Opponent outlook: Strange season for Boston College

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

It's been a strange football season at Boston College.

The Eagles (3-7) occupy both ends of the rainbow -- they have the best defense in the country (yielding 236.5 yards) and the worst offense (gaining 276.6).

Third-year head coach Steve Addazio, a former Notre Dame assistant (1999-2001), will try to pull off the upset against the Irish Saturday in an unusual venue -- Boston's historic Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox -- in this year's Shamrock Series game.

BC football beat writer Mike Vega of the Boston Globe takes a look at what might make this game interesting.

ND Insider: How has the city of Boston responded to a Notre Dame "home" football game at Fenway Park?

Mike Vega: It's hard to gauge what the actual response has been. Initially, there was some excitement about the fact that Notre Dame and Boston College would be playing a football game at Fenway Park, where a college football game was last staged Dec. 1, 1956, and resulted in BC's 7-0 loss to long-time rival Holy Cross. But once it became apparent that this matchup would be considered Notre Dame's home game, there seemed to be a groundswell of anger and resentment. BC fans became incensed about the fact the Irish would be invading Boston and occupying its high cathedral of baseball and planting its flag on Fenway's sacred sod, thus making BC the visiting team in an iconic local venue that is 4.1 miles from BC's campus in Chestnut Hill and at the end of the 18-stop B branch of the MBTA's Green Line. Irish Eyes in Boston were seeing red, however, when it came to light that Notre Dame was in complete control of ticket allotment and pricing. While it was well within ND's right, as host of this Shamrock Series game, to set ticket prices for the game, it didn't mean BC fans had to like it or endorse it.

NDI: How does a team function being the top defense and worst offense in the country?

Vega: It's been quite a frustrating dichotomy for BC coach Steve Addazio. On the one hand, he has been lucky to have a championship-caliber defense that has done its level best to keep the Eagles in every game this season. On the other hand, BC's offense has failed miserably to complement the sterling play of its No. 1-ranked defense, largely due to the youth and inexperience of the offensive unit. Mounting injuries have decimated the offense, leaving Addazio to have to deal with season-ending injuries to his starting quarterback, running back, tight end, a rash of preseason injuries to its receiving corps and nagging nicks to the offensive line and running back corps. While the defense has been fortunate to have had a full complement of healthy and veteran players, that has not been the case with the offense, which failed to capitalize on a late-game fumble recovery by the defense on the doorstep of the opposition's goal line in a 3-0 loss vs. Wake Forest. It was BC's most bitter defeat of the season, which glaringly illustrated the disconnect between BC's offense and defense.

NDI: What has Addazio brought to the BC program in his three years?

Vega: When he was hired to take over a moribund BC program that had won just two games in the season before his arrival in 2013, Steve Addazio infused the program with his boundless energy and enthusiasm. His players bought into his vision for the program and delivered with a pair of back-to-back 7-6 bowl seasons, which helped re-establish BC's identity as a tough and hard-nosed program. Addazio knew, however, his third season at the Heights would not be without its challenges, especially since he had to replace his quarterback, and all five starters on his offensive line. Further complicating matters were the mounting injuries on offense that forced Addazio to deploy more of his talented newcomers in his freshmen and sophomore classes to help fill the void, especially in the junior class where the Eagles had experienced several defections and deletions from that group. So Addazio was left with no recourse but to absorb the risk-reward consequence of exposing his untested underclassmen to the crucible of a trial-by-fire in their first collegiate action. Given the investment of blood, sweat and tears he has made with his underclassmen, Addazio is banking on better days ahead for BC's program.

NDI: What's the most significant thing you know about the BC program now that you didn't know in August?

Vega: Just how vulnerable BC was at the quarterback position. During preseason camp, there were some sneaking suspicions there might be some issues at quarterback when Addazio seemed unable to settle on a backup QB. Redshirt freshman Troy Flutie, the son of Darren Flutie and nephew of (BC's 1984 Heisman Trophy winner and current NBC analyst for Notre Dame games) Doug Flutie who as a senior at Natick High, set Massachusetts state records with 47 TD passes his senior season and 112 for his career, engaged in a spirited duel during preseason camp with true freshman Jeff Smith, a talented dual-threat QB who possessed the speed and quickness but not the experience to operate the spread-option attack. Addazio's indecision wound up coming back to haunt him when sophomore starter Darius Wade suffered a season-ending fractured left ankle in a 14-0 loss vs. Florida State in Week 3. Addazio went with Flutie in the following game, a 9-7 loss at Duke, and then decided that the future was now by inserting Smith as his starter at Clemson, where Smith seemed to come of age. When Smith suffered a concussion at Louisville, Flutie was left to mop up the game and start the following game vs. Virginia Tech, where his ineffective play led to his benching and the insertion of freshman walk-on John Fadule, a former scout-squad QB whose inspired play vs. the Hokies earned him the starting job against North Carolina State. Fadule wound up passing for a career-high 257 yards on 23-for-37 passing and his first career touchdown in a 24-8 loss to the Wolfpack. It was the most passing yards by a BC quarterback since Chase Rettig logged 285 yards against Villanove on Aug. 31, 2013. Now Fadule, a sturdy, 6-foot-1-inch, 215-pounder from Wellesley, Mass., will draw his first career start vs. Notre Dame.

NDI: What will be BC's toughest matchup with Notre Dame?

Vega: The toughest matchup BC will face will be between its offensive line and Notre Dame's defensive front. The Eagles youth and inexperience has been glaringly apparent on the offensive line, where BC has struggled to block the powerful and veteran defensive units it has faced this season. Notre Dame will be no different. The Eagles have struggled to protect the QB against powerful and agile defensive linemen, giving up a season-high eight sacks at Louisville and seven in last week's loss against NC State.

Boston College quarterback John Fadule (14) is taken down by North Carolina State safety Dexter Wright (34) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Boston, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)