very specific Achilles heel: playing in the rain in Ann Arbor.

Besides that very sad and obvious assessment, I think the kind of team that can really break Notre Dame is one with an elite, athletic defense that takes away the run and is physical with Irish receivers, and then also has a strong enough running game on offense to eat up clock and wear down a very good ND defense that will, like any defense, eventually break down if they are on the field too much.

Georgia and Michigan both have elite defenses, strong offensive lines, and very talented running backs, and I think easily showcased how to shut down what has otherwise looked like a very productive ND offense and wear down what is normally a super stingy Irish defense.

3. What’s the general fan feeling toward Brian Kelly? Did last year’s run to the College Football Playoff placate fans or have the poor performances against top teams this season angered them more?

This is definitely a conversation that will be very different depending on which Notre Dame fan you talk to, but I would say, for the most part, fans are generally fine with Brian Kelly as head coach, even with the alarming nature of the Michigan loss.

There’s certainly a faction of fans that have wanted him gone for years -- which I will talk about a bit more in a second -- but most fans have seen the 30-6 record over the past 3 seasons as an excellent bounce-back from the 4-8 season in 2016, and although the Cotton Bowl last year was yet another big game against an elite team wherein the Irish got blown out, overall it was a very successful season, considering going undefeated and making the CFP are two VERY hard things to accomplish.

With that said, I think a lot of fans write off the faction calling for Brian Kelly to be fired/to retire/to be pushed out as crazy old alumni who will never be happy, and some of that sentiment may be true. But, I also think a lot of their actual points are pretty legitimate, especially if ND fans would still agree that being able to compete against the best teams (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State) and win a national championship are the two goals for this program.

Brian Kelly should be given credit for making the BCS National Championship in 2013 and the CFP last year, but he also needs to be given the blame for losing those two games by a combined 72-17 score.

Further, it’s certainly important that at least in the last 3 years, his program has taken care of business against lesser opponents. It’s easy to stumble against bad teams for a variety of reasons, so hats off to him for driving his team to win the games they should definitely win recently. However, a great coach does more frequently than *seldomly* win games against really good teams, too, and Brian Kelly’s program has been much more known for the almost-victories over really good teams during his tenure than actually ever winning them.

2014 Florida State, 2015 Clemson, 2015 Stanford, 2017 Georgia, and 2019 Georgia were all moral victories -- but still losses -- and then of course there are the games against good opponents that weren’t even close, such as the 2013 title game vs. Alabama, 2013 vs. Oklahoma, the 2016 Fiesta Bowl vs. OSU, 2017 at Miami, 2017 at Stanford, last year’s Cotton Bowl, and 2019 at Michigan. It’s a real pattern, even if there are occasional very nice wins mixed in -- beating Stanford at home and Oklahoma in Norman in 2012, giving Michigan State its only loss in 2013, beating USC by 28 in 2017, and topping Michigan to open 2018 were all pretty impressive wins when it was all said and done.

I’m no longer in the camp of “Fire Kelly!” like I was after 2016, because I think he’s done a good job of hiring better assistants outside his coaching bubble and has developed the Irish into an actual contender for making the College Football Playoff.

But I also don’t believe he will ever get ND back to the mountaintop of college football (i.e. winning once in the Playoff, beating teams like Clemson and Alabama and Ohio State), especially seeing something like this year’s Michigan game inexplicably happen once again.

So, I anxiously await his retirement and the successor hopefully being someone who can take what he built -- which was HUGE for the program considering what Davie, Willingham, and Weis did to tear the program down -- and drive it to the next level in order to bring a championship back to South Bend.

4. At 8-2 right now, what constitutes a successful season for Notre Dame? Is it generally speaking championship or bust?

Going 11-2 and winning a solid bowl game this season (hopefully the Cotton Bowl) would be a very good season following a CFP appearance in 2018, and I wouldn’t be too upset about it at all. Considering what was lost in terms of 2018 talent (Miles Boykin, Dexter Williams, Alize Mack, Julian Love, Jerry Tillery, Te’von Coney, Drue Tranquill, etc.), that’s a pretty solid 2019 season -- especially if the Irish can win their first major bowl game (that is to say, NY6 or better) in 25+ years.

However, a year like 2019 should be an average year for this program, in my personal opinion, and not one of the better years. Notre Dame should be a contender to make the CFP and win the title every couple years, and the worst of the worst years should be something like 8-4 or 9-3.

So overall, the goal for this program, especially considering their Independent status and thus not having a lesser and more attainable conference championship goal to go get, is to win a national championship. Anything less is disappointing and needs to be considered not the best that can be done -- otherwise mediocre starts to be accepted as good and good starts to be accepted as the peak, taking the possibility of being excellent off the table entirely.

