November 20, 2015

Rakes Report #38: Survivor Series (The Boston College Preview)


Before the Pitt game a few folks on Twitter were bandying about which programs caused the most “This game is going to be terrible” feeling among Irish fans. Someone said Boston College, and I replied that I thought the Eagles were a little overblown because of two wins (1993 and 2002). It was correctly pointed out to me that they won six straight in the series from 2001-2008. This is a fact, but there are a couple qualifiers:

1) Those victories all came against Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis.

2) Through perhaps the most generous scheduling quirk imaginable, the Eagles missed playing the two best Irish teams of that stretch in 2005 and 2006.

3) Also while it was an upset and was not pleasant, it wasn't like that 2002 team was going to win a title, unless losing to the Eagles was the only reason they fell 501 yards and 27 first downs short of USC's totals in the season finale.

The Eagles haven’t won since 2008. Jimmy Clausen ended the streak in 2009, Dayne Crist blew them out in 2010, Tommy Rees survived in 2011 and Everett Golson took care of business in 2012. The Eagles have gone 6-7 in their first two years under Steve Addazio and after their beloved eight-bowl win streak ended in 2008 they’ve now lost five straight postseason contests. This year they sit at just 3-7 with one FBS victory over Northern Illinois. If they fail to defeat Syracuse next weekend, they’ll end the season winless in ACC play.

Do you know what else happened in 2008? (Well, early 2009.) The Eagles fired head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who had gone 20-8 in his two years at the helm, because he had the gall to interview for the New York Jets head-coaching job. At the time it felt like a “The program doth forget itself” kind of moment, and it was. Jag’s replacement, Frank Spaziani, went 8-5 in his first year and got worse every season, earning the axe after a 2-10 2012 and cumulative 22-29 record. This was a very good way to manage an athletic department.

This game means everything to the Eagles, a program that revolves around ruining things for other, superior programs. It is their Super Bowl every time they play the Irish, and it’s doubly so this season because they’re not going to have an opportunity to lose a bowl game. On top of the usual extreme inferiority complex, Boston College is on the receiving end of one of the biggest sports power moves I’ve ever seen: the team you hate more than anyone else playing a home game a few miles from your campus, plastering their name all over your beloved baseball park and giving you a paltry allotment of tickets. (What do you do with those tickets? Gouge your fans to the tune of 25 grand, of course.) Then throw in the fact that the Eagles are wearing Doug Flutie era throwbacks, and that Flutie tragically lost both of his parents to heart attacks on Wednesday, and that Flutie’s son is the back-up quarterback, and you can see how the Eagles would be willing to march through the gates of Hades if it meant they came out of this game with a victory.

If Boston College were to pull off the win without making a crossroads deal, they’d do so with their defense, which is one of the best in the nation. They’re 5th in FEI, first in the S&P+, first in total defense and third in scoring defense, leaning on a vicious front seven that is tremendous at getting to the quarterback and ball carrier in the backfield. They have three strong linebackers, led by Steven Daniels in the middle. The senior has 57 tackles (15 for loss), six sacks, a pick and a couple pass break-ups, doing his best Luke Kuechly impression. Senior safety Justin Simmons is the leader in the defensive backfield, with 54 tackles and three picks.

Running the ball seems like it’ll be tough sledding, but I think you can successfully attack this defense through the air. The Eagles can burn the land and boil the sea, but I don’t think they’ll be able to take the sky from DeShone Kizer and Will Fuller, both coming off quiet weeks against Wake Forest. Starting corner Isaac Yiadom has been banged up since injuring his shoulder against Virginia Tech earlier this month. The other starter at corner, Kamrin Moore, went down for the season against Louisville. From watching highlights of the Clemson game, it seemed like the Tigers found most of their success getting past the second level and forcing the secondary to make tackles, which they weren’t always able to do. Deshaun Watson threw for 420 yards on 41 attempts under what seemed like heavy pressure, while the Tigers rushing attack averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. The Eagles are going to be in the backfield a lot.

I know I’ve been harping on havoc rate a lot, but I have to mention how the Eagle units break down: Defensive line? Fourth in the country. Linebackers? Fourth in the country. Defensive backs? 110th. If Boston College has three good linebackers adept at stopping the run, it would make sense to me to see if they’re also capable of handling Torii Hunter, Amir Carlisle and Alize Jones down the field in coverage. Notre Dame probably only needs about 20 points to make me feel comfortable about this game, so let’s go out and target Fuller on some max-protected deep throws in the first quarter and snuff out any hope the Eagles might have early. Kizer has been solid in protecting the ball this year, so put faith in him to perform and kill Boston College’s spirit early.

Why does Notre Dame likely only need 20 points to firmly secure a victory in the year 2015? Because the Boston College offense is the worst in the nation. They were already on red alert coming into the season, having to replace their entire offensive line and quarterback from last year’s productive rushing unit, but injuries piled on top of the youth and it’s just an absolute mess. The Eagles are averaging 17.3 points per game, which is 122nd in the nation, but it’s way worse than that. If we subtract the 24 points they scored against Maine and the 76 they put up against Howard (great work, guys), that average plummets to just 9.1 points per game in eight FBS contests. Their high-water mark against Division I opponents this season is 17, hitting it in a win against Northern Illinois and a loss against Clemson.

