Vorel: In Notre Dame-Boston College series, ugly is no longer enough
Just because something should happen, that doesn’t mean it will.
For example: Notre Dame should have rolled over Boston College inside Fenway Park in 2015. It should have been ugly — uglier, even, than the team’s “Green Monster” Shamrock Series uniforms, which were monstrous indeed.
Notre Dame entered the game 9-1, the No. 4 team in the country, with everything to play for. A College Football Playoff berth hung delicately in the balance. Boston College, meanwhile, was 3-7 and 0-7 in the ACC — a hopeless, muddled mess already out of bowl contention, preparing to play a road game in its own hometown.
The Eagles started a true freshman walk-on — John Fadule — at quarterback, for gosh sakes.
It should have been ugly, and it was … just not in Notre Dame’s favor.
In a perceptually damning 19-16 victory, the Irish fumbled four times and quarterback DeShone Kizer threw three interceptions. It was a win, but it felt more like a warning. Notre Dame fell out of the CFP rankings, then lost its final two games to finish the year.
“It was a game that certainly we did everything we could to keep it close,” head coach Brian Kelly recalled on Tuesday.
This, of course, is nothing new when it comes to Notre Dame and Boston College. It’s always close … and it’s usually ugly. In their last 10 meetings, the Irish have only covered the spread three times, and the two teams have surpassed the combined over/under number twice, according to OddShark.com.
In the series’ last three games — against BC teams that finished 3-9, 2-10 and 4-8 — Notre Dame was 0-3 against the spread.
Notre Dame has won five straight games against Boston College, a streak that was preceded by six consecutive Eagle wins. The result, however, rarely matches the expectation.
That’s the challenge Notre Dame faces on Saturday afternoon.
Because, let’s face it: the Irish should roll over the Eagles, again. They are faster. They are deeper. They are more talented. They are more seasoned.
If what Kelly says is true — if the culture has changed, if this is a different team, if Notre Dame’s “Traits of Excellence” are more than a kitschy set of slogans — then the Irish shouldn’t simply win.
They should do so in impressive fashion.
This is a Boston College team, after all, that barely escaped Northern Illinois in its season opener. The Eagles needed a field goal with a little more than two minutes remaining to edge out the Huskies, who finished 5-7 in the Mid-American Conference last season.
Boston College’s traditionally incompetent offense remains largely incompetent, ranking 124th nationally in passing efficiency, 118th in scoring offense (16.5 points per game), 109th in total offense (322 yards per game) and 107th in yards per carry (3.2).
Jon Baker — the team’s starting center, who has been responsible for the offense’s protections and audibles — is out for the season with a knee injury.
A year ago, Boston College’s defense was stingy enough to carry the Eagles to a bowl game. Head coach Steve Addazio’s group finished second nationally in sacks per game (3.6), fifth in forced fumbles, sixth in tackles for loss per game (8.2), seventh in rushing defense (108.5 yards per game), ninth in total defense (314.2 yards per game) and 10th in turnovers gained (27).
This is not that group.
Through two games against Northern Illinois and Wake Forest, two teams with relatively meager offensive reputations, Boston College has just two sacks and one turnover gained. The Eagles rank 86th in rushing defense, allowing 161 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. They have managed just one interception and forced fumble apiece.
Moreover, Boston College has struggled to contain the quarterback run game, as Northern Illinois’ Ryan Graham and Wake Forest’s Jon Wolford have combined to average 95.5 rushing yards per game.
Now, if only the Irish had a quarterback that could scramble …
In other words, the Eagles are vulnerable.
In other words, Notre Dame is better. Much better.
In other words, this should be ugly … this time, in Notre Dame’s favor.
In other words, Notre Dame should win, handily.
But is this truly a different team, or just the same old story?
“It's really about developing a mindset in your program that this is about dominating your opponent regardless of who it is,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “It's okay to know the history and how they're going to play you, who Boston College is, the respect that you have for them, how they play Notre Dame. But really this is about having a mindset going into this football game.
“I think from my conversations with the players, what I have seen in front of me, they're closer to the (dominant) mindset than they are to needing the pep talk to be leery of a fired-up Boston College."