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Mobile quarterback and full backfield will challenge Irish

Jay Fitzpatrick | Friday, November 7, 2008

When Notre Dame played Boston College last season, the Eagles were the No. 4 team in the country, They would move to No. 2 the following week behind Heisman Trophy candidate Matt Ryan at quarterback.

On the other sideline, the Irish were winless and replaced then-true freshman Jimmy Clausen with Evan Sharpley during the game.

But the important part about this Saturday’s rematch is that neither team is the same as last year’s versions.

For Notre Dame, all the young players who suffered through tough losses last season have gained experience, but Boston College has lost a good deal of senior leadership, having graduated 19 fifth-yeah seniors.

The most obvious change is at quarterback. Matt Ryan was drafted third overall by the Atlanta Falcons after throwing for 3,953 yards, 28 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season.

His replacement this season is senior Chris Crane, who was Ryan’s backup on the Eagles two-deep last season.

So far this season, Crane has struggled at times, throwing for only 178.4 yards per game with eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown said Crane is an important part of the system Boston College runs.

“They have a quarterback who makes good decisions, throws the ball around pretty well,” Brown said. “He makes mistakes just like everybody else. He gets tackled, he gets pressure. He throws interceptions, just like other quarterbacks when you pressure them.”

While Crane is not as effective a passer as Ryan was last season, the 6-foot-4 senior is more of a dual-threat quarterback than his predecessor. Crane has rushed for 147 net yards and seven touchdowns so far this season. Last year, Ryan had only one rushing touchdown had a net of minus-nine yards on the ground.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said that while the Eagles coaching staff has some running plays drawn up specifically for Crane, a lot of his rushing yards come from scrambling.

“He’s actually a guy who likes to run the ball a little bit more, not afraid to run it. They actually do run some read options with him actually carrying the ball,” Weis said. “The other thing, if he doesn’t see something in the passing game open, he’s not afraid to pull it down and go with it. He does a nice job feeling pressure and avoiding the rush and getting out of the pocket and throwing the ball away when he’s under duress.”

The other major offensive loss for the Eagles from last season is starting tailback Andre Callender, who also graduated last season.

Callender led the team with 907 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns and also led the team with 59 catches for 613 yards. This season, the Eagles have spread the wealth in the running game, splitting carries between freshmen tailbacks Josh Haden and Montel Harris.

Harris leads the team with 411 yards on 73 carries, good for 58 yards per game, while Haden has 276 yards on 63 carries for 39 yards a game. Weis predicted that Haden will start for the Eagles on Saturday.

“He’s not a big guy, but he runs hard.  He’s very quick and he’s also a good receiver out of the backfield,” Weis said.

Weis also said that he has game-planned for Harris, but that the two backs are very similar.

“[Harris is] not that much different than Haden. He’s not that much different.  They’re not real big guys but both backs that run real hard,” he said.