Opponent outlook: Notre Dame to face another elite rushing offense in Boston College

Staff reports
ND Insider

Losing starting quarterback Anthony Brown has not slowed Boston College’s vaunted ground game.

In their four games since Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury against Louisville on Oct. 5, the Eagles are rushing for 326 yards per game. That’s almost 50 yards more than their season average of 282 rushing yards.

BC totaled 429 and 496 rushing yards against NC State and Syracuse, respectively, during that span. Dennis Grosel replaced Brown as the starter after beginning his career as a walk-on.

Bruising running backs AJ Dillon (6-foot, 250 pounds) and David Bailey (6-1, 240 pounds) eye the No. 15 Irish (8-2) as their next victim when Boston College (5-5) comes to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EST on NBC). Notre Dame ranks No. 79 nationally against the run, yielding about 170 yards on the ground per game.

Defense has been BC’s biggest challenge this season. The Eagles are allowing nearly 575 total yards in their losses to Kansas (48-24), Wake Forest (27-24), Louisville (41-39), Clemson (59-7) and Florida State (38-31).

Irish quarterback Ian Book should have no trouble advancing the football against BC’s defense, which ranks No. 91 in run defense, No. 98 in scoring defense, No. 121 in pass-efficiency defense and No. 128 in total defense.

Will BC’s elite rushing offense be enough to make this game closer than expected with the Irish nearly 20-point favorites? We caught up with Dan Rubin of BCEagles.com for more insight on the Eagles.

• Why has Dillon (1,451 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 272 carries) improved so much this season and what makes him so effective as a runner?

Rubin: It’s no secret how BC loves to run the football with eight or nine players on the line of scrimmage, and the team expects to face stacked boxes every week. But where it exclusively ran Dillon in the past, there’s a two-headed approach this week with David Bailey. His ability to spell Dillon as another 240-pound back with speed is immeasurable to the team’s success because the duo simply wears down defensive fronts. Tackling that much beef takes its toll on the body.

Dillon sustained an ankle injury against Temple last year, and it really derailed his season. This year, he’s been healthy and managed with David Bailey, which in turn created efficiency while saving his legs.

• The Eagles had one of the nation’s elite defenses under former coordinator Don Brown from 2013-15. Why have they regressed so much since Brown left for Michigan?

Rubin: BC lost a ton of experience from last year’s defense, including three on the line, a linebacker and the entire secondary. It created a situation this year where players were simply young or inexperienced. It’s forced development on the fly and further generated a roller coaster. A team that dominated NC State and Syracuse struggled badly against Louisville and Clemson with its tackling.

It’s required patience, which is daunting by itself. There are flashes, but there’s also an inconsistency that is worrisome against offenses capable of exploding with elite athletes.

• BC’s Steve Addazio is in his seventh year at the helm. How are fans receiving him at this point?

Rubin: When Steve Addazio became the team’s head coach, the program trailed the rest of the ACC by miles. He stabilized BC and built the program into a tough, rugged football team that plays to its strengths in both recruiting and performance. BC restored its reputation with NFL-ready talent, and he has a system that’s not always pretty or flashy — but it works.

I don’t know how that impacts the future because right now, everything is a singular focus. Everything is about beating Notre Dame. Given that degree of difficulty, it’s impossible to predict what happens in the offseason, let alone even next week against Pittsburgh.

• Other than Dillon, who are some players that need to shine against Notre Dame?

Rubin: David Bailey has been such a wonderful addition into the running game, and quarterback Dennis Grosel continues to improve after going from former walk-on to backup to starter after Anthony Brown’s injury against Louisville.

Defensively, (linebacker) Max Richardson is a known commodity, but he’s going to need to control that level and spy Ian Book if BC wants to contain the quarterback position.

• If Notre Dame covers the spread (19), why do you think that would be? If Boston College makes it a close game, why do you think that would be? 

Rubin: The defense dealt with injuries going into the FSU game, which didn’t help with the development issues from earlier in the year. If the bye week didn’t help heal it — and if the tackling issues persist — then Notre Dame can run away with this game. But if the defense gets those necessary stops, the BC offense is a proven unit capable of piling up yards and points behind its tempo. If BC locks into synergy, which means the defense yields offense and vice-versa, then Notre Dame could find itself surprised by a confident Eagle team. It all just depends which side of the spectrum BC plays on.

• Score prediction: Notre Dame 31, Boston College 26.

Rubin: It might just be me, but I feel like weird things happen in the Holy War, especially since a win over Notre Dame would make everything taste sweeter next week. That said, predicting a BC win feels disrespectful to the Irish and what they've accomplished. So I'll call it an ND win.

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Boston College running back AJ Dillon carries the ball against Florida State on Nov. 9.