Notre Dame Football Key Matchups: Boston College 2017

Looking to bounce back from their first loss of the 2017 campaign, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit the road for the first of two consecutive road matchups. Saturday’s game pits the Irish against the Boston College Eagles, who also enter this clash looking to get back to winning after an embarrassing home loss to Wake Forest.

Notre Dame has won the last five meetings, with Brian Kelly bringing a spotless 4-0 mark into the game in this series. Below are a number of key matchups to watch that may spell the difference in this contest:

Jerry Tillery vs. Alec Lindstrom

Tillery’s season of redemption after his embarrassing end to 2016 has seen him collect a total of nine tackles in the first two games of the season, including four unassisted stops. Right now, he only has one shared tackle-for-loss to his credit, so there’s plenty of room for improvement in the weeks and months ahead.

Looking at this game a few weeks ago, Tillery was expected to match up against the leader of the Eagle offensive line in center Jon Baker. That changed abruptly when Baker suffered a knee injury in the Boston College opener at Northern Illinois and was then ruled out for the season prior to last Saturday’s game because of a torn ACL.

Lindstrom is a true freshman who took part in spring practice after starting school in January. That can definitely be beneficial for any newcomer, with Lindstrom also having his brother Chris working with him in the trenches. Of course, the lack of experience is something that can be exploited, which Tillery needs to be aware of for this game.

Alize Mack vs. Connor Strachan

Mack’s return to the Notre Dame lineup after sitting out last season has seen him collect two grabs in each of the first two games. However, only one of them, a 32-yard grab against Georgia that helped set up a field goal, has been of any consequence. That means getting him more integrated into the offense amid heavy competition at his position remains a challenge.

Such integration could be difficult against Strachan, who has shifted to the strong side this year after having made his name inside the previous two seasons. Despite standing just 6-feet even and 230 pounds, Strachan led Boston College in tackles last year and possesses both the versatility and defensive skills to make the afternoon difficult for Mack.

Anthony Brown vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

The question in this case is which version of Brown will appear on Saturday. Is it the one that completed 26 of 42 for 191 yards in the season-opening win over Northern Illinois or is it the one who threw three interceptions, including a pick-six, in the disastrous loss to Wake Forest.

To be fair, two of the interceptions came as a result of balls being tipped by Eagles receivers into the hands of Wake defenders. Still, the issue was enough to get Brown yanked from the game in the third quarter, though after some debate in the two days after the loss, he was announced as Saturday’s starter.

On the other side, two outstanding catches by Georgia last Saturday spelled the difference in the game. The Irish pass defense has shown improvement this season, thanks to an improved pass rush, while the receiving corps of Boston College doesn’t come close to matching Georgia’s talent level. However, Notre Dame can’t afford to let down their guard in this area.

Nyles Morgan vs. Jon Hilliman

Morgan enters this game as the leading tackler for the Irish, with 15 stops that also included one sack. His nominal effort against Temple was replaced by a strong performance against Georgia that offered a much stiffer challenge when going up against the Bulldogs’ array of running backs. That level of depth won’t be evident when they travel to Chestnut Hill.

Hilliman is still trying to return to his 2014 level after seeing much of the past two seasons affected by injury. He ran for 119 yards in the Eagles’ win against Northern Illinois, but had a mixed bag in the team’s loss to Wake Forest by combining his first-ever collegiate touchdown reception with a costly fumble that led to Wake’s first score.

Tommy Kraemer/Robert Hainsey vs. Harold Landry

Kraemer and Hainsey continue to split their time at right offensive tackle, with both needing to be at their best against Landry. That means avoiding the dreaded false start penalties that have particularly been a problem for Hainsey and were also an issue during last year’s disastrous campaign.

Landry stands 6-foot-3 and weights 250, but brings plenty of speed to the field. Both Kraemer and Hainsey are tasked with protecting Brandon Wimbush against a player who collected 16.5 sacks and 22 tackles-for-loss last season. In the Eagles’ two games this year, Landry hasn’t had much of an impact, but it would aid Notre Dame enormously if they could keep the defensive end’s talents under wraps for one more week.

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  1. Now that we don’t have Georgia on our minds
    someone explain how the Irish have a chance
    against USC and Stanford. USC looks very good
    good, I believe they’re going to embarrass Notre
    Dame at home. I love the Irish but I’m not
    delusional. Darnold going to win his Heisman
    in South Bend. Anyway go Irish.

