Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani's squad has been a tale of two teams this year - explosive at home, while struggling on the road.

Notre Dame - Boston College Game Preview

Oct. 22, 2009

Tim Prister By Tim Prister ’82

Game 7: Boston College (Oct. 24)
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
2008 record: 9-5, including a 17-0 victory over Notre Dame on Nov. 8 in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and a 16-14 loss to Vanderbilt in the Music City Bowl.
2009 record: 5-2 – Opened with home victories over Northeastern (54-0) and Kent State (34-7) before falling on the road to Clemson (25-7) in its ACC opener. Followed up with home victories over Wake Forest (27-24 in overtime) and Florida State (28-21) before falling on the road to Virginia Tech (48-14). Bounced back last week with a decisive 52-20 victory at home over North Carolina State to raise their conference record to 3-2.

Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Kickoff: 3:42 p.m. ET
TV Coverage: NBC

Boston College head coach: Long-time defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani succeeded Jeff Jagodzinski, who won 20 games in two seasons as the Boston College head coach. Spaziani was defensive coordinator for 12 seasons under Tom O’Brien and Jagodzinski before landing the head coaching position. Spaziani coached the Eagles to a 25-24 victory over Navy in the Meineke Car Care Bowl following the 2006 regular season.

Spaziani’s defense allowed less than three yards per carry and less than 100 yards per game in three of the previous four seasons as the coordinator. The 2007 defense allowed just 2.4 yards per carry and 75.5 yards per game.

During the last five seasons, Boston College won at least nine games each year and totaled 48 victories. Boston College had their eight-game bowl winning streak halted when the Eagles fell to Vanderbilt last year.

Series history: This has become one of the most competitive and spirited non-conference rivalries in the country, despite the fact Boston College enters Saturday’s game sporting a six-game winning streak over Notre Dame. Prior to Notre Dame’s 17-point loss in ’08 and 13-point loss in ’07, the previous four losses were decided by a total of 14 points. Boston College defeated Notre Dame 21-17 in ’01, 14-7 in ’02, 27-23 in ’03 and 24-23 in ’04.

The Irish won five of the previous six, including a 3-1 record by Bob Davie with victories in ’97 (52-20), ’98 (31-26) and ’00 (28-16). Boston College defeated Notre Dame in ’99, 31-29.

Lou Holtz had a 4-2 record against Boston College with victories in ’87 (32-25), ’92 (54-7), ’95 (20-10) and ’96 (48-21). One of the most heartbreaking losses in Notre Dame history, however, came in ’93 when the 10-0 Irish fell to Boston College on a last-second field goal, 41-39, one week after knocking off No. 1-rated Florida State.

The Notre Dame-Boston College series began in 1975 when Dan Devine opened his Irish coaching career with a 17-3 victory over the Eagles. Eight years later, Gerry Faust’s Irish defeated the Doug Flutie-led Eagles, 19-18, in the Liberty Bowl.

The Notre Dame-Boston College rivalry – accentuated by the fact they are the only two Catholic schools in the FBS – also has ties through Frank Leahy, the legendary head coach who fashioned undefeated seasons at both schools.

Road weary: Boston College has been a starkly contrasted team so far this season at home as opposed to on the road. The Eagles are 5-0 in Alumni Stadium, averaging 39.9 points (25 touchdowns) and 413.3 yards per game. Boston College has defeated the ACC’s Wake Forest, Florida State and North Carolina State at home.

On the road, however, the Eagles are 0-2 with losses by a combined 73-21 to Clemson (25-7) and Virginia Tech (48-14). Boston College is averaging just 37 yards rushing per game on the road while allowing 193 per game. The Eagles have gained a mere 217 yards total offense in two games on the road and are just 2-of-25 (8.0 percent) on third down conversions. Quarterback Dave Shinskie completed 1-of-12 passes for four yards and two interceptions in the loss to Virginia Tech.

Spaziani tapped into a little Friedrich Nietzsche to get his players to respond following the 34-point loss to Virginia Tech.

“Don’t let the past be an anchor,” quoted Spaziani from Nietzsche. His team responded with a 34-point victory over North Carolina State. But the Eagles have yet to prove themselves on the road as they enter Notre Dame Stadium Saturday.

Weis and Herzlich: Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis reached out to ACC defensive player of the year Mark Herzlich when the Boston College linebacker was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of cancer, in the spring.

“I tell you what, you want to talk about a winner? That kid’s a winner,” Weis said. When Weis heard that Herzlich – who had a team-leading 11 tackles in Notre Dame’s 17-0 loss to Boston College last year – was diagnosed with cancer, he asked Boston College if he could speak with Herzlich. (Weis communicated through Barry Gallup, Sr., who is the director of football operations at Boston College, and whose son is a senior on the Irish football team.) Gallup asked the Herzlich family if Weis could contact him, they consented, and the two have developed a close relationship.

