The fourth-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame travel to Chestnut Hill to take on the Boston College Eagles for the twenty-second time in a series that dates back to 1975. The night game kickoff is scheduled for 8:12 and is televised by ABC. The weather forecast for the Boston area calls for a low of 39 degrees, winds 5-11 MPH, and a zero per cent chance of precipitation.
Notre Dame holds the series edge with a 12-9 record against the Eagles in a game played for the Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl by the Notre Dame Club of Boston and the Ireland Trophy sponsored by each school’s respective student government. The Irish are 3-4 at Chestnut Hill, 2-0 at neutral sites, and 7-5 at home. The longest winning streak in the series for Notre Dame was four in a row, which they could tie this year, and for Boston College six in a row.
Boston College is led by Frank Spaziani in his fourth year as the Eagles’ head coach and in his sixteenth year at Chestnut Hill. After last year’s 4-8 record he turned over a large part of his staff and five new coaches coached their first Boston College game this season. Spaziani’s playing career was at Penn State where he played linebacker and quarterback. Spaziani began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Penn State, spent several years at various levels and positions at the high school level, at Navy, at Virginia, in the CFL, and finally Boston College where he became defensive coordinator in his third year.
Spaziani has coached both sides of the ball as an assistant and his tenure as the BC defensive coordinator produced defenses known for their toughness. Spaziani’s coaching record, all at Boston College, is 22-26. He’s is 0-3 against the Irish and Brian Kelly is 2-0 against the Eagles.
Boston College enters the game with an overall record of 2-7 and is 1-5 in the ACC Atlantic Division. Boston College has wins over Maine 34-3 and Maryland 20-17. The losses have been to Miami 32-41, Northwestern 13-22, Clemson 31-45, Army 31-34, Florida State 7-51, Georgia Tech 17-37, and Wake Forest 14-28. The Eagles’ opponents are a combined 46-35 which includes both 8-1 FSU and Clemson.
Boston College Offense
The Eagles run an offense that usually gets the ball out fast in their short to medium passing game, but will use play action to go deep. That play action has been less effective because their run game has been abysmal, especially in the last three games with totals of 32, 8, and 12 yards rushing. BC skill players aren’t that stellar in hanging on to the ball having fumbled 20 times and losing 10.
Boston College is ranked 90th in total offense at 364 yards per game, 118th rushing at 75 yards per game, and 27th in passing at 290 yards per game. They are 96th in scoring offense with 22 points per game. The Eagle offense has converted only 34 of 117 third down attempts to rank 117th with a 29 percent conversion rate. BC ranks 75th in turnovers with 18 on eight interceptions and 10 fumbles. They are ranked 89th in sack prevention allowing 22 sacks.
In the Red Zone, Boston College is ranked 106th scoring 24 times out of 34 trips inside their opponents’ 20. They have scored two rushing touchdowns, 12 passing touchdowns, and 10 field goals.
Trick Plays & Wrinkles
Flanker reverse pass from Bobby Swigert #10 and Johnathan Coleman #14. Swigert is 2-2-0 completing two for 40 yards, a long of 28 yards, and a 12-yard touchdown off of a backward pass from Rettig and then his pass to tight end Chris Pantale #81. Coleman is 0-1-0 passing this year.
End around or reverses are part of the Eagle offense. Four receivers have run the ball for BC this season and they have averaged 7.6 yards per run and a touchdown.
Boston College can bring in backup quarterback Josh Bordner #8 to run a smaller version of Oklahoma’s Belldozer offense in short yardage. That fact that BC hasn’t used him much this year doesn’t mean they won’t as Bordner scored a touchdown against the Irish last year on four carries. His career passing statistics are 2-4-1 for 50 percent and no touchdowns.
Boston College may run a formation that will feature one side of the offensive line standing up and hiding Bobby Swigert #10 behind the guard. The quarterback takes a snap and hands to Swigert who delays as the backfield flow and slot flow goes one way and Swigert goes the other way.
The Swinging Gate extra point alignment is available for Boston College to go for two. They tried it against Georgia Tech well down in the score. They failed.
Boston College is more apt to run their trick plays inside their opponent’s thirty.
