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Notre Dame Preview: Charlie Weis And His Heisman Hopeful

10.22.09 at 8:51 pm ET
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CHESTNUT HILL — Willie Nelson should be commissioned to sing “On The Road Again” as the theme song for Boston College’s trip to Notre Dame this Saturday.

The Eagles’ road woes have been well documented. They have laid eggs in the homes of both the Clemson Tigers and Virginia Tech. In both instances, they got caught in the quicksand early and were unable to climb out of the muck. Death Valley and Lane Stadium are some of the most notorious venues in the country for opposing teams, but this week’s trip to South Bend — “the mother of all stadiums,” according to senior linebacker Mike McLaughlin — is another matter entirely.

Boston College and Notre Dame are similar schools, on and off the field. Both are private Catholic institutions and have storied football traditions and excellent academic reputations. Players on both sides have family and friends who attended the other school and a significant rivalry exists between the two universities. At the same time, Boston College cannot shake the notion that Notre Dame views it as more of a little sibling rather than an equal.

“There will always be a chip on our shoulder considering how some people who go to Notre Dame feel that BC is [its] little brother school,” defensive end Alex Albright said. “I am definitely going to take the mentality that they think we are lesser. That is another reason to play hard . . . I feel the team treats us as a good team but the overall school does not feel the same way.”

The rivalry has come to a balance point. The all-time series is 9-9 (though Boston College has won the last six matchups to make it so). This year both teams have two losses and are separated by five votes in the latest USA Today/Coaches poll (Notre Dame has 31 votes, Boston College 26 — the two highest vote totals for teams not in the Top 25). Boston College is a good running team while the Fighting Irish are a great passing team.

The challenge for any team that has faced Notre Dame since former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took over the program is how to contain its passing game. Weis first had Brady Quinn and turned him into the career leader in just about every one of the Fighting Irish passing categories. Now Weis has Jimmy Clausen on the same path. Clausen is a legitimate Heisman candidate. He is second in the nation in passing efficiency at 166.35 and ninth in total yards at 292.5 a game. Weiss has put weapons around Clausen that make the offense dangerous, such as wide receiver Golden Tate (fifth in the nation in receiving yards at 119.83 per game), receiver Michael Floyd (five touchdown catches) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (24 catches, 3 touchdowns).

“This guy is the real deal, it is not a mistake that he is up for the Heisman,” McLaughlin said. “He has the best weapons we faced all year with the tight end Rudolph and the wide receivers, Golden Tate . . . As far as an offense, it is scary to say it, but this is the best we are going to face.”

No description of a Boston College opponent is complete without McLaughlin saying, “He is a big time college quarterback, no doubt about that.”

He said that about Riley Skinner (Wake Forest), Russell Wilson (NC State), Christian Ponder (Florida State), Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech) and now Clausen. While it is true that all of them are good college quarterbacks (Skinner and Ponder are right behind in passing yards), Clausen is just a step better. Considering the march of quality arms listed above, that is saying something.

“Every quarterback is going to be an issue along the way. Clausen is our focus this week, Notre Dame is the only issue at hand. Yeah, it is a daunting task but it is any time you play a team like Notre Dame on the road,” junior free safety Wes Davis said.

For Weis, it almost seems that he searches for quarterbacks to mold into his own college version of Tom Brady. Clausen is third on the Notre Dame career list in passing attempts with 876 (behind Quinn and Ron Powlus), fourth in passing yards (Quinn, Powlus, Steve Beuelein) and should finish his Fighting Irish career second to Quinn in just about every category.

“I think they run the right offense for [Clausen],” Albright said. “He does a good job of getting it to all his receivers and when a quarterback like that has a lot of weapons, they are going to make him look good . . . We have definitely seen Jimmy Clausen progress the last few years.”

On defense Notre Dame is an aggressive, blitzing team. They try to penetrate the backfield by bringing linebackers in on the blitz through its 3-4 scheme, especially sophomore Darius Flemming from the strong side. Flemming is 12th in the nation in tackles for losses (second among linebackers) and is the epitome of the Fighting Irish’s defense.

“Good defense,” Montel Harris said. “I see a lot of aggressiveness on defense. When a defense is aggressive it helps out the running game as well as the passing game, so we should be able to switch it up on them.”

Notre Dame is 31st in the country in scoring defense and 63rd in rushing defense. The Eagles’ hope is that they can get Harris on track the way that they did against NC State last week, when the running back set school records with 264 yards and five touchdowns. Even half of those totals (perhaps 130 yards and 2 touchdowns) would mean that Boston College has put behind its road woes and came to play.

The key for the Eagles offense will be to get going early. In both the Clemson and Virginia Tech games, the offensive output in the first half was nonexistent, both times heading to the locker room with nearly zero yards.

“We just have to get first downs,” sophomore Colin Larmond Jr. said. “Once we get first downs everyone settles down. If you keep going three-and-out from the start it is kind of rough because everyone is getting the jitters and the defense is going out quickly. So, if we can get a first down everyone relaxes. The quarterbacks get comfortable, the running backs, everyone just eases off on the stress when we get our first first down.”

Boston College is looking for its sixth win of the year, which would make them bowl eligible. That, along with the prospect of building on the six-game winning streak against Notre Dame, offers the Eagles plenty of incentive. No player on this B.C. squad has ever lost to Notre Dame and the veterans would like to keep it that way.

“I am sure they hope they can get back at us this year, but it’s not happening,” senior defensive end Jim Ramella said.

Join Meter, Chach, and Rowinski on the BC Blog at noon this Friday, Oct. 23, for a live chat about Boston College football, Notre Dame and the state of gridiron affairs on the Heights. Click here to join the conversation — see you there!

Read More: Boston College, Jim Ramella, Jimmy Clausen, Mike McLaughlin
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