Notre Dame Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Boston College
My weekly batch of key matchups has been cooked and is ready to be served.
This week's edition features the Irish's showdown with Boston College, which is laboring through a 2-7 season under fourth-year head coach Frank Spaziani.
But with the nation's fourth-ranked team marching into Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Saturday evening, the Eagles will possess a motivation not seen during a five-game losing streak that spanned from Sept. 15 to Oct. 20.
Let's find out how the Eagles match up with the Fighting Irish.
Boston College Offensive Line vs. Notre Dame Pass Rush
The country's most successful football teams pride themselves on their ability to effectively run the football.
Unfortunately for Boston College, the Eagles rank a lowly 118th nationally in rushing yards-per-game, averaging an abysmal 74.67. That ugly figure is directly attributable to a Boston College offensive line that has been manhandled by defensive front sevens all season.
Against Florida State, the most comparable defensive front to Notre Dame's that Boston College has seen this season, the Eagles accumulated just 96 rushing yards on 32 carries, resulting in an average of just 3.0 yards per carry.
If the Irish can limit Boston College to a similar figure, then a victory will be a certainty.
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson's Passing Ability
While the Notre Dame offense hasn't been the explosive, score-a-minute offense that Brian Kelly envisioned when he took the job in December of 2009, it has done just enough to stay afloat.
Quarterback Everett Golson has been an integral piece of the offense, as the sophomore from Myrtle Beach, S.C., has steadily improved each week.
His running ability goes without question, but it's his ability to move the football through the air that has determined whether or not the Irish offense will sink or swim.
Golson's coming of age has transpired during the past two weeks in victories over Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. Against the Sooners and Panthers, the 6'0", 185-pound Golson completed 36 of his 67 passing attempts for 404 yards and two touchdowns.
If Golson continues his upward trend, the Irish offense may tack a large number on the scoreboard.
Boston College QB Chase Rettig vs. Notre Dame Secondary
Because the Eagles have struggled tremendously to run the football this season, they've relied on quarterback Chase Rettig to move the football down the field through the air.
His performance last week during a 28-14 loss to Wake Forest was a microcosm of his offense's struggles during the 2012 season. The Sierra Madre, Calif., native threw the football 49 times, completing 29 passes for 357 yards and one touchdown, though he was picked off three times.
If Rettig has similar success throwing the football against the Irish, but minimizes his turnovers, he may keep the Eagles within a reasonable margin.
Notre Dame Special Teams Play
One unit that has been overlooked during Notre Dame's undefeated season has been the Fighting Irish's atrocious special teams unit, specifically the return game.
On kickoff returns, George Atkinson III has struggled because of the lack of open running lanes. Atkinson isn't necessarily a razzle-dazzle, east-west runner. Rather, he's a straight-line runner who needs hallway type lanes to run down to be effective, and those simply haven't been available this season.
The punt return game has encountered similar struggles, as it has been virtually non-existent this season. Freshman Davonte' Neal has shown mediocre decision-making ability, as he has had trouble deciding when to let the ball bounce and when to navigate traffic to make the fair catch.
With both return games facing difficulties, the Irish offense has been placed at odds in terms of field position, which will not do Everett Golson and Co. any favors.
Last season, Notre Dame was haunted by turnovers, as the Irish finished the season with a turnover margin of minus-1.15.
However, Notre Dame's fortunes have changed for the better, as the Irish are currently tied for 19th nationally in turnover margin. Yet, in last week's narrow victory over Pittsburgh, the Irish reverted to their old turnover-prone ways, losing the turnover margin, 3-0.
That statistic turned out to be the key of the game, as Notre Dame left multitudes of points on the board due to wasted possession after wasted possession.
If Brian Kelly's squad maximizes each possession by putting the ball in the end zone and protecting the football, the Irish's chances at winning will be high.