Offensive Projected Starters
QB Chase Rettig #11, junior, 6-3, 213, 30 games, 30 starts
RB David Dudeck #26, freshman, 6-0, 195, 6 games, 0 starts OR
RB Rolandan Finch #28, RS junior, 5-10, 211, 19 games, 4 starts
FB Jake Sinkovec #41, junior, 6-4, 237, 17 games, 2 starts
WR Alex Amidon #83, junior, 5-11, 185, 38 games, 22 starts
WR Johnathan Coleman #14, RS junior, 6-4, 228, 33 games, 13 starts
WR Bobby Swigert #10, junior, 6-1, 186, 31 games, 8 starts
TE Chris Pantle #81, RS senior, 6-6, 255, 43 games, 40 starts
LT Emmett Cleary #77, RS senior, 6-7, 313, 45 games, 26 starts
LG Bobby Vardaro #76, RS sophomore, 6-5, 312, 21 games, 17 starts
C Andy Gallick #59, RS sophomore, 6-3, 300, 18 games, 12 starts
RG Seth Betancourt #67, RS sophomore, 6-6, 304, 8 games, 0 starts
RT John Wetzel #73, senior, 6-8, 302, 35 games, 21 starts
Quarterback Chase Rettig #11 is not the same quarterback that made his first start against the Irish as a freshman three years ago, nor is he the same quarterback he was last year. Many ACC defensive coordinators believe that Rettig is the most NFL-ready quarterback in their conference.
Rettig is a pocket passer, sees the field well, and is athletic enough to buy time with his legs. He has a strong arm being able to hit the far sideline deep out from the opposite hash. Rettig can throw the ball downfield with accuracy, throws well on the move, and makes all the throws. Statistically Rettig is 197-349-8 for 56 percent, a long of 52 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Three of his interceptions came last week and only one was his fault.
Backup quarterback Josh Bordner #8 is capable of coming in and running from the quarterback position and giving the defense a different look. He hasn’t done so as much this season, but he’s still and option for a team with nothing to lose. Career-wise he’s 2-4-1 for 50% passing with no touchdowns. As a runner his career numbers are a 4.2 yard average, a long of 25 yards, and two touchdowns.
Running back Andre Williams #44 is listed as out. The Eagles will miss him. He has very good speed for a 220 pounder. He gets to the edge well for his size. Williams gets his pad level low and drives for the hard yards. He set a Boston College record with a 99 yard touchdown run, has a 30-yard touchdown run, and four touchdowns overall. Number 44 has four receptions averaging 8.5 yards per catch, a long of 16 yards, and no touchdowns.
The reserve running back situation is a mess due to injuries and the coach’s doghouse. Rolandan Finch #28 is the guy in Spaziani’s doghouse most likely due to fumbles, but he’s a better back than the listed starter true freshman, converted strong safety, David Dudek #26. Finch has a 4.6 yard average, a long of 16 yards, 3 receptions for 9.3 yards and a long of 16 yards. Dudek has one less carry than Finch and a lot lower average of 1.0 yards per rush, but he has 16 receptions for an average of 6.8 yards, a long of 20 yards, and a touchdown.
Fullback Jake Sinkovec #41 hasn’t run the ball and primarily blocks for the running game. He does have four receptions for a 17.2 yard average, a long of 36 yards, and a touchdown.
Wide receiver Alex Amidon #83 leads the Eagles in receptions, has six 100-yard games this season, and is closing in on the BC record for pass receiving yards for a season. A good work ethic, a tough kid unafraid of going over the middle, and despite his slightness he can take a shot He’s a determined blocker. Amidon is the fastest receiver on the Eagle’s squad at 4.4. He runs precise routes, is tough on the post, skinny post, slants, the stop and go, and has good hand fundamentals in catching and putting the ball away. Rettig’s favorite receiver has 67 receptions for a 16.0 yard average, a long of 49 yards, and six touchdowns. As a runner he has taken the ball on reverses twice, one a 24-yarder for six points and he wasn’t touched.
Wide receiver Johnathan Coleman #14 is second in receptions. His size, strength, and speed combination make him a formidable receiver. Arm tackles don’t faze him like they do most receivers. He has 29 receptions, a 15.0 yard average, a long of 52 yards, and four touchdowns. His lone reverse went for six yards.
Slot receiver Bobby Swigert #10 is Boston College’s do everything with the ball type of player. Look for him on a screen or wheel route when he lines up in the backfield. He’s tough running the ball when he gets a bubble screen and he’s a fast and solid runner. He also runs reverses, end-arounds, and is a passing threat himself from any spot on the field or any alignment. He has 20 receptions, a 12.2 yard average, a long of 28 yards, and a touchdown. His end-around went for eight yards. His two passes were both completed, one a 28-yard touchdown.
