Boston College will take on the University of Notre Dame on Saturday evening in what is the Eagles’ last chance to make this year memorable for the right reasons. As bad as the Eagles have been this season, and for all the painful losses they’ve endured, if they can find a way to ruin Notre Dame’s National Championship hopes on Saturday night at Fenway Park before a national TV audience, the season will not have been in vain. A win on Saturday would mark one of the greatest victories in program history, and would at least give the team—and the fans—something to feel good about as they prepare to spend bowl season in front of the fireplace.
“Throw the records out of the window,” junior defensive back John Johnson said. “This game matters the most.”
The Fighting Irish enter this game holding an impressive 9-1 record to go along with a No. 4 national ranking, while their only loss came at the hands of No. 1 Clemson University (by two points, at that). Notre Dame began the season with a rout of the University of Texas at home (a team that went on to beat Oklahoma University) before making short work of ACC foes Virginia and then-No. 14 Georgia Tech. Following its loss to Clemson, Notre Dame has strung together five consecutive victories over good teams, putting itself in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation.
BC head coach Steve Addazio has complained all year about how things would be different if only his starting quarterback and running back didn’t get hurt, but the Irish don’t want to hear it. Like the Eagles, Notre Dame knows what it’s like to lose its starting quarterback and running back to season-ending injuries, but unlike the Eagles, the Irish haven’t let the injury bug ruin its season. Notre Dame actually lost its star players to injury before BC did, having lost standout running back Tarean Folston to a torn ACL in the season-opener against Texas, and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Malik Zaire to a broken ankle in the very next game against Virginia. The Eagles, on the other hand, didn’t lose quarterback Darius Wade and Jonathan Hilliman until the third and fourth game of the season, respectively, to broken ankles.
“It’s easier when you have a bunch of good surrounding pieces, you can plug a guy in and make that go,” Addazio said at his Monday press conference. “We don’t have a first-round draft pick out at wide receiver. We don’t have a veteran offensive line that is playing like that. So it’s not quite the same deal.”
When confronted with similar adversity, the two teams have responded in different ways. When the Irish lost Zaire late in the game against Virginia, Deshone Kizer coolly stepped off the bench and threw the game-winning touchdown pass. In contrast, when Darius Wade went down for the Eagles, Troy Flutie entered the game and proceeded to turn the ball over on downs and lose the game. The Irish have won despite their injuries, while the Eagles have lost because of them.
As good as Notre Dame may be this year, the Eagles are not without hope. BC’s defense is as good as any unit in the country, ranking first nationally in total yards per game, yards per rush, and yards per play.
“We have good athletes, too,” Johnson said.
Only one team has managed to score more than 30 points against the Eagles, and that was Clemson in Death Valley (34 points). The Eagles have arguably the best defensive front-seven in the country, and will be the stiffest test that Irish running backs C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams have faced all season. While the Irish will likely struggle running the ball on Saturday, it seems that their best chance to move the chains and score points lies through the air, where an Eagles secondary missing the services of standout cornerback Kamrin Moore will be tasked with slowing down one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the country.
Irish wide receiver Will Fuller is having one of the best seasons for a pass-catcher in Notre Dame history, having already totaled 937 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions, including the game-winner at Virginia.
The best way for the Eagles to limit Notre Dame’s passing attack on Saturday is for the BC front-seven to generate consistent pressure on Kizer in order to keep the deep passing plays from developing in the first place, but falling short of that, the Eagles’ secondary needs to be disciplined and prepared to make a play when the ball is in the air, particularly when it is thrown to Fuller.
“[The Irish wideouts] do such an amazing job of high-pointing the ball and getting separation from defenders,” Simmons said. “We need to do our best, play the ball, challenge the receivers, and make plays.”
Make no mistake, BC’s offense is dreadful and the Notre Dame defense is stout, but the Eagles have done a few things well in recent weeks that they hope to build on this Saturday. The insertion of freshman walk-on quarterback John Fadule into the starting lineup has provided something of a spark for the Eagles’ offense, and two weeks ago he threw for 257 yards against NC State—the most for a BC quarterback in over two years. Hopefully coming off the bye week with an extra week of practice, Fadule has built upon the chemistry he showed with his receivers against NC State and is ready to generate some explosive plays for the Eagles offense.
Wide receiver Thadd Smith shows flashes of talent every week for the Eagles and scored BC’s lone touchdown against NC State two weeks ago—he will likely be the one Fadule targets if he decides to throw the ball deep. Running the ball should be difficult for the Eagles on Saturday—as it has been all year—and Notre Dame middle linebacker Jaylon Smith might be the fiercest defender the Eagles’ offense has reckoned with all season. Smith is projected to be a high first-round NFL draft pick (one of several on the Irish defense, along with Sheldon Day and KeiVarae Russell) and will likely cause the Eagles all kinds of trouble on Saturday.
As the years go by, the sting of defeat will dull and the losses will fade away. With the exception of the Wake Forest game, the day will come when people will forget all about the tough losses that the Eagles have suffered this fall. Hard as it may seem to believe now, in 30 years it is unlikely that anyone will remember the 24-8 loss to NC State. A win over the Irish in Fenway Park Saturday night, on the other hand, will forever immortalize the 2015 Eagles in BC football lore, and will add another chapter to an old rivalry filled with exciting finishes and unpredictable upsets. As big as the win over USC was last year, a win over the Irish this year would be even bigger due to the nature of the rivalry, the unique venue, and Notre Dame’s postseason aspirations.
Featured Image by Alec Greaney / Heights Editor