South Bend, IN – Their 0-2 start now ancient history, the ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish take aim at their eighth win of the season when they host the Boston College Eagles this Saturday in South Bend.
This marks the 21st meeting between these two schools, and Notre Dame holds a slight 11-9 edge in the all-time series. The Irish have beaten the Eagles in each of the last two seasons.
Boston College enters the game hoping to win consecutive games for the first time all season. The Eagles, although out of postseason contention, improved to 3-7 with last weekend's 14-10 win over NC State in what was a defensive slugfest. It marked a complete turnaround from their previous outing, a 38-7 home loss to Florida State, and the Eagles will now try to build on that momentum against a ranked opponent.
This will be the final home game of the year for the Fighting Irish, who have turned their season around by winning seven of eight games since that 0-2 start. They have won three in a row overall, including a 45-21 triumph over Maryland last weekend. A fourth straight win would serve as a nice springboard into next week's highly-anticipated matchup with eighth-ranked Stanford in the regular-season finale.
Against the Terrapins, Notre Dame found quite a bit of success with a hurry-up offense, as the Maryland defense was unable to change personnel groupings and eventually wore down as the game progressed. All told, the Irish racked up 508 yards of total offense, marking the fifth time this year the team has recorded at least 500 yards in a single game.
"We wanted to go with a hurry-up tempo offense," said quarterback Tommy Rees, who completed 30-of-38 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. "Throughout the game they were getting tired with our tempo."
Senior Jonas Gray ran for a career-high 136 yards and a pair of scores, and the team finished with 212 rushing yards as a whole. Notre Dame has won eight consecutive contests when rushing for at least 200 yards, and Gray has notched a rushing TD in seven straight contests, the most by an Irish running back since Autry Denson ran for a touchdown in 10 straight games back in 1998.
"(The run-pass balance) is something our offense needs," Rees added. "We've been running the ball so well, and it's good to see the passing game get back up there. I think it is just hats off to everyone on the offensive side, from the coaches on down to the players."
The running game has helped take some pressure off Rees, as the Irish have notched 23 rushing TDs on 328 carries this year, which ranks 10th in the nation in terms of percentage of rushing touchdowns per carry. And in fact, their 23 rushing scores are one short of the team's combined total from the previous two seasons.
In the passing game, senior wideout and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Michael Floyd ranks ninth in the nation with 7.7 receptions per game. With 77 catches on the year, Floyd is 15 receptions away from breaking Golden Tate's school record for receptions in a season. Elsewhere, junior tight end Tyler Eifert, a Mackey Award semifinalist, is four receptions shy of setting the school's single-season record for catches by a tight end. Perhaps the most important stat to come from last week's win was that Notre Dame did not commit a single turnover. Under head coach Brian Kelly, the Irish are a perfect 6-0 when not committing a turnover.
Over the last two weeks, Notre Dame's defense has really stepped it up on third down. Its last two opponents have converted only 6-of-22 third downs. That was a big factor in last week's victory, as Maryland was simply unable to sustain drives. The Terps converted just 3-of-12 third-down opportunities, and two of their touchdowns did not come until the fourth quarter, after the Irish had already built a 38-7 lead. ND held a nine-minute edge in time of possession, and that included more than eight minutes of possession time for the Terps in the fourth quarter. Six different defenders notched at least five tackles for the Irish, who made a habit of swarming to the ball.
On the season, junior linebacker Manti Te'o paces the unit with 91 tackles, including a team-high 11.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. While they have been able to get after the quarterback and generate steady pressure with 19 sacks, the Irish have managed only seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries on the year. Despite the relatively low takeaway total, Notre Dame enters this game ranked 27th nationally in scoring defense (20.9 ppg) and 36th in total defense (350.6 ypg). Following last week's victory, linebacker Darius Fleming spoke of the importance of executing the little things, a mantra that has been repeated time and again by coach Kelly.
"I consider the little things to mean everything from cleaning up the locker room, to watching film study, to going out there and making certain plays," Fleming said. "You can relate a lot of things to mean the 'little things,' so it all adds together and benefits you in the end."
Fleming and the Irish will face a BC offense that struggled mightily last week, and for much of the season for that matter. Of the 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Eagles rank 112th in total offense (298 ypg) and 113th in scoring (18.0 ppg). And while they are coming off a victory last week, it certainly did not have much to do with the offense. Chase Rettig threw for only 118 yards, while the Eagles netted only 72 rushing yards on 36 carries (2.0 ypc). In fact, BC was held to minus-2 yards of total offense in the second half. Rettig threw for a touchdown in the second quarter, while backup QB Josh Bordner ran for a touchdown on the game's opening possession. Thanks to a strong defensive effort, that was all the scoring the Eagles would need.
Leading the way once again for the BC defense last week was junior linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is just 15 tackles shy of the school's all-time record of 524 set by former Eagle standout Steven Boyd. Kuechly also needs just six more stops to match the all-time conference record held by Clemson's Bubba Brown (1976-79). A unanimous All-America selection last year as a sophomore after leading the nation in tackles, Kuechly leads all collegiate players with 89 solo stops and 168 total tackles through 10 games. He has been named a finalist for the Lombardi Award and a semifinalist for the Lott Trophy and Butkus Award.
Kuechly registered a game-high 18 tackles against NC State, including nine in the final 13 minutes as the Eagles were trying to hold the lead. The Wolfpack moved deep into BC territory in the closing minutes, but the Eagles ended the threat at their own 27-yard line to seal the win. For the game, BC yielded just 267 yards of total offense and allowed only two drives to advance inside the 20. Dominic Appiah came through with three tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. Donnie Fletcher added a key interception midway through the fourth quarter.
A total of 25 FBS teams opened this season with an 0-2 record. Of those, only the 13th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs, who lead the SEC Eastern Division, have rebounded to put together a better record than Notre Dame.