Tight end Chris Pantale #81 is a reliable receiver with NFL receiving skills. He has twice been on the John Mackey Watch List for tight ends. Pantale runs good routes, has good hands, and is subtle in getting open on delayed routes after faking a block. He’s regressed as a blocker this season, possibly due to his foot injury which led to August surgery and him missing four games. Statistically he has 10 receptions for an 11.1 yard average, a long of 22 yards, and two touchdowns.
This Boston College offensive line is not a traditional BC offensive line. It’s young by BC norms, has real trouble blocking the run game, and is one of the lower tiered units within the ACC. As a unit there’s poor technique with too much of what I call arm push blocking and not bringing the feet and body with them in the block. They have allowed their quarterback to be sacked 22 times, five coming at the hands of Army, and they have contributed to a team average of 2.8 yards per rush.
Left tackle Emmett Cleary #77 is fundamental for the initial contact in pass blocking, but often fails to follow up in controlling his opponent and loses him. He stays on his run blocks better than his line mates and is mobile enough to handle most speed rushers, but if they come to the inside he can have a problem.
Right tackle John Wetzel #73 can be fooled on a quick inside move, but does a good job taking speed rushers wide. He has good footwork on pass protection but doesn’t seem to be very strong as he has trouble getting a push in the running game. He needs improvement in technique and his pad level. His legs tend to go dead under him in short yardage and the defender buries him all too often.
Center Andy Galik #59 makes sophomore mistakes in picking up pass rushers. He pulls well, but often reaches with his arms to block when he should be bringing his body to the defender. Concentration could be a problem as I’ve seen him miss a nose guard completely, letting him go right by him without any attempt to block the defender. I don’t think it was a “that’s not my gap” thing either. Supposedly Galik was going to be the next great lineman for the Eagles. I’ll watch his matchup with Louis Nix with a great deal of interest.
Left guard Bobby Vardo #76 is a strong pass blocker on the initial punch, but has trouble staying on a defender long enough. He’s not very nimble and that hurts his efforts in space or at the second level.
Right guard Ian White is going to be replaced by Seth Betancourt #67 who has only eight games experience and no starts.
Boston College Defense
Boston College plays a base 4-3 defense. They use a variety of blitzes, favor zone and overloaded blitzes and will send a corner on any down. Pass defense is mostly zone and the entire Eagle secondary is devoted to keeping it in front of them. This is a defense that doesn’t pursue well as a team.
The Eagles are ranked 109th in total defense allowing 479 yards per game, 116th in rushing defense allowing 233 yards per game, and 71st in passing permitting 245 yards through the air. They are 85th in scoring defense giving up 31 points per game and 114th in third down efficiency allowing opponents to convert 79 of 158 third downs for a 50 percent conversion rate. The BC defense has forced 16 turnovers to rank 16th with 10 interceptions and eight fumbles. The Eagles have recorded six sacks to rank 119th.
In the Red Zone, Boston College is 43rd allowing opponents to score on 33 of 42 trips inside the BC 20. That breaks down into 11 rushing touchdowns, nine passing touchdowns, and 13 field goals.
Defensive Projected Starters
DE Kasim Edeball #91, RS junior, 6-2, 258, 33 games, 24 starts
LT Connor Wujciak #90, RS freshman, 6-4, 267, 8 games, 4 starts
RT Bryan Murray #93, fifth year, 6-2, 299, 15 games, 2 starts
DE Kieran Borcich #55, RS freshman, 6-4, 264, 6 games, 2 starts
SLB Steele Divito #49, junior, 6-3, 226, 32 games, 21 starts
MLB Nick Clancy #54, fifth year, 6-3, 232, 39 games, 9 starts
WLB Kevin Pierre Lewis #24, junior, 6-1, 215, 27 games, 27 starts
FC Manuel Asprilla #21, sophomore, 5-10, 167, 18 games, 12 starts
BC Sean Sylvia #19, RS sophomore, 6-0, 204, 20 games, 10 starts
SS Jim Noel #23, senior, 6-4, 185, 43 games, 22 starts OR
SS Spenser Rositano #47, sophomore, 6-1, 200, 18 games, 11 starts
FS Justin Simmons #27, freshman, 6-3, 175, 98 games, 4 starts
This Eagle front, like the offensive line of past BC teams, doesn’t follow in the footsteps of past Eagle defensive lines. Part of that is youth, part of that is injuries, part of that is talent, and the end result is a poor statistical output. The Boston College defensive line has 2.5 sacks by their two starting defensive ends and no sacks by their starting defensive tackles. Their starting front four have nine tackles for a loss. By comparison Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt has 10 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss all by himself.
