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And In That Corner ... Familiar Boston College heads to Notre Dame riding high but ailing

Calling Boston College one of Notre Dame’s rivals undervalues the Irish series against USC and Michigan, but regardless, the Eagles always seem to overlap with South Bend interests. They have enough recruits in common, the ACC partnership means Notre Dame meets Boston College on a regular basis, and history always reinforces storylines long after they are entirely accurate.

This time around (2:30 ET; NBC), a few familiar names lend some color to this matchup. To dig into the likelihood of seeing former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec throw to former Irish tight end George Takacs on a play called by former Irish tight ends coach John McNulty, let’s chat with A.J. Black of the Eagle Insider.

DF: A few weeks ago, these questions would have been much more scathing than they will be now. In that respect, I have to think the season quickly became more enjoyable to cover. In broad strokes, how has the mood around the program changed the last two weeks, coming off that surge (though still a loss) against Duke and now the upset at North Carolina State?

AJB: The win against NC State certainly gave Boston College (3-7) some momentum after what has become a very disappointing season. The Eagles had not won against a Top-25 team since 2014 when they defeated USC, so to shake that monkey off their back was a big deal. In addition, head coach Jeff Hafley was able to showcase the future, quarterback Emmett Morehead and freshman receiver Joseph Griffin II (six catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games) who have featured heavily in their last two games.

The biggest on-field change has been Emmett Morehead’s play in place of Phil Jurkovec. Let me ask a point-blank question before getting into Morehead: Is there any chance Jurkovec plays at Notre Dame this weekend? His return has been long anticipated, though that hype diminished by week this season. If you say no, a follow-up: Is Jurkvoec’s career with Boston College effectively over?

There is a possibility Jurkovec could play. During Wednesday’s press conference, Jeff Hafley said there was a “chance,” although Jurkovec has been dealing with a knee and rib injury to go along with being in the concussion protocol. That said, I really don’t believe he will play on Saturday; Boston College has found some momentum with Morehead, and although this might be tough for Hafley, he has to go with the younger kid at this point because he has given the Eagles the better chance of winning.

For Jurkovec, I believe his career with Boston College is over. Before this season, it looked like the NFL Draft would be the likely place for him after this season, but with Morehead firmly planted at QB1, and Jurkovec’s draft stock cratered, I would not be surprised if he transfers after this season for a fresh start.

A sophomore, Morehead was not a touted recruit. To my eye, the only other Power Five offers he had were from Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and West Virginia, with the last of those perhaps the greatest challenge to Boston College in recruiting. He has thrown for 660 yards and seven touchdowns on a 60.2 percent completion rate the last two weeks, though throwing two interceptions against the Wolfpack. A 7.1 yards per attempt rate is respectable, but also just shy of explosive. Describe Morehead’s game to me, someone who only watched the Duke loss via gamecast and the North Carolina State win on a second screen while working.

Emmett Morehead was a lightly-recruited quarterback for a few reasons. He is originally from California but transferred to a high school in Virginia for his senior season in 2020. But the pandemic knocked out his season which made it hard for college coaches to get tape on him.

In addition, he was relatively new to football, just picking up the game a few years before. He is a BIG quarterback at 6-foot-6, and has a very strong arm. What has impressed me this year, and has been a marked improvement over last year, is his ability to get rid of the ball quickly, which he does much better than Jurkovec. Morehead is relatively accurate, as well, and has done a nice job of avoiding catastrophic sacks. In terms of area of improvement, he still checks down very quickly and sometimes dumps the ball off when he has more time, which isn’t a surprise given the struggles of the offensive line.

Morehead is obviously helped by star receiver Zay Flowers. He might be the best in the country. If not, he’s up there among them. Catching 6.7 passes per game for 921 yards and 10 touchdowns this season is all that much more remarkable when realizing the Eagles have so few other genuine offensive threats. What could Notre Dame do to slow Flowers, if anything? I don’t anticipate simple double coverage getting the job done.

There really is no easy answer to slowing down Flowers. You are correct, even in double teams he can still torture a defense. I think slowing him down honestly is beating up the offensive line in the trenches. If Morehead or Jurkovec does not have the time to get Flowers the ball, he can’t be effective. In addition, if he is forced to only get shorter passes because of the pressure, swarming to the ball can also limit his effectiveness.

Another offensive threat is a familiar one to the Irish, tight end George Takacs, part of an offense coordinated by former Notre Dame tight ends coach John McNulty. How have they fit in on Chestnut Hill, Jurkvoec connections aside?

Takacs has been the starter since day one, but he suffered a high-ankle sprain that has limited him this season, and he reaggravated it when he rushed to get back. He had a great game against NC State, but his effectiveness has been limited especially in blocking because of the injury. Notre Dame fans will be surprised to see how active he is in the passing game.

When you look at any advanced numbers on Boston College, a rough image presents itself. I suppose the Eagles’ pass defense is — oh no, I should change my phrasing here, nope, I’m not gonna — passable. But given 71 percent of opponents’ early downs are successful, the Irish should not need to pass too much against Boston College. How might the Eagles shift that dynamic? Will they try to duplicate Navy’s all-blitz all-the-time defense?

I don’t think BC will go very blitz heavy in this game. That has been something that has caused them to get burned in the past. The Eagles have a pair of solid defensive backs in Josh DeBerry and Elijah Jones who are good enough to win one-on-one matchups, which should allow defensive coordinator Tem Lukabu to switch things up front. Boston College’s defensive schemes have been to try and confuse opposing quarterbacks with simulated pressure and cycling through a variety of coverages. Expect a heavy emphasis on Michael Mayer and trying to get in Drew Pyne’s face but letting the back half do their job if they can’t make pressure.

Notre Dame is favored by 21. Yet Irish fans have deep-set terrors of Boston College upsets, a la 1993 and 2002. What do you expect Saturday?

I do think the spread is a bit high for this game, but I am not ready to pick Boston College to win its second ranked game in a row. I think this game will be closer, but one factor to watch for is the flu. Yes, the flu.

The Eagles had 12 players hit with it this week according to Hafley, but he didn’t divulge who is sick and how they are recovering. Last season against Wake Forest, the dreaded flu hit, and Boston College was decimated 41-10. If BC is healthy enough, I think the game is 28-14 Notre Dame, but if they are either still feeling the impact of the flu or missing players due to it, go with 35-10 Notre Dame.

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