There’s more. This season Boston College has 97 completed passes and 76 punts, which looks a lot worse when you consider that 26 of those completions and just 7 of the punts came against Maine and Howard. (The Eagles punted 5 times against Maine.) They managed to lose a game to Wake Forest in which the Demon Deacons had five (5) first downs. However, just to caution you if there is a slow start on Saturday night, Boston College did hold a 7-0 lead over Clemson, turning a first quarter Watson pick into a 20-yard touchdown drive. The other advantage the Eagles may have is that their quarterback, freshman John Fadule, has only recently taken over the position, which means there is limited film on him. The disadvantage with this situation is that Fadule is a walk-on and if there’s a recruiting profile that exists for him I cannot find it. (Not a joke, by the way. I had a couple other people look, too, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. This kid might just be some kind of apparition leftover from Halloween or a 35-year old grad student fulfilling a lifelong dream.)

Another factor that could help out the Eagles is the continued absence of Daniel Cage. The starting defensive tackle will miss his second straight game with a concussion, meaning the line will be shuffling like they did against Wake. Kelly also said in his Thursday presser that Jarron Jones is traveling with the team and will be game ready in three to four weeks. Is this just bait for the committee? Possibly, but the senior's presence would be welcome in any postseason contest(s). C.J. Prosise is good to go, but it seems like he'll be splitting the load with Josh Adams, so those are two pieces of welcome news.

This game will not be aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t have to be. Notre Dame has a chance to make a statement in Palo Alto next week. This week is just about getting out of Fenway with a win against an opponent that will be playing with a ton of emotion and a massive chip on their shoulder. It would also be nice to not lose any players to injury, because a lot of the walls and dugouts look perilously close to the end zones. The Irish went all in to embarrass Boston College with this Shamrock Series outing (an event in which they are undefeated), but the job won’t be complete until the victory is secure.

Notre Dame has hit double digit wins just three times in the 21st century. Saturday night if the Irish simply protect the ball and resist doing anything stupid, that number will be four.

*

The Irish stuck at fourth in the playoff rankings, which is good, but I still don’t think they control their own destiny. There is some light talk that an undefeated Oklahoma State might not get in over 11-1 Notre Dame, but I’ll believe that when I see it. Oklahoma also remains a problem, although a potentially big win against TCU might be sabotaged if Trevone Boykin can’t play. (Star receiver Josh Doctson is already out for the Horned Frogs.) There’s still potential for chaos in the Big Ten and SEC, but we won’t really know if there is an opening from that duo until December.

I would also like to remind everyone that last year TCU was third going into the final weekend of rankings, beat Iowa State 55-3 and fell to sixth. The committee is going to make this up as they go, so I urge you to embrace the attitude of “If Notre Dame goes 11-1, that is an awesome season, regardless of what bowl they play in.” Otherwise your happiness is dependent on a group of random people that might not really have any idea what they're doing. It’s not a great situation.

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My friend Mike went down a Howard football rabbit hole on Thursday and after relaying it to me, I thought it might have been something the rest of you would enjoy. For your consideration:

A few of the things I've read about the BC football team this week have mentioned their September 12 76-0 drubbing of Howard University, a game BC led 62-0 at halftime. That's nuts. So I looked up Howard's schedule, and, unsurprisingly, they have been very bad all season long, with additional lopsided losses to teams like Appalachian State, South Carolina State, and North Carolina A&T (49-0, 49-10, and 65-14, respectively).

I figured they must be the worst Division I team this season. But they do have one victory -- a 55-9 destruction of Savannah State on Halloween.

Surely, then, using the transitive property of college football, we have found the nation's worst FCS team: the Savannah State Tigers, of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

But, no. They are not the worst.

Savannah State has managed one win this year, 37-27 over Florida A&M. The Rattlers have lost eight games this season by a combined score of 294-99 (about 37-12, on average), including shut-outs at the hands of S.C. State and Hampton.

They do, however, also have one solitary victory, and it was a huge one: 41-13 over Delaware State.

Ah, the Delaware State Hornets. You Rembrandts of losing, you. Delaware State is 0-10 this year. The blow-outs have piled up, but one nailbiter on the schedule caught my eye: They lost just 31-30 to the Chowan University Hawks. The Delaware State website's recap of the game is very sad:

"Delaware State nearly overcame a 21-point deficit, but came up short in the final minute of 31-30 loss to Chowan in the Hornets’ 2015 home opener in sunny and hot conditions at Alumni Stadium this afternoon."

You might wonder why the recap writer put the weather conditions in the lead there. Just a moment.

"DSU pulled to within 31-30 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from second-string quarterback Gil Rivera to Kamal Abrams with 59 seconds left to play, but the Hornets failed to tie the game when Jeremiah McGeough missed the extra point kick. McGeough, the Hornets’ punter, attempted the kick because regular placekicker Wisdom Nzidee was suffering from cramps."

Noooooooooo.

Chowan, a small Baptist school in North Carolina, plays Division II athletics, and the win over Delaware State was their first win over a Division I football team ever.

To recap, BC, one of Notre Dame's weakest opponents this season, demolished Howard in historic fashion. It was so bad they shortened the 3rd and 4th quarters to 10 minutes each. But there are three more incredible layers of losing beneath Howard, all the way down to Delaware State, who lost to a school called Chowan. College football is the best.

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CORRECTION: In section 8 of the Wake Review, I ended a paragraph with the nonsensical "11-1 is..." Feel free to fill in the blank with something smart because I was just going to talk in cliches about how that record was attainable but by no means a sure thing. I'll try to coherently finish as many sentences as possible between now and the end of the season.

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