The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are a young team that has exceeded all expectations in 2012, largely due to being built around one of the premier defenses in the country. After a shaky performance at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers, that unit is built for a bounce back performance at Boston College on Saturday.
So often when this Notre Dame team has had its back against the wall, the Manti Te'o led defense has found a way to get a crucial stop. But due to the physical nature of the Panthers and a phenomenal game from RB Ray Graham, it was the Irish offense that had to pick up the slack.
Te'o and Co. did shut out Pitt in the fourth quarter, which was key. That said, it was definitely their worst performance of the year against a clearly inferior opponent in South Bend. It also caused them to fall to No. 4 in the most recent BCS standings.
The only chance the Eagles have in this game is to hold onto the ball and keep their horrid rush defense shielded from Notre Dame's lethal ground game, spearheaded by running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, along with dynamic QB Everett Golson.
There isn't much chance of that happening, though, since BC runs for fewer than 75 yards per game.
That means the game will rely heavily on the arm of junior quarterback Chase Rettig, who has looked good at times for the Eagles but has completed just 56 percent of his passes.
Translation: the Irish should have no trouble racking up at least 200 yards on the ground—their average total per game in 2012—which will give their defense plenty of rest and allow them to pin back and get pressure on Rettig.
This version of the Holy War probably won't be as heated of a contest as it has been in the past. At 2-7, the Eagles simply don't match up well at all with the Irish in any phase of the game. Their weaknesses happen to be counteracted by what Notre Dame does best, indicating that this one will be a blowout.
While it's crucial for Golson to stay in under center to continue growing his confidence in facing a soft opponent, it's equally important for the defense to bounce back from a rough week, since strong defense has been the team's identity all year long.
Another characteristic of Brian Kelly's bunch is how well they have played on the road in their limited opportunities: a 20-3 win at Michigan State and a stunningly dominant, 30-13 win at Oklahoma.
If the prior contests with ranked competition are any indication, the Irish should roll to 10-0 in Alumni Stadium—and the defense will get back on track. It might be bold to predict a shutout, but as good as this unit is, it hasn't had one yet.
Don't be surprised if that streak is broken at BC.