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No. 15 Irish expect physical test from run-happy Eagles

November 22, 2019
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Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel, top, celebrates his touchdown pass to wide receiver Kobay White (9) in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)
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Boston College quarterback Dennis Grosel, top, celebrates his touchdown pass to wide receiver Kobay White (9) in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Boston College coach Steve Addazio doesn’t have any magic tricks planned for Saturday’s game at No. 15 Notre Dame.

“Our rabbit coming out of the hat is to play as hard and physical as we can play,” Addazio said as his Eagles, seeking to become bowl eligible, visit Notre Dame Stadium where the Fighting Irish (8-2, No. 16 CFP) have won 17 straight games.

The latest in that streak was a 52-20 win over Navy, the nation’s top rushing team coming in that was held to just 281 yards. Boston College (5-5) will challenge the Fighting Irish defense with a stout ground game of its own.

Led by a pair of running tanks in 250-pound junior AJ Dillon and 240-pound sophomore David Bailey, the Eagles average 282.5 yards per game, fifth nationally. Dillon is third nationally with 1,451 yards while Bailey has 765. They have combined for 20 touchdowns.

“We’re not dealing with the triple option like Navy,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “Boston College has much more of a physical presence. This will be about controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Former walk-on Dennis Grosel replaced injured quarterback Anthony Brown during the Louisville game and has thrown for 710 yards and eight touchdowns for an Eagles offense that averages 483.7 yards and 33.8 points.

“I think we’re mentally refocused and physically refocused,” Grosel said.

Defensively, Addazio’s young Eagles are still learning the ropes, allowing 32.1 points and 486.9 yards per game, including 302.3 yards through the air. They now face Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book, who has thrown nine touchdown passes in blowout victories over Duke and Navy, five of them to 6-foot-4½ senior wideout Chase Claypool.

“This is a very talented team,” Addazio said. “They played at a high level last week against a really good Navy team in every phase.”

FAMILY TIES

The game will test the loyalties of Dillon’s grandfather, Thom Gatewood, a College Football Hall of Famer who set receiving records at Notre Dame from 1969-71. A favorite receiver of Joe Theismann in 1970, Gatewood set single-season school records with 77 receptions for 1,123 receiving yards. He was a captain of the 1971 team.

Dillon said his grandfather came with him on his official visit to Notre Dame, but Gatewood encouraged him to make his own decision. Dillon picked Boston College, and he is now the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,148 yards.

“I wanted to start my own legacy,” Dillon said. “My grandfather did wonders there, he was a phenomenal player, phenomenal person, student as well. Nothing against him or Notre Dame, I just wanted to be a part of making my own legacy somewhere else. I’m trying to do that here.”

MORE TIES THAT BIND

Addazio directed special teams, tight ends and offensive tackles from 1999-2001 under then-Irish coach Bob Davie. BC running backs coach Brian White was a graduate assistant for Notre Dame’s 1988 national champions under Lou Holtz. Quarterback Doug Flutie, who won the 1984 Heisman Trophy at Boston College and played against the Irish in the Liberty Bowl following the 1983 season, is the color analyst for Notre Dame telecasts on NBC.

The Irish hold a 15-9 edge in the series thanks to a current six-game win streak. Boston College won six straight from 2001-08; the most memorable game in the series for the Eagles is the 41-39 upset of then-No. 1 Notre Dame in 1993.

GROWING UP (FOR) IRISH

Kelly grew up north of Boston and played and first coached football at Assumption College, 40 miles west of Chestnut Hill. He didn’t have an affinity for Boston College football growing up.

“I wasn’t much of a fan of anything but Notre Dame growing up,” Kelly said. “That’s all we had on TV.”

BOWL ELIGIBLE

The Eagles, who finish the season against Pittsburgh, need one more win in their last two games to reach bowl eligibility. Still, Boston College is tied for eighth in Academic Progress Rate (APR), which is used to distribute any remaining bowl berths if there aren’t enough teams that make it to six wins. All the teams ahead of the Eagles except for Duke (4-6), Northwestern (2-8) and Vanderbilt (2-8) are already either eligible or unable to reach the threshold.

That would leave the Eagles as one of the top choices if there aren’t 78 six-win teams to fill out the 39 bowl berths.

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AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen contributed to this preview.

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