“Style points”, “strength of schedule”, Kansas State or Oregon “have to lose” – the BCS jargon is in full swing since #4 Notre Dame dropped a spot in the rankings last week after barely surviving an upstart Pitt team in triple-overtime. Regardless of what our sports-obsessed nation or voters believe, the only thing the Irish can control is their own destiny. Cliché I know, but they can’t worry about the things they can’t control and need to focus on the things they can control. This week the only item that falls into that “can control” category is beating Boston College and getting themselves to 10-0 for the first time since 1993.
All season Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has stressed to his players the importance of staying in the moment and focusing on what the team needs to accomplish on a week-to-week basis. The team has bought into his philosophy and is saying all the right things in their interviews, but last week it seemed the egg almost cracked as talk of “lessons learned” filled the internet and newspapers after the game. That being said, I do believe the close call against the Panthers was indeed a wake-up call and Notre Dame’s players now understand what it means to have a target on their back every week, especially when they’re ranked in the top five.
If the Irish travel to Chestnut Hill and play the way they’re capable of they should easily take care of a Boston College team that has injuries in several key positions and has had trouble stopping anybody the entire season. Let’s take a look at what Notre Dame has to do to insure this happens Saturday night in Alumni Stadium.
Continue the new trend
Notre Dame offensive guard Chris Watt stated earlier this week one of the goals for the offense was to start fast against Pitt. Well, mission accomplished for the Irish as they not only started fast, but ran the most plays in the entire game than they have all year. This type of “start fast” mentality needs to carry over to Boston College. Not only does it energize the team with the confidence of an early score, but it keeps your defense off the field and well rested for whatever comes their way as the game wears on.
Learn the lesson of points
A field goal is worth only three points. I’m sure the Notre Dame offense understands this age-old rule of football, but as of late they seem to have forgotten the other rule of a touchdown and extra point being worth seven. There was a point early in the Pitt game last week when the Irish should have been leading 14-3. They squandered two red zone opportunities that should have resulted in touchdowns. Had they scored 14 points in the half they would have led 14-10 at halftime instead of trailing 10-6. A Pitt team with a 10-6 lead is a confident team and that certainly showed with the way they came out and played in the third quarter.
A team like Boston College, similar to the Pitt, will play the Irish tough for as long as they’re allowed to. When close calls on touchdowns result in field goals teams like Boston College have a tendency to hang around and be a nuisance. Notre Dame needs to combine my first key to victory with this one and put the Eagles away early with would amount to an insurmountable lead against the Irish defense.
I realize we like when the Irish pound the ball 15 times in a row and assert their will on an opponent’s defense. As a former offensive lineman and head coach, there’s nothing that empowers a team more when you’re running game dominates a front seven. Even with all those good feelings I feel Brian Kelly calls a better game when he mixes up the running game with play action, a few screens, and some shots down the field.
The Irish, outside of a few wrinkles, basically have three runs plays – inside zone, outside zone, and power. Teams are starting to run-blitz Notre Dame based upon tendencies and formations the Irish have in their running game. The more Kelly mixes up the play calling the more off-balanced defenses become and the better chance his team has at scoring. Also, if you burn a team by catching them in a blitz, the more likely they’ll ease off the pressure as the game progresses.
Chase down Chase
If there’s ever a team Notre Dame’s going to play this season that’s one dimensional it’s Boston College. This has never been truer this week with the Eagles leading rusher and only real viable threat of a running game, Andre Roland, most likely sidelined with an injury. The BC offensive line doesn’t do a great job at protecting Rettig either and with their best lineman, guard Ian White, not playing due to a lower leg injury it should be open season from Stephon Tuitt and company.
Get your swagger back
Too many touchdown saving tackles, big plays, and points were given up by Bob Diaco’s defense last week against Pitt. It was a far cry from what we’ve been used to seeing this season and there’s no better way to erase those memories by taking out some frustrations on an inferior opponent. The Notre Dame defense needs to regain their edge and get back to the form they’ve displayed all season regardless of who they’re playing or whether the game is close.
Shut down Spiffy
The special teams were far from last week against Pitt. The coaches had a week to right the ship, but will that be enough time? Hopefully it is with Boston College’s Spiffy Evans the challenge for this week’s punt and kickoff teams. For all the things the Eagles struggle with they have their return game figured out and Evans is the main reason why. He leads the ACC and NCAA in yards per punt return and is a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball.
Summon Mad Max again
There’s an “us against the world” mentality the Irish have embraced this season when they find themselves in a foreign stadium. They’ve been excellent against Michigan State in East Lansing and Oklahoma in Norman. The now famous Notre Dame “home game distractions” are gone for their bout with Boston College and there’s nothing standing in the way of their inner “Road Warrior” to go to battle away from South Bend.