SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s season will only be defined by its post-Thanksgiving trip to Stanford if the No. 4 Irish can get past one of the nation’s best defenses Saturday evening at Fenway Park.
Notre Dame’s high-octane offense has faced plenty of good defenses this year. Clemson’s group, which held Notre Dame to 22 points in that sloppy loss in a Death Valley downpour Oct. 3, ranks 4th in S&P+. Temple’s 24th-ranked defense held Notre Dame to 24 points. Nos. 31 and 39 Navy and USC both allowed 41 points against the Irish, though No. 67 Wake Forest limited Notre Dame to 282 yards and 21 points last week (the other seven came on Andrew Trumbetti’s touchdown).
“I thought we were a little conservative at times,” coach Brian Kelly said of that quiet offensive day against Wake Forest. “(We need to be) probably a little more aggressive in the areas where we've been pushing the ball vertically. So we'll get back to being more aggressive offensively.”
Boston College’s defense, statistically, is the best Notre Dame has or will face, unless the Irish draw Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
[MORE: Three keys and prediction: Notre Dame-Boston College]
The Eagles rank No. 2 in defensive S&P+, are limiting opponents to the fewest yards per play (3.9) and third-fewest points (14.4) this season. They don’t allow many big-chunk plays, the kind on which Notre Dame’s offensive success is predicated.
But over its last four games, Boston College’s opponents (Clemson, Louisville, Virginia Tech and N.C. State) averaged 25 points. The Eagles finally had their bye last week, so perhaps this defense tired a bit after playing 10 straight weeks without a break.
Boston College is 3-7 for a reason, though: Its offense is atrocious, averaging 4.32 yards per play (third-worst in FBS) and 17.5 points per game (eighth-worst, and that includes a 76-point game against FCS side Howard). This team only has one win over an FBS opponent — a 17-14 win against Northern Illinois — and has consistently struggled to be a threat without injured quarterback Darius Wade and running back Jon Hillman. Even if Notre Dame’s offense has some problems getting in the end zone against this defense, the stats say Boston College’s offense shouldn’t put up much of a fight.
“Our team has a vision, and we have a mission we want to accomplish, and we see it,” center and graduate student captain Nick Martin said. “But right now we have to focus on BC, and that's what we have to do to complete that mission.”
Unlike Wake Forest, a team against which Notre Dame didn’t play especially well but still won by three touchdowns, Boston College does something discernibly well — play defense. Notre Dame will need to have better focus at Fenway Park than it had on senior day.
[SHOP: Get your Notre Dame gear]
And if Notre Dame keeps its eyes on beating Boston College and not on that post-Thanksgiving trip to Stanford, it’ll emerge from the home of the Boston Red Sox with a chance to put itself in position to convince the College Football Playoff selection committee it’s worthy of a spot in the four-team tournament.
“We know that everyone who was recruited here and decided to come here came to play for championships,” quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “And we see the opportunity is there. But at the end of the day it's not about — it’s more along the lines of what those 12 people sitting around the table decide.
“We're just out here trying to prove ourselves and prove that we're one of the better teams in the country. In order to do that, we have to be able to beat today. And we know that there is some opportunities for us to play for those championships that we have dreamed for. But in order to put ourselves in that position, we're going to have to play some good ball going up to there.”