5. It’s Senior Day on Saturday. Who will be missed? Who will not?

I don’t think there’s anyone in this senior class I won’t miss, but there are certainly guys I will miss way more than others. I’ll break it into two tiers: Guys I Will Miss Like Hell, and Guys I Will Miss, But Not as Much as the Guys I Will Miss Like Hell

  • Guys I Will Miss Like Hell: Chase Claypool, Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott, Julian Okwara, Khalid Kareem, Shaun Crawford
  • Guys I Will Miss, But Not as Much as the Guys I Will Miss Like Hell: Chris Finke, Troy Pride Jr., Asmar Bilal, Jamir Jones, Donte Vaughn, Trevor Ruhland

Oh, and then there are seniors who will probably be back again next season...

  • Guys Who Are Seniors But Also Eligible for 5th Years and Thus I Probably Won’t Miss Them At All, Because They’ll Likely Be Back in 2020: Ian Book, Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer, Daelin Hayes, Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Javon McKinley

6. Is there an up-and-comer BC fans should be aware of, either the next quarterback or a young guy on the field right now?

The next QB up will be Phil Jurkovec, a current sophomore who was very highly rated coming in but hasn’t been able to unseat Ian Book, even with Book’s struggles for much of this season. Jurkovec probably won’t start next season either, assuming Book returns for his 5th year and holds onto the job (which seems very possible considering his recent run of much better performances).

So, the young guy I want to talk about here, who I think BC fans -- and college football fans in general -- need to know about? Kyle Hamilton.

Hamilton was a 5-star safety prospect out of Georgia, which is the kind of player the Irish definitely don’t reel in too often. He’s got great length and athleticism at 6’4” and 210 lbs, and has already shown an incredible knack for making big plays just as a reserve safety (although calling him a reserve safety is a little unfair -- Hamilton plays A LOT because of everything he’s able to do, both in run support and in coverage).

In the second game of his career, Hamilton returned an interception for a touchdown, and on the season he is 1st on the team in interceptions (3), tied for 3rd in passes broken up (4), and 8th on the team in tackles (32). He’ll definitely start next season with the graduation of Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, and if his current trajectory continues, All-American honors of some sort and being a first-couple-rounds NFL Draft pick seem like very likely possibilities by his junior year.

Other young names to know: sophomore wide receivers Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III, who have both made some really nice plays this season -- Lenzy especially, as his track star speed has given him multiple LONG touchdowns and has generated visions of Will Fuller dancing in ND fans’ heads because of that.

7. So it looks like Notre Dame’s sellout streak ended last weekend vs Navy for the first time since 1973, and is once again in jeopardy this weekend. Are we all that bad? Is everyone in Iowa with Mayor Pete? What’s going on?

Honestly, I’ve always believed the true sellout streak ended a while ago anyway, and that the Notre Dame athletic department and football program were keeping it “alive” by donating bunches of tickets or selling big blocks of tickets to third-party sellers so that they could say they sold all the tickets, even if actual fans hadn’t purchased all of them.

So, I don’t think it’s necessarily a reflection of the competition coming to South Bend, but more so about the product ND has put on the field the past 25 years plus the ever-increasing ticket prices that have really priced some people out and made it much more difficult to justify an expensive trip from far away to see ND play.

8. Why does Doug Flutie broadcast your games?

We keep asking ourselves the exact same question. He is NOT someone we enjoy listening to on Notre Dame broadcasts, and it would be ideal if he was replaced with just about anyone else -- Brady Quinn would be a nice choice!

9. That’s a couple of straight weeks the spreads on Notre Dame’s games have been quite off. Luckily, I’ve capitalized the past two. Why can’t the sportsbooks figure out the Irish and what do you think this spread should be?

Honestly, I cannot figure this out. The Michigan game went so sideways, I thought for sure that this was just not a great Notre Dame team, even with the near-win at Georgia. Barely defeating Virginia Tech the very next week seemingly confirmed that and justified the modest lines for the Duke and Navy games.

But then the Irish went and beat Duke and Navy -- two decent teams by most advanced metrics -- by a combined score of 90-27, shattering whatever the line was for both games and rewarding anyone who bet on a down-on-their-luck Irish, like yourself.

Considering all of that, I think this spread should probably be somewhere around 14 to 17 points. BC does have AJ Dillon and a couple other guys who could cause some problems for the Irish, and the pessimist in me REALLY wants to say that ND has been playing so well lately that they are due for a letdown against the ultimate opponent to have letdown games against.

But I also think the talent discrepancy in this game is pretty vast, the Irish are playing at home, and it’s Senior Day, meaning the ND team’s seniors will come out emotional and ready to leave it all on their home field for the last time.

10. Final score prediction? How do you think this one plays out?

I think ND will come out and Ian Book will quickly begin to pick apart the Eagles defense, similar to how he handled Duke and Navy, and with no Anthony Brown at QB, the Irish defense will be able to key on AJ Dillon, bottle him up (well, as much as is possible with a great runner like that), and limit BC’s scoring opportunities.

Once the Irish jump out to a decent lead heading into the half, they will make a few adjustments at the intermission and come out firing in the 3rd quarter, where they will put enough distance between them and BC to allow for some walk-on and reserve seniors to get time late in the final period.

Notre Dame wins to the tune of...41-23

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Big should out to Pat for setting this all up. Follow him on Twitter and be sure to check out the One Foot Down site for coverage leading up to the game and a Q&A with far more entertaining questions on their site.