The fourth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue their quest for the perfect season when they invade Chestnut Hill this weekend for their annual clash with the Boston College Eagles.
The "Luck of the Irish" certainly played a part in Notre Dame's triple- overtime win against Pittsburgh last weekend, as the Panthers missed what looked to be an easy field goal in the extra session that would have given the road team the shocking upset victory. However, Brian Kelly's squad capitalized on Pitt's miss and won the game, 29-26 to move to 9-0 on the season for the first time since 1993.
Frank Spaziani's reign at Boston College may be coming to an end, as his Eagles have struggled to remain competitive yet again this season. BC comes into this contest with just two victories on the year and just one against an FBS foe. That win, against Maryland on Oct. 27 was followed by last weekend's 28-14 loss at Wake Forest.
The winner of this game gets two trophies, as first this game is considered the Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl, while the second is the Ireland Trophy, created in 1994 to honor the rich Irish tradition that both schools share. Notre Dame leads the all-time series 12-9 and has won each of the last three meetings.
The Irish are first and foremost a defensive-led team in 2012, while the offense has played second-fiddle. At times, Notre Dame looks potent on that side of the football, but other times, looks less than competent. Against the Panthers last weekend, the team was both. Quarterback Everett Golson was benched in place of Tommy Rees under center, but returned late to lead the team back from a fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime and eventually win the game.
Golson has played to mixed reviews in his freshman campaign, completing 56.9 percent of his passes, for 1,372 yards and six TDs. He does have some solid options in the passing game in wideout TJ Jones (31 receptions, 383 yards, three TDs) and tight end Tyler Eifert (28 receptions, 403 yards, three TDs), but this is an offense based on the run, and that is where Notre Dame's strength lies.
Despite Golson's struggles at times, Kelly is certain he is the player to lead this offense.
"It'll be driven by the quarterback, by his consistent play, by his decision making, by his athleticism. Certainly if you take the last quarter in overtime, I think Everett (Golson) contributed 75-percent of our offense. So that quarterback will be the one that drives it; he'll have athleticism; he'll have the ability to throw the football. He's a freshman. I'm reminded of it every single day."
Instead of a workhorse back getting the job done, Notre Dame's 200.3 yards of rushing per game is delivered by a solid trio in Theo Riddick (610 yards, four TDs), Cierre Wood (537 yards, three TDs) and George Atkinson III (303 yards, four TDs).
While the offense has had modest success this season, the Notre Dame defense is one of the most feared in the nation. The Irish rank second nationally in scoring defense (11.7 ppg), 11th in rush defense (100.7 ypg) and 10th in total defense (294.7 ypg).
It starts with two-time All-American Manti Te'o in the middle. In a season where no offensive player has taken control of the Heisman race, Te'o has received plenty of support. Perhaps the best defender in the nation, Te'o leads the Irish in tackles (87), with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore end Stephon Tuitt has been a handful up front, pacing the team with 10 sacks, while junior cornerback Bennett Jackson (44 tackles, four INTs) brings big-play ability to the secondary.
The Eagles have been one-dimensional on the offensive side of the football this season and the lack of a ground game (77.4 ypg) has certainly been problematic, with the total ranking a dismal 118th nationally.
Still, quarterback Chase Rettig has shown glimpses of really strong play, completing 56.4 percent of his throws, for 2,561 yards and 16 TDs. The team's best weapon has been on the receiving end of a number of Rettig's throws, as wideout Alex Amidon has amassed 67 receptions, for 1,073 yards and six TDs. His 119.2 yards per game ranks fifth nationally.
Despite the team's inability to dominate on the ground, tailback Andre Williams (599 yards, 4.6 ypc, four TDs) is a competent rusher. although he is listed as questionable for this contest.
The Eagles have had all kinds of problems on the defensive side of things, allowing just over 30 points per game. The real culprit has been a porous run defense, with foes averaging 235 yards per game on 5.0 yards per carry. The rush defense ranks 116th nationally. The team has recorded 10 interceptions, but it hasn't been due to a feverish pass rush, with BC only recording six sacks all year long.
Still, that hasn't stopped linebacker Nick Clancy from putting up big numbers. The senior middle linebacker ranks third nationally with 11.9 tackles per game, and has amassed 107 stops on the year.