FOOTBALL

Five keys for Notre Dame against Boston College: Fast start would help pace the Irish again

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

MIRROR THE NAVY GAME

Notre Dame led 45-3 over a then-ranked No. 23 Midshipmen squad in the third quarter last week. Though that will be hard to duplicate, Notre Dame would benefit from using a similar formula against BC. Navy and BC feature a run-heavy offense that ranks No. 1 and No. 5 nationally, respectively, in rushing yards per game. Early deficits force both teams to pass more and fall out of their element. The Eagles are without their starting quarterback, Anthony Brown, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Louisville on Oct. 5. Brown’s replacement, former walk-on Dennis Grosel, would have to make plays if down early.

SOLID LINEBACKER PLAY

Linebackers Drew White and Asmar Bilal play a major role in setting the tone for the Irish run defense. Their standout performances against Georgia (33 rushes for 152 yards), Virginia (29 rushes for 4 yards), Virginia Tech (36 rushes for 96 yards), Duke (30 rushes for 95 yards) and Navy (64 rushes for 281 yards) helped Notre Dame hold each of those teams well below their averages. Louisville (47 rushes, for 249 yards), Michigan (57 rushes for 303 yards) and at times USC (35 rushes for 171 yards) caused problems. Slowing down beefy running backs AJ Dillon (6-foot, 250 pounds) and David Bailey (6-1, 240 pounds) will require White, Bilal and rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah to bring physicality and aggression.

MITIGATE GROUND GAME PROBLEMS

Besides the rushing production provided by quarterback Ian Book, Notre Dame’s running game has turned from inconsistent to almost nonexistent over the past few games. Top options Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong have combined for 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 45 carries (2.2 yards per rush) against Navy, Duke and Virginia Tech. Those troubles have not hurt the Irish much because of their defense. Notre Dame has forced eight turnovers in its last three games. Relying on Book’s legs, an improving passing game and a standout defense would help the Irish mitigate struggles on the ground.

UNLEASH THE CLAYPOOL

November continues to be Chase Claypool’s month. The senior wide receiver has recorded 20 catches for 332 yards and five touchdowns in just three November games this season. He faces an Eagles defense that ranks No. 121 in pass efficiency and No. 128 in yards allowed. Claypool helped Notre Dame obtain early leads in its routs of Duke and Navy. Getting the ball to him early in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium could set the tone for another dominating win.

NO UNDERESTIMATING

A fast start brings 20-point favorite Notre Dame on track to cover the spread. Taking BC lightly may make this game interesting. The Eagles eye this matchup — the first between the two in South Bend since 2011 — as their Super Bowl. A win makes them bowl eligible. Dillon brings the legacy of being the grandson of former Notre Dame receiver and College Football Hall of Famer Thom Gatewood. The Irish will need to be rolling in the first quarter like they were against Navy and Duke.

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Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (12) scrambles against Navy on Nov. 16.
Boston College’s Dennis Grosel (top) replaced quarterback Anthony Brown after the starter suffered a season-ending knee injury against Louisville on Oct. 5.

BOSTON COLLEGE (5-5) at NOTRE DAME (8-2)

At Notre Dame Stadium (77,622), South Bend, IN

Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. EST

TV: NBC

Series history: Notre Dame leads 15-9

Betting line: Notre Dame by 20