Practically all Eagle defensive linemen drop off into a zone on the BC zone blitz packages. The most intriguing being Brian Mihalik #99 who’s 6-8 and has broken up four passes. Mihalik makes sophomore mistakes, especially in gap responsibility, but he’s been coming on as the season progresses. He has 22 tackles, 10 solos, 3.5 tackles for losses, a sack, and a forced fumble.
Defensive end Kasim Edebali #91 is the best of the defensive linemen for BC. He sets the edge well, is a productive tackler, plays hard, but he’s not a great pass rusher. Edebali has 40 tackles, 17 solos, five for losses, 1.5 sacks, a pass broken up, and a fumble recovered.
Defensive end Kieran Borcich #55 started the season on the scout team and has gradually worked his way into starting. He has good leg drive on his push despite being light, occasionally is moved inside, and he hustles. Borich has 16 tackles, nine solos, 2.5 for losses, and an interception.
Defensive tackle Connor Wujciak #90 probably would be a backup if not for injuries. Wujciak has 22 tackles, 10 solos, a tackle for a loss, and a blocked kick.
Defensive tackle Bryan Murray #93 pursues well and makes a strong effort. Murray has 12 tackles, four solos, .5 tackles for a loss, a pass broken up, and two quarterback hurries.
Boston College continues its recent tradition in having linebackers with high tackle totals. Their starters are averaging 11.9, 9.7, and 8.3 tackles per game. This unit is the best unit of the Eagle defense.
Weakside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis #24 reads run and fills quickly. He doesn’t have great size at 215 pounds, but he has good range and plays well from sideline to sideline. A good zone defender in the pass he has typical linebacker problems covering the running back that comes out into the flats or on a screen from the backside. Otherwise, the 24th-ranked tackler in the FBS is a good all-around linebacker. Durability has been a problem for Pierre-Louis and he is listed as probable due to a leg injury. He has 68 tackles, 40 solos, four tackles for losses, two sacks, and two passes broken up.
Middle linebacker Nick Clancy #54 has inherited the mantle of All American Luke Kuechly who dominated the tackling statistics in the FBS the past two seasons. Clancy isn’t leading the FBS in tackles, but he’s in third place with 11.9 tackles per game. Clancy drops well into his zones on the pass, fills for the run well enough, but lacks Kuechly’s instinctiveness and quick reaction to a play, especially against the run. That’s not a criticism of Clancy as few linebackers have the instinct of Kuechly. He has 107 tackles, 59 solos, 1.5 for losses, and eight passes broken up.
Strongside linebacker Steele Divitto #49 lives up to his name, Steele. Divitto can drive a tackle back into the quarterback on a bull rush, something few linebackers can do which indicates his strength. He’s intelligent in his play and is highly competitive, lacks good linebacker speed, but hustles and plays from sideline to sideline. He has 75 tackles, 48 solos, three passes broken up, two fumbles recovered, and a forced fumble.
Strong safety Jim Noel #23 plays a deep centerfield and in my opinion, unless he’s hurt, is a liability against the run. He has 30 tackles, 21 solos, two interceptions, two passes broken up, and a forced fumble. The other choice at strong safety is Justin Rositano #47. He’s a hustler, tough, smart player type who’s slower than Noel, but right now a better player. Rositano likes to jump routes. He has 33 tackles, 18 solos, a tackle for a loss, three interceptions, three passes broken up, and a forced fumble.
Free safety Justin Simmons #27 has worked himself into a starter and it’s well deserved. Simmons will hit. Simmons has 33 tackles, 18 solos, an interception, two passes broken up, and two forced fumbles.
Field corner Manuel Aspirilla #21 is the best cover corner for BC. Asprilla has 34 tackles, 21 solos, a tackle for loss, two interceptions, three passes broken up, and a forced fumble.
Boundary corner Sean Sylvia #19 is the team’s second leading tackler, has a great motor, is physical against the run, gets off blocks well, will mix it up inside the trenches filling a hole, and tackles well in the open field. His hustle, desire, and motor draw your eyes to him on tape. A definite football player, Sylvia has 75 tackles, 44 solos, 1.5 tackles for losses, an interception, and two passes broken up.
Boston College Special Teams
Place kicker Nate Freese #85 is 12 of 14 on the season and had made ten straight until missing a 52-yarder against Georgia Tech in the Eagles’ sixth game. His other miss was last week against Wake Forest. The longest field goal he has made has been 39 yards. Freese is 21 of 21 on extra points.
Freese also does the kicking off and his 40 kickoffs average 61.2 yards with one out-of-bounds and 17 touchbacks. His coverage team is ranked 16th allowing only 18.7 yards per return.