  2. Mzip,
    New Year’s Eve is a Pro Day…making New Year’s Day a “Playoff Day” …forcing the “Big Six” back to December 30 or elsewhere…therefore elevating a couple of mid-range bowls to be competitors with the so-called “Big Six”…and ND could land one of those easily at 9-3, but WE MUST WIN OUR CONFERENCE GAMES TO DO THAT! So does it interest me? Hell yes! I’ve never been to some of those bowls…if the old Peach Bowl can become some exalted New Year’s weekend bowl, why not the old Citrus, or Gator? The bizarre scheduling created by NY’s Eve being dedicated to the Pros might create some interesting TV (and bowls) on December 29th and 30th…yeah…if we go 9-3 I’m interested and I’ll be glad to go! But I have not totally kissed off 10-2 yet anyway.

    Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

    PS: Damian, write to me at 9344 West State Road 8 La Crosse, Indiana 46348 and we’ll start a dialogue about getting you a pair of tickets to a game next year, and a dinner at Legends before the pep rally Friday night, and a lunch at the Mendoza School of Business before the game Saturday, all on me. All travel expenses, other meals, and lodging (I can help you find that, but you’ll need to rent a car, it’ll be in an adjacent town) are on you. If you want to do it, you know, just for a hoot, write me.

  3. When the sagas of both Brandon Wimbush’s Notre Dame career and the 2017 Fighting Irish team are written,
    the Georgia game will be sharply and clearly defined as the turning point.

    Remember, the coaches tried to prepare for this, by giving Wimbush a challenge in the Spring game.

    But the schedule maker, currently pilloried, will be lauded for scheduling the Georgia game so early.

    “Sweet are the uses of adversity,
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
    And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.”

    The Bard.

    This post will make more sense after we walk off the field in Palo Alto as winners.

  4. George, for grins I tuned in on Tillery. He is a load all right. Needs refinement, He’s getting there. When He was incoming freshman a ND propaganda film had him out eating all others in locker room, empty pizza boxes all around. But, back to his signature stomp last year at SoCal. He was just doing the “Monster Mash” . BTW, that game always brings out the “hidden side” of all these players. Wonder if soon to be released OJ will be there in a cameo appearance.

  5. Please elaborate a bit more on Tillery’s end to 2016. I can’t get enough of that. It’s so relevant I need to hear about it some more.

  6. I do think this game will be a win. True BC is always up for their ND game most years. But unless the team crumbles and falls apart this should be a win.

    They should use this opportunity to strengthen the team. Wimbush should use the game as an opportunity to improve. Hopefully Rees is a good QB coach. Wimbush can’t afford to have an EG style collapse. One thing I always took away from Rees is he was a tough QB who took his lumps but kept on playing as well as he could. It’s important he teach Wimbush that kind of mental toughness.

    I think the defense will continue to improve. I do think Elko is the real deal. I know it’s only been 2 games, but by the end of the Georgia game I was no longer crossing my fingers when the defense took the field. It was to the point when we needed one more 3 and out I was confident the defense could deliver (too bad the offense couldn’t). Special teams seems to be a little better as well, no complaints about our FG’s and punting right now.

    But my biggest concern is the O-line. I hate to say it but they seem overrated. We kept hearing this was an elite line but I have yet to see it. Being able to manhandle Temple is all fine and good. And they may well manhandle BC. But it’s when you face top 25 teams that you need to prove yourself and they failed to do that. Wimbush made some bad mistakes but I wonder how much of that was because of poor protection. If I had to make a fair assessment of Wimbush on Saturday I’d have to say half the problems were on him, yes, but the other half is the O-line. And if he had a better O-line, maybe he would have been more effective. QBs when they get pressured sometimes try to force things.

    1. If you remember EG didn’t collapse until Reese graduared. Also, the Oline is good, not great. They won’t see a front 7 like that for the rest of the year. I also believe if Stepherson was playing they wouldn’t been able to double EG with a saftey over the top. My final observation is that Winbush is tougher mentally than EG and will bounce back. They get the win and get ready for MSU

      1. I agree about Wimbush. I think he will be ok, I’m not panicking about him at this point. You may be right about the O-line for the rest of the year. USC and Stanford will be tough to play overall, but I’m not sure how good their defensive fronts are. The problem would be if by some chance they do get to a NY Day 6 bowl, they will likely face another Georgia type defense and that could spell trouble.

    1. Carlos,
      Perhaps, but ARA’s teams were always pretty brutal the week after a loss. Our guys are wearing his name on their helmets. We’ll find out Saturday afternoon if that really means anything to them. I’m thinking that it does.

      Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

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