Boston College’s defense is the best Notre Dame will face in the 2015 season.
The Eagles are the only FBS team to allow an average of fewer than four yards per play (3.9) and are allowing an average of 14.4 points per game, third-best in college football’s top level.
A deeper dive into Boston College’s defense reveals a few things, some discouraging and some encouraging for the No. 4 Irish.
The bad stuff, at least for Notre Dame, first: Opponents are averaging 2.1 yards per carry against Boston College, largely the product of the Eagles’ defense stuffing rushers for no gain or a loss on nearly one in every three (32 percent) attempts. Both of those stats rank No. 1 nationally.
This defense is absolutely lethal when forcing passing downs, ranking No. 1 in defensive S&P+ in those third/fourth-and-five+ and second-and-long situations. And Boston College forces plenty of obvious passing downs, leading FBS with 98 tackles for a loss an ranking eighth with 31 sacks.
Notre Dame’s offense has generated six runs of 50 or more yards, while Boston College’s defense has only allowed two rushes of over 30 yards and no runs of 50 or more yards.
And interestingly enough, even with an awful offense (more on that soon), opponents are starting drives, on average, at about the 28-yard line (which ranks 34th in FBS). Punter Alex Howell is averaging 41.9 yards per punt, but opponents are only averaging two yards per return (in 28 tries), the fifth-lowest average in FBS.
But here’s where the good news begins: Boston College is 3-7 and only has one win against an FBS opponent, a 17-14 squeaker over Northern Illinois, this season. The offense is atrocious, ranking 125th out of 128 teams in S&P+ and averaging 17.3 points per game (121st). In total, Boston College has scored 173 points in 10 games, and 76 of those came against FCS side Howard in Week 2. Against FBS opponents, Boston College is averaging 9.1 points per game; against Power Five teams they’re averaging eight points per game.
Even if Notre Dame’s offense struggles at Fenway Park, it’s unlikely the Eagles can mount much of anything offensively. But Notre Dame’s offense should have reason to believe it won’t run into a Green Monster-sized wall on Saturday.
In its last four games, against Clemson (10th in offensive S&P+), Louisville (54th), Virginia Tech (81st) and N.C. State (34th), Boston College allowed an average of 25.3 points per game. Notre Dame’s offense ranks better than those four teams (No. 6) in offensive S&P+.
Clemson’s offense is the best Boston College’s defense faced so far, and the Tigers hung 34 on the Eagles in South Carolina. Quarterback DeShaun Watson threw for 420 yards in that game with three touchdowns and two interceptions, and fired a 51-yard touchdown to receiver Artavis Scott, who beat man coverage with late safety help for his score.
Of course, in that game, Clemson gained just 112 yards on 36 carries (3.1 yards per rush). But it’s not like Boston College’s defense has dominated every game in which it’s played.
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Notre Dame could have some success generating big plays on standard downs — Boston College has allowed five passing plays of 50 or more yards, ranking 97th among FBS teams. That seems like a good opportunity for Will Fuller, who has three receptions of 50 or more yards.
The numbers developed by Bill Connelly, SB Nation’s college football statistics guru, give Notre Dame a 79 percent chance of winning with a projected score of about 30-16. Unless Boston College can use some bye week sorcery to conjure up anything resembling a good offense, Notre Dame should come away from the home of the Boston Red Sox with its 10th win of the season this weekend.