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Eagles aim to knock off another top Irish team

Allan Joseph | Thursday, November 8, 2012

The story is well-known by now: Notre Dame rises up the rankings, wins high-profile games and protects an undefeated record through most of the season. Then it meets Boston College, and the dream is over. The Eagles (2-7) will try to follow the examples of 1993 and 2002 when they attempt to upend the Irish (9-0) this weekend in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

In 1993, Irish coach Lou Holtz coached his team to a 9-0 record and No. 1 ranking following the “Game of the Century” against then-No. 1 Florida State. One week later, the Eagles came to town and derailed Notre Dame’s national title hopes in a 41-39 victory. In 2002, first-year coach Tyrone Willingham led the Irish to an 8-0 start that culminated with a signature win at Florida State. The next week, Willingham gave his players green jerseys in an attempt to keep them motivated, but Boston College forced five turnovers to send Notre Dame into a late-season tailspin. Irish coach Brian Kelly says the past will not have any effect on his squad.

“History will have no effect on how this team plays,” Kelly said Sunday. “I really focus strictly on the guys that are in the room and how we prepare them. I do not use history lessons as much as I want them to realize what it takes to win week-in and week-out.”

The 1993 Boston College squad finished 9-3, while the 2002 team finished 9-4. This year’s Eagles have no such finish ahead of them under embattled coach Frank Spaziani, but they want to pull off the upset nonetheless.

“Obviously we have a very talented and well-coached football team coming into our stadium here,” Spaziani said. “They have sights on the national championship. So we’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’re practicing trying to get ready for them.”

Kelly said he had continued to warn his players that the Eagles would try and salvage their season by knocking off the Irish.

“The head of a champion understands that each and every week you’re going to get the opposition’s very best,” he said. “We have to be able to understand that when we play the game on Saturday. … Our players understand that if they don’t play their best they can get beat. [I have] a lot of respect for Boston College and the way they run their program and the way their kids play on a day-to-day basis.”

Eagles sophomore receiver Spiffy Evans is having a remarkable year returning punts, averaging nearly 32 yards per return.

“I think we’ve done a good job on our punt return scheme, Xs and Os, and then I think Spiffy has gotten a little more confidence and he knows where we’re going,” Spaziani said. “You put it all together, and it leads you to a 31-yard average, which has been a big plus for us.”

Though Notre Dame’s special-teams units were inconsistent last week against Pittsburgh, Kelly said the bigger-picture view of the return game was more favorable.

“I still keep coming back to Oklahoma, [which] could not return one punt against us, and they’ve got a dynamic returner,” Kelly said. “When you look at it, we’ve only had six punts returned against us all year.”

Last year on Notre Dame’s Senior Day, the Irish had to recover a late onside kick to seal a 16-14 victory. Kelly said he has not forgotten that experience.

“[They’re] a team that has played us very, very well,” he said. “This past year obviously at home we had to make some big stops late to win the football game.”
Spaziani, however, said recent history was not a perfect guide.

“Well, you know, certainly positive past experience is good for your psyche. But that’s limited,” he said. “I mean, this is a different team and different players. … But yeah, there’s some positive carryover. But once again, it is different from year to year. These are totally two different teams.”

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