Opponent outlook: Boston College, Jurkovec looking to deal Notre Dame another nightmare

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

The last time Notre Dame knocked off the top-ranked team in college football, Boston College made all the excitement from the win short-lived.

The Irish claimed the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll after defeating unbeaten Florida State 31-24 at Notre Dame Stadium on Nov. 13, 1993. The matchup was promoted as the “Game of the Century.” The Irish needed only to beat the Eagles to earn a spot in the Fiesta Bowl for a chance to win a national championship.

Then David Gordon happened.

The BC placekicker went down in Eagles lore after connecting on a 41-yard field goal as time expired to defeat Notre Dame 41-39. BC’s first-ever win over ND dropped the Irish to No. 4 in the rankings, keeping them out of national title contention.

On Saturday (3:30 p.m. EST on ABC) at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., the Eagles (5-3, 4-3 ACC) will have a chance to spoil another dream-like season for No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0, 6-0). The Irish are in an ideal position after upsetting then-No. 1 Clemson 47-40 in a double-overtime last Saturday.

The rivalry also will feature Phil Jurkovec as BC’s quarterback. He transferred from Notre Dame this past winter after backing up Ian Book. Jurkovec signed with the Irish in the 2018 class and boasted a lofty pedigree as a four-star recruit.

The 6-foot-5, 226-pound Jurkovec has completed 172-of-277 passes (63%) for 2,083 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions. He has turned 65 carries into 96 yards and three scores.

“Phil is in a different type of offense than the one we were asking him to be part of last year,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “So it’s hard. We’re not comparing it. Remember, in high school he was in truly a spread offense, catch and throw. He was in an RPO offense last year. He is in a play-action, six-man, seven-man protection offense this year.

“So it’s really hard to compare where he is compared to where he was last year, because they are so dissimilar from an offensive perspective. What he’s doing this year on film is he’s making plays outside the realm of the offense. Which he was very accustomed to doing in high school and when he was here as well.

“Outside the pocket, he’s a great scrambler. He can throw on the run. He has a strong arm, great size and he’s a tough kid. But I would say that the offenses are so dissimilar it’s hard to really compare where that progression is, but the one constant is he can make plays outside the pocket.”

Notre Dame provided a COVID-19 update on Monday. Testing from Tuesday of last week through Sunday resulted in two positive results for football players. Two other players were put into quarantined after being linked to contact tracing. None of the four players attended the Clemson game on Saturday.

How will Jurkovec fare against his former team? What does BC look like under first-year head coach Jeff Hafley? We caught up with Dan Rubin of for more insight on the Eagles.

We know what happened the last time Notre Dame beat the top-ranked team in the country. Then there’s the Jurkovec element to this game. How is Boston College treating this game, and how can they repeat history?

Rubin: “It’s the Holy War, and everything slows down whenever Notre Dame is on the schedule. This is THE game for BC fans, and this year, it’s the annual Red Bandanna Game honoring the legacy and memory of hero Welles Crowther, a BC graduate who saved a dozen people on 9/11. The emotion is already thick, and it’s just going to keep building. Throw in the upstart way BC is playing this year, and I’ve been saying that some big, ranked team is going to lose to Boston College. It was almost North Carolina. It was almost Clemson. There’s one logical team left.”

How would you assess Jurkovec’s play this season, and what are you expecting from him long term?

Rubin: “Phil has been a revelation. He’s given BC a new type of quarterback capable of making every throw, and his vision improves seemingly every week. He’s big, athletic, can scramble, has a powerful arm, and is accurate. The early-season numbers aren’t a fluke, and his numbers are only dipping more recently because the team focused on balancing run versus pass. If he stays on that trajectory, he can assault the BC record books (he has to a degree already), which is a lofty statement considering the Doug Fluties and Glenn Foleys standing ahead of him.”

Jurkovec told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in September that he “was really not liking football” by the end of his time at Notre Dame, thought about switching positions and felt he regressed so much that he “could not even throw the ball at all.” Was the change of scenery all he needed, or did he change his approach? Or do you think it was coaching?

Rubin: “I believe it was a combination. The Notre Dame system didn’t necessarily fit his skill set, and BC tailored its offense around what Phil can do. There’s a coaching style that’s also really unique to Jeff Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, and it’s fitting him perfectly. I really think Phil left Notre Dame with respect for the program but realized the team wasn’t necessarily the right fit for him, and he’s finding that fit at BC.”

Boston College was picked to finish No. 13 out of 15 teams in the ACC Preseason Poll. Why have the Eagles exceeded expectations?

Rubin: “BC entered this season as the great unknown with a new coaching staff, a new quarterback, a new running back and an unproven defense. COVID-19 canceled spring practice in March, and the team wasn’t installing its third down or red zone scheme until the two weeks before the Duke game. That rationally tempered expectations, but the other intangibles — heart, desire, emotion, chemistry — forced the roster into overcoming those early shortcomings.”

What will be the key defensively for Boston College against Notre Dame, and who are some players to watch on that side of the ball?

Rubin: “BC plays a really complex defensive style. Each position needs to know what other players are doing, and communication is a huge piece of what Jeff Hafley and defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu are doing. The line will open a gap, and an outside player will take away a backfield blocker so a linebacker can shoot the middle. In terms of personnel, Max Richardson is truly the heart and soul of this team, a vocal leader and a really good linebacker. Brandon Sebastian is a lockdown corner, and Josh DeBerry and Jahmin Muse bring some thunder to the defensive backfield. The defensive line is a combination of homegrown players and key transfers like Luc Bequette from Cal, Chibueze Onwuka from Buffalo, and Max Roberts from Maine — who has been a true find.”

Score prediction: Notre Dame 35, Boston College 31.

Rubin: “As much as I think BC can win this game, there’s the old saying that you have to beat the man to be the man, and BC still hasn’t beaten a top five team since the Green Jersey Game in 2002. So I’m going with 35-31, Notre Dame, in a shootout between Phil Jurkovec and Ian Book.”

Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec (5) passes the ball as Clemson defensive lineman Bryan Bresee converges on Oct. 31.
New Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley works the sidelines against North Carolina at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Oct. 3.

Who: No. 2 Notre Dame (7-0) vs. Boston College (5-3)

Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EST

Where: Alumni Stadium; Chestnut Hill, Mass.


Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 13