Punter Gerald Levano #32 has punted 47 times for a 42.2 yard average with a long of 66 yards. His punts have gone 50 or more yards 10 times, seven inside the 20, six fair caught, and three have been touchbacks. His coverage team is ranked 65th allowing 8.1 yards per return.
Punt returner Spiffy Evans #7 has returned seven punts for a 31.6 yard average, a long of 82 yards, and a touchdown. Evan’s average would rank him number one in the FBS if he had the minimum of 1.2 returns per game. Evans only averages .8 returns per game.
Kickoffs are returned primarily by Evans as well. He has returned 26 kickoffs for an average of 18. 7 yards per return which has him ranked 96th in the FBS. His longest this year has been 30 yards. He’s been one block away from going the distance several times this year.
Boston College has beaten undefeated Notre Dame twice, in 1993 and in 2002.
Boston College hasn’t beaten a team with a .500 record or a winning record.
Notre Dame has a 5-9 record on games played on November 10th. None of those games came against Boston College.
In their only common opponent BC lost to Miami at home and ND throttled Miami close to home.
The Irish have defeated four ranked teams this season, two at home and two on the road.
They still talk about 2002 in Chestnut Hill when BC stopped the 8-0 Irish in the Green Jersey Game. Bullfeathers. ND vs USC in 1977 was “The Green Jersey Game.” There is no other green jersey game. The 2002 game was the Neon-Green Fiasco. Anyone out there buy one of those jerseys? Anyone who did still have it? Anyone willing to admit it?
This is a home coming for Coach Kelly, a Massachusetts native. That should trigger a good emotional pregame speech.
No turnovers. We saw what turnovers do last week.
The offensive line cannot come out flat.
Run the ball. The BC defense gave up 516 yards to Army and 208 to common opponent Miami.
Coach Kelly and Everett Golson need to be patient. Boston College’s defense isn’t as talented as it has been, but they play the same philosophy and they mix it up well. Everett will face up to nine defenders dropping back.
Golson performance in reading the blitzes and coverages of Boston College is critical. Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen didn’t handle that aspect of quarterbacking well their first time out against BC.
A calm Golson is what I want to see because hyped up quarterbacks tend to throw the ball high early because they’re hyped up. BC tends to intercept many overthrows.
The Irish offensive line owes itself a complete game from the opening kickoff to the final gun.
Golson must take care of the ball. BC defenders will strip him. The Eagles have forced 10 fumbles. The Irish by comparison have only forced 4 fumbles.
Score early and often. Don’t let BC smell a bone.
Don’t come out flat again this week.
Stop the run. BC averages a half yard less per carry than the Irish are allowing, 2.8 to 3.3. Anything less than total domination over such a weak running team could cause the Irish staff some purple faced interchanges with their defensive troops in the film review.
Be alert to the double pass, halfback or flanker reverse pass and more. BC should have a problem scoring and will probably try a few tricks.
Pressure Rettig like Florida State did and the game belongs to the Irish. FSU only sacked Rettig twice, but they were in his face all day.
Irish safeties should never be sucked in by Boston College play action with their poor running game. Hang back, make sure you have proper depth.
Special Teams Keys
Quit leaving points on the field. That’s been the case when games have been close no matter what the final score. Kyle Brinzda is 17 of 23 on field goals and 17 of 18 on extra points. Hasn’t every miss left us wrung out at the time?
Contain Spiffy Evans. He’s a threat every time he receives a kick. I’d punt away from him, I’d kick away from him.
Leave no points on the field in the kicking game.
Ben Turk pinning the Eagles back all day.
Last week’s game shows you who read this preview why I always see things with “the glass has a hole in it” mentality about what can go wrong. I sure wish I had gone with my original score thought last week. I wasn’t sold on the Irish offense and I thought they’d be flat. I’d have picked a much lower and much closer scoring game if I went with my first thought, but got swept up in by all the hype.
Many Irish fans predict a blowout. I don’t see it that way. Why? It’s Catholic University against Catholic University and all that comes with it. It’s history and fan base. It’s usually a tough game no matter what. Last year BC was about as bad and they played Notre Dame tough. Everett and the Irish offense have been too inconsistent, especially against lesser opponents. Notre Dame’s kicking game of late bothers me too.
The Irish need to show me an all-out effort again in all facets of the game for four quarters or at least until the game is decided. We all talk about wanting a “step on their neck and keep it there” game against an unranked oppponent. Until then that game happens my glass still has a hole in it.
Notre Dame 17, Boston College 9