“They gave me his cell phone number, I texted him, then we traded phone calls, and it has really grown from there,” Weis said. “We communicate regularly.”

When Weis decided to give his team the second practice of the day off during the pre-season, Herzlich knew about it before the Notre Dame team did.

“I was going to surprise the team with going to the lake, and I wanted a player’s perspective,” Weis said. “So (Herzlich) knew about it, but my team didn’t know about it. He said, `Oh, I think that would be awesome.’

“He’s also friends with Golden Tate. So we’re on the bus on the way up to the lake and he texted Golden. He said, `Hey, have a good time at the lake.’ So Golden texted him back and said, `How did you know we were going to the lake?’ and he says, `I was in on this the whole time.'”

Herzlich admitted that he has to low-key his relationship with Weis.

“He said, `If the people from Boston College knew that the head coach from Notre Dame and I are friends, they would probably disown me,'” Weis said.

Herzlich appreciates the fact that Weis reached out to him with nothing to gain.

“It’s one thing to reach out and give encouragement; it’s another thing to take it upon yourself to become a guiding force and really a friend where there’s really no reason for him to be one,” Herzlich said. “He’s been great.”

Wild about the Wildcat: Weis and the Notre Dame offense have thrived at times in the Wildcat offense. But Boston College likes to utilize the formation as well. “With 46 years of football, (offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill) is probably the best football coach I know,” said Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who was recruited out of high school by Tranquill at Bowling Green.

“He’s going to do some things to exploit you. If he feels your defense is reeling, he’s going to do the Wildcat in two variations. Obviously, they had a heckuva plan against North Carolina State.”

Running back Montel Harris teamed up with Josh Haden to manhandle the North Carolina State front in a 52-20 victory last Saturday. Harris gained 264 yards and scored five touchdowns. According to Irish inside linebacker Brian Smith, about half of that yardage came from the Wildcat formation.

“With 46 years of football, (offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill) is probably the best football coach I know.

“He’s going to do some things to exploit you. If he feels your defense is reeling, he’s going to do the Wildcat in two variations. Obviously, they had a heckuva plan against North Carolina State.”

Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta

“They put up 140 yards last week in the Wildcat alone,” Smith said. “(Harris) did a good job of being patient and following his blocks. When he was in there at Wildcat, he wasn’t trying to force things. He was just being patient, trying to find holes.”

The Harris-Haden tandem, which combined for 132 yards (120 by Harris) last year in a 17-0 victory over Notre Dame, is on the verge of cracking the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Harris is the standout with 756 yards, 5.6 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns. But Haden has gotten about eight carries per game for 213 yards on the season.

“One of the biggest reasons they have had so much success in the Wildcat is that they have two running backs who are pretty awesome athletes,” said Irish strong safety Kyle McCarthy. “We saw them last year. To have success in the Wildcat, it helps to have two good running backs.”

Irish Sam linebacker Scott Smith has studied video of the Boston College rushing attack, and he’s impressed with their fundamentally sound approach.

“Their running backs will run north and south,” Smith said. “They do a real good job of taking advantage of the holes created by the offensive line, and they do a good job of getting yards after contact and making guys miss.”

Simulating Harris/Haden in practice this week is Barry Gallup Jr., while the motion man (the role played by Haden) has been Theo Riddick.

My man Spaz: Both Weis and Tenuta speak highly of Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani.

“We’ve known each other for awhile, and I just really like the guy,” Weis said. “He’s truly one of the good guys.”

“I’ve known him for about 29 years and he’s one of my best friends,” said Tenuta, who was a graduate assistant at Virginia when Spaziani was getting started in his football coaching career. “He’s a great coach, he’s a great person, and a heckuva family man with three kids. He’s just a great guy. I can’t say enough good things about him.

“I learned a lot of football from Spaz when I was younger. We still converse and we used to meet all the time when he came out of Canada and went to BC. We spent a lot of springs together, taking different game plans and talking about how to attack different people. It goes way back.”

Bounce back performance: Some think the devastating loss to USC might have a hangover effect on the Irish. Weis doesn’t think so.

“There’s not a question in my mind that we’ll come out fighting again like we have been,” said Weis of the anticipated performance by his players against Boston College. “People worry about being flat. How can be you flat when you are playing a team that just beat you six times in a row? That would be tough to do. We’ll come out fighting again.”

Weis said one of the most prepared players is quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

“One reason I have confidence that we’re ready is because (Clausen has) been ready to go since last Saturday night (after the USC loss),” Weis said. “The game was over Saturday night and we were already talking (about BC). Sunday, we were trading texts all day.”

Key match-ups: Notre Dame’s defense versus Boston College on third down likely holds the key to the game. The Eagles have converted 41 percent on third down (28-of-68) at home compared to eight percent (2-of-25) on the road. Boston College was 1-of-13 on third down against Virginia Tech and was down 34-0 by halftime. The Eagles gained just four first downs in the loss to Clemson when quarterback Justin Tuggle completed 4-of-20 passes for 23 yards with three interceptions. That’s when Spaziani turned to 25-year-old former minor league baseball pitcher Dave Shinskie, who threw three touchdown passes in his first start in the overtime victory over Wake Forest.

