Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Notre Dame Football 2008
Issue 9: Boston College

Boston College Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

Predictably, a year after Boston College lost its star quarterback, it is relying on its running game. What may come as a surprise, though, is that BC's top two runners are freshman. Both are small and quick.

41 Montel Harris is leading the way with 10 carries and 58.7 yards per game. Josh Haden is the latest Eagle tailback to wear the #1 jersey, and he's averaging nine carries and 39 yards per game. Junior 6 Jeff Smith is the veteran option. He's averaging four or five carries and 24 yards per game.

At 6'4", 239 lbs, quarterback 10 Chris Crane may look like a pocket passer, but he's also a threat to run. Crane averages six non-sack carries per game, and leads the team with seven rushing touchdowns.

Fullback James McCluskey averages three carries and 12 yards per game. Cornerback 21 Razzie Smith has six carries in as many games, so the Irish defense will have to look out for him as well.

Notre Dame's run defense is giving up 128 rushing yards per game, while Boston College's offense is gaining 150. With the variety of options Boston College has, Notre Dame's entire front seven will have to be on its toes. Safeties Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton lead the team with 76 and 73 tackles, respectively, while Harrison Smith now leads the squad with six tackles for a loss. But all three safeties are outweighed by Crane and McCluskey, so they will need help from the Irish line and inside 'backers Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, and Maurice Crum.

Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. Boston College Rush Defense

Armando Allen has been Notre Dame's best running back this year. Not only does he lead the team in carries (95; 12 per game) and yards per game (54.1), but he also has the best yards per carry average of the "big three" at 4.6. Robert Hughes is averaging nine carries and 29.8 yards per game, but a meager 3.3 yards per carry.

James Aldridge is averaging seven carries and 30.9 yards per game, and 4.2 yards per carry. Aldridge has also become the go-to back in the red zone, in a sense, as his three rushing touchdowns top Hughes and Allen's two apiece.

Boston College is playing without team leader 16 Brian Toal, who broke his leg in game six of the season. In the past fifteen years, the Toal family is second only to the Hasselbecks in their Boston College legacy. You may remember Brian's older brother from such moments as the deciding interception return in Notre Dame's 2002 green jersey game.

In Brian Toal's absence, fellow linebackers 94 Mark Herzlich and 34 Mike McLaughlin have picked up the slack. Herzlich and McLaughlin are first and second on the team in both tackles and tackles for a loss. Herzlich has 68 tackles and 7 TFL, while McLaughlin has 44 tackles, 6 for a loss (tying him with two other Eagles in that category).

Boston College Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

For a first year starter, Chris Crane has been surprisingly effective, completing 56.1% of his passes. However, he's also shown his inexperience with 12 interceptions on the season, compared to only eight touchdowns. On an average day, Crane will complete 18 of 32 passes for 178.4 yards.

Crane's top two targets are his starting wide receivers, each averaging three catches per game. 2 Brandon Robinson is the downfield threat, averaging 16.4 yards per catch and 55.5 yards per game. 18 Rich Gunnell is averaging 9.1 yards per catch and 29.5 yards per game.

Fullback James McCluskey and tight end Ryan Purvis are each averaging two catches per game. That means Crane isn't afraid to use his dumpoff option when necessary.

Six other receivers are averaging at least one catch per game. And while Robinson and Gunnell are both under six feet tall, Crane does have plenty of options that are 6'2" or taller.

Boston College has a fairly even playcalling mix when it comes to runs and passes. But with the success the Eagles have on the ground, you have to believe the Irish will rely on their safeties for run support. That puts pressure on the Notre Dame corners, but both have played well recently. Raeshon McNeil had two interceptions last week and leads the team with seven passes defended on the season. Terrail Lambert is fifth on the team with 31 tackles.

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Boston College Pass Defense

There are some who say that Jimmy Clausen hasn't looked sharp in his past few games. Of course, all he does on an average day is complete 22 of 36 passes for 262.9 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.

Like Boston College, Notre Dame's starting wideouts are leading the team in receptions. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate are both averaging around five catches per game. Tate has the edge in yards per game at 84.5 to 79.1. But Floyd has the edge in touchdowns, seven to five (not counting Tate's rushing touchdown).

Armando Allen and David Grimes are each averaging just over three catches per game, while Kyle Rudolph and Duval Kamara are both averaging close to two catches per game, and Robert Hughes one catch per game.

Boston College gives up only 168.5 yards per game on the ground, but that number is tainted by games against Georgia Tech's triple option, Rhode Island, and two MAC schools.

Still, the Eagles are averaging almost three sacks and two interceptions per game. Most of the pressure comes from their line, where 90 BJ Raji, 52 Austin Giles, 47 Brad Newman, and 60 Ron Brace have combined for 11 of the team's 21 sacks.

Mark Herzlich and strong safety Paul Anderson are tied for the team lead with three interceptions apiece. Herzlich is listed at strong safety, which tells me he's done a great job covering opponents' tight ends this year.

Special Teams

83 Steve Aponavicius is his third season as BC's placekicker. For a veteran kicker, he's been shaky. Aponavicius is 7-for-12 on the year, including 3-for-7 from 30 yards or more and a long of only 36. He's also had one kick blocked. Brandon Walker, who had a streak of seven straight field goal makes snapped at the end of the Pitt game, is now up to a respectable 8-for-15 on the season for Notre Dame. His long is the 48-yarder he made in the third overtime of last week's game.

Freshman 46 Ryan Quigley is BC's punter, although 14 Billy Flutie has punted a few times too for the Eagles. Flutie is also listed at wide receiver and has attempted a pass this season. That's the type of stuff you can do when your uncle is the face of the program. Back to Quigley, he's averaging 39.8 yards per punt with a long of 56. In fact, he's had three kicks of fifty yards or more in 28 tries. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 41.2 yards per punt with a long of 54.

Jeff Smith is averaging 20.4 yards per kick return for Boston College, with a long of 56.Ryan Burkhart is averaging 61.0 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with a solid 16.6 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has taken most of the kicks and has a 22.1 yard average and a long of 53. However, he was not on the kick return team last week, presumably to move the focus to Golden Tate. Tate now has a 20.5 yard average with a long of 29. 23 Billy Bennett is BC's kickoff specialist, and he's averaging 62.7 yards per kickoff with three touchbacks in 39 tries. Boston College gives up a below-average 24.4 yards per return on average. That gives opponents an average start of the 32 yard line.

Rich Gunnell is averaging a solid 13.3 yards per punt return for the Eagles. He also has a 65-yard touchdown to his credit. Armando Allen started the season as Notre Dame's punt returner, but Golden Tate took over the job last week. As with kick returns, is probably just a move to give Tate more chances, and not anything negative that Allen did. Allen is averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22, while Tate is averaging 3.2 yards per return with a long of 10.

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Jimmy Clausen, Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Raeshon McNeil


Notre Dame 27, Boston College 24