Opponent Outlook: Shaky offense, strong defense for Boston College

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Hard to tell how Notre Dame's football team will respond following a one-point loss to Georgia at home last weekend.

Boston College (1-1), too, is looking to rebound following a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest in its home opener.

The Irish (1-1) have won the last five matchups between the two programs, but Boston College has had a knack for keeping the games close.

Boston College finished the 2015 season with a 3-9 record, and it lost to Notre Dame by only three points in the Shamrock Series game at Fenway Park.

What should the Irish expect from the Eagles this weekend? We caught up with Dan Rubin, a contributor for Eagles Unlimited on bceagles.com, for the latest on Boston College.

• Wake Forest scored 34 points against Boston College last week, but 17 of those points came as a direct result of turnovers. Can the BC defense still be as stout as it has been the last two seasons?

Rubin: “I think there is definitely potential. BC is built pretty well throughout the entire defense, and I think that permeates through the year-over-year alterations to their scheme. There are little differences each year because of personnel turnover, but the coaching staff is doing a great job creating seamless transition from one year to another.

“The unit is one of those old and experienced defenses that's played together for the last three years. Players like defensive end Harold Landry and linebacker Connor Strachan have been around for what feels like forever, and they have experience playing with one another. It's very linear, working backwards from the defensive line, which is anchored by a potential first-round pick in Landry, back into the secondary.

“Before the season, Strachan talked about preparation and how much goes into each game. He talked about how it was important to learn from the players who came before him and how it is equally important to teach his younger players. That extends back into the secondary and how the older players work back-and-forth.

“That obviously doesn't mean they're going to stop everyone. Last year, they felt the crunch and ran into problems against bigger, better opponents. There were some pretty big losses against teams like Clemson and Louisville that had great athletes. So it'll be really interesting against Notre Dame, who is a team that consistently has athletic, fast, well-recruited athletes. But I know BC expects, not hopes, to stop any given opponent on any given day. Whether or not that happens comes down to execution.”

• Starting quarterback Anthony Brown threw three interceptions against Wake Forest. (BC head coach Steve Addazio said Monday Brown will start vs. ND). What does he bring to the offense that backup Darius Wade doesn’t?

Rubin: “When I watched Brown and Wade during the preseason, the first thing I noticed was Brown's athleticism. In one of the scrimmages, it wasn't just that he dropped a 60-yard pass into a receiver's hands. It was that it looked really effortless. So I think on pure athleticism, he has an incredibly high ceiling. He has a lively arm and that quickness and speed to scramble upfield.

“I definitely think Wade is better in some regards, and he had a very good camp. He already graduated with a degree in marketing and entrepreneurship and is in graduate school. His ability to read and understand the game makes him a capable quarterback, and he physically developed this year to a place where he could be a good, mature starter who wins games.

“(Brown) just needs to be refined and developed. He's very raw, but the thought is that he will grow into the position and develop situational awareness. He played well for a first start against Northern Illinois, but he definitely ran into problems against Wake. If he continues to struggle, I'll never rule out a switch at the position. But it'll be interesting to see if he can get back within himself and take that next step forward against the Irish.”

• Defensive end Harold Landry, who set a school record with 16.5 sacks last season, has been limited to just one sack in the first two games. Have offenses been adding extra protection to his side, and will Boston College move him around to try to find mismatches on Notre Dame’s offensive line?

Rubin: “BC isn't so much moving him around as they are limiting his snaps in certain situations. Last week, head coach Steve Addazio talked about how he's been keeping Landry off the field at times to keep him fresh for key third downs and fourth quarter situations. I know NIU quarterback Ryan Graham did a good job getting rid of the football as he was about to take contact in the first game.

"It's been hard for me to tell if Landry's been doubled up or schemed against in a particular fashion through the first two weeks. But I do know that last season, he only had one sack through the first three games. He wound up with seven over the next five games.”

• Running backs Jon Hilliman and A.J. Dillon have struggled to find running room with neither surpassing 60 yards in the first two games. How crucial are they to the success of this Boston College offense?

Rubin: “It's pretty critical that BC gets its running game going. Both running backs had some decent runs against Wake Forest, but the interior rushing game has been largely inconsistent since the season began. Part of that has been the offensive line not clearing the road well enough, and part of that is the turnover situation from a week ago.

“I don't think BC is as much of the 'power running' team as they've been in the past. They've gone tempo this year, and they've shown a willingness to both pass and run jet sweep stretch plays outside. But Addazio said he wants to attack the entire field, and they need to effectively pound the interior if they want to be consistently successful outside. So even though it's not the only thing they'll look to do, it's still a big part of their offense that needs to get going.”

• Head coach Steve Addazio hasn’t been able to push Boston College past a 7-6 record in his four seasons with the Eagles. What kind of job security does Addazio have this season and what would a win over Notre Dame do for him?

Rubin: “I'll start off by saying a win over Notre Dame will always mean something. Saturday should be an electric day because the Irish have solid roots in Boston. This is a matchup that goes deep into the Catholic roots of the city, and it's one of those rivalries that runs deep in fans' hearts and blood, especially if they grew up watching them in the '90s and '00s.

“I think Steve Addazio is pretty safe at BC right now. He pieced together two winning seasons, but he was trying to rebuild the program from a foundational level in the process. So when the bottom fell out on a 3-9 season in 2015, it's because he knew his team wasn't ready to play; there just wasn't anyone left to piece over.

“He admitted that was the case, and he's been consistent in his message in the rebuild. That led to last year's third winning season. Whatever he's said, he's been able to back up. He's been honest, and he believes in the process he's putting together. The seeds are planted. The team itself, though, still has to step on the field and do it.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown (13) hands off to running back Jon Hilliman (32) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Wake Forest, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)