Last week, the Irish had an opportunity against a USC offense that was converting just 29 percent on third down, and the Trojans made the Irish pay by converting 6-of-13. If the Eagles convert on third down against the Irish the way they have in Alumni Stadium, Notre Dame will have difficulty out-scoring the Eagles.

Boston College intercepted an incredible 26 passes in ’08, including four against Jimmy Clausen in Notre Dame’s 17-0 loss to the Eagles. Boston College has seven interceptions this year and is perennially one of the most difficult teams to throw against.

“They play zone defense and they say, `You’re going to have to be patient and throw the ball underneath because if you throw it down the field, it’s going to be our ball,'” Weis said. “They make you play that game, and for the teams that don’t play that game, they end up having a long, hard day against this defense.

“So you have to be patient because if you are not patient, it’s going to happen, you’re going to end up throwing it to them.”

Clausen learned the hard way last year when four of his 17 interceptions in ’08 were by the Eagles, including a 76-yard interception return for a touchdown.


Jimmy Clausen is focused on putting his three interception performance against BC last year behind him when the Eagles come to Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.



“They try to keep everything in front of them and rally to the ball,” Clausen said. “They are great at being real disciplined and knowing where to be at the right time, rallying to the ball and making tackles.”

Notre Dame needs to keep Montel Harris in check. When he rushed for 13 yards on 12 carries against Clemson, the Eagles scored just seven points. When he rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries against Virginia Tech, the Eagles scored just 14 points. But when Harris had 264 yards against North Carolina State and 179 yards against Florida State, the Eagles prevailed.

“You look at both of their running backs and they’re good,” Tenuta said. “”With the added dimension of the Wildcat, (Harris) does a heckuva job. You look at those runs he made against NC State. Obviously, he’s a good back.

“They do a good job with their offense. If they need six yards, they’re going to get six yards. (Tranquill) does a great job with what they have.”

Eagles/Fighting Irish facts – Montel Harris’s 264 yards rushing against North Carolina State is the top performance of the season in the FBS. He broke Phil Bennett’s school record of 253 yards set in 1972 against Temple. His 30 points on five touchdowns tied Cal’s Jahvid Best and Nevada’s Mike Bell for the most points scored in a game this season … Boston College kicker Steve Aponavicius is five points shy of setting the school record for career points. He enters the Notre Dame game with 258 on 40 field goals and 138 extra points. Aponavicius walked-on in 2005 after the season-opener against Army, despite the fact that he had never kicked a football in an organized game … Boston College quarterback Dave Shinskie was drafted in the fourth round (118th overall) in the 2003 MBL draft, just four picks behind current Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. Shinskie reached as high as the AA level with Minnesota and Toronto … Sophomore wide receiver Colin Larmond Jr., has four touchdowns on just 17 receptions in ’08, and is averaging 21.6 yards per catch. He scored on a 57-yarder against Kent State, a 62-yarder against Virginia Tech, and a 59-yarder against North Carolina State … Senior wide receiver Rich Gunnell is first among active ACC receivers in receptions (143), receiving yards (1,839) and touchdowns (14). Gunnell leads the Eagles in receptions this year with 22. He also had a 46-yard punt return for a score against Northeastern and a 56-yarder in the same game … Notre Dame’s Darius Fleming is 12th in the nation in tackles for loss per game with a 1.7 average … Notre Dame’s schedule is now ranked as the 23rd most difficult in the country based on NCAA numbers among FBS teams. Notre Dame’s previous opposition is 18-14 while the remaining six opponents are a combined 22-15 for an overall mark of 40-29 (.579) … Only seven teams ranked in the first BCS ranking have a schedule strength better than Notre Dame’s current No. 23 … Jimmy Clausen dropped from first to second nationally in passing efficiency following the USC game. Only five quarterbacks in the FBS have fewer interceptions than Clausen’s two and only Christian Ponder of Florida State in that group has more pass attempts than Clausen … Notre Dame’s passing offense ranks seventh nationally at 315.83 yards per game; Notre Dame’s pass defense ranks 117th in yards allowed per game (283.0). One of the three teams that ranks below the Irish in that category is next week’s opponent, Washington State … Notre Dame’s 27 first downs against USC were the most against the Trojans since 2005 when the Irish had 27 in their three-point loss.

Tim Prister – Notre Dame’s starting third baseman in 1981-82 – is an `82 graduate in his 28th year covering Notre Dame football. He is the senior editor of after serving 20 years as editor of Blue & Gold Illustrated. Entering the 2009 season, he had attended and reported on 279 straight Notre Dame football games–every one since Lou Holtz’s first in 1986.