Notre Dame is coming off two of its best performances all season, blowout victories over Duke and Navy to improve to 8-2 this season and return to No. 15 in the AP Poll. The Irish seem to be hitting their stride here near the end of the season, erasing some of the memory of that embarrassing loss to Michigan and putting everything together. With two games remaining in the regular season, they're finally playing like the team that many envisioned in August.
They have a chance to keep that momentum rolling against Boston College this weekend on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish and Eagles have had an interesting rivalry in the 21st century, with Boston College winning six straight matchups from 2001 to 2008 and Notre Dame responding with five consecutive victories between 2009 and 2017. This Eagles team is 5-5 with wins over Virginia Tech and N.C. State, but also with losses to Kansas, Florida State and Clemson, the last by a 59-7 score.
This is not a typical Steve Addazio Boston College team that plays good defense and tries to score enough points to win. The Eagles have one of the better offenses in the country, rolling up 483 yards and 33 points per game, but also giving up 487 yards and 32 points per contest to their opponents.
"From our perspective, it's continue to execute at a high level offensively, control the line of scrimmage as best we can against a team that really wants to assert themselves in running the football," coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Monday. "Should be a great matchup for our football team."
Here are some more highlights from Kelly's weekly press conference:
On Boston College running back A.J. Dillon, who has rushed for 1,453 yards this season and was once a Notre Dame recruiting target:
"He was a really good player, somebody that we had offered and would've liked to have come to Notre Dame. But I think there were other reasons maybe that he didn't want to come here. I don't know what they were. We never really had an opportunity. Felt like BC was the best fit for him and it's obviously worked out quite well for him."
On Braden Lenzy and other young wide receivers and the process to get them ready for larger roles:
"I just think the workload at that position is such that it requires a whole different day-to-day preparation. I think that transition is occurring with (Lenzy) and (fellow redshirt freshmen) Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys. Those guys are transitioning into that, and so there is going to be some days where they have to be protected, whether it's soft tissue or whether it's just the load of academics and football where we have to make coaches' decisions based upon their readiness.
"We do that by seeing how they're practicing, how they're handling the load from week to week. So I just think it's a natural progression that they're going through. They'll be bigger, they'll be stronger, they'll be all the things necessary for them to be much more consistent as we enter into next season."
On going through Senior Day ceremonies:
"I get emotional just leading them so I don't know that it comes down to one day. You get emotional watching these guys succeed and struggle. It's just not the one day. I mean, I think if it comes down to one day then I don't know what you're doing the other days of the year.
"We have three more games, so, yeah, it'll be one where they're not playing in Notre Dame Stadium again, but I think what will be much more emotional is the last game that they play."
On how he has kept his team strong in November the last two years:
"We're not going as many periods (in practice) as we were in September and October. I think what (the players) wanted was they wanted to maintain the intensity of practices. I think that's clearly the most important thing. It doesn't necessarily mean the duration. You're balancing intensity with duration.
"I think the comments to me, the captains, more than anything else is make sure we keep the intensity up in practice. Contact needs to stay up. Don't pull off from that perspective. But I still have to manage duration, workload, things of that nature."
On how Ian Book has handled criticism and "noise" surrounding his performance this season:
"I think he's had to come up with some ways to obviously avoid a lot of it, and I think he's done a nice job. Some of it is going to seep through naturally because of the nature of the position at Notre Dame. You don't come to the Notre Dame as the quarterback expecting to have to wear earplugs. You're going to hear it, and you have to be able to deal with it.
"I think he's figured out how to do that. He's going to get way too much credit for wins and way too much blame for the losses. I think he's balanced that out. I think that we're coaching him better. I think he's playing better. I think he's playing at the level he's capable of playing, and I think he can play better. So, again, I just think that there is a young player there that is getting better down the stretch here, and I think there is more out there for him."
On how Book has blocked out the noise:
"You can't bury your head in the sand. You've got to be aware of your situation. That just comes with being here at Notre Dame. You want to be at Notre Dame and have the bright lights. That comes with this territory. That's why you choose to come to Notre Dame.
"But there has to be a time where you push all that stuff aside for a few hours and come back to it later. It'll still be there. You still got to deal with it. So I think he's found a way he can put that stuff aside and go have fun and play this game without all that. Maybe was carrying that with him 24/7 and he found a way to just put it aside. It will be there when you get back and deal with it then."
On whether Book will be back for a fifth season next year:
"I've talked to a lot of the guys (about playing next season). Not going to get into the specifics. Those are conversations that we try to have with guys that have eligibility remaining. I really don't like to have 28 guys that are seniors and do this thing twice, walk them out twice.
"So we try to have some conversations with them, and then we're obviously trying to help them make some decisions on the NFL and things of that nature. So lots of those conversations are percolating. They're not priorities right now, but we like to lay the groundwork right now."
- Tommy Kraemer: The right guard remains out with a sprained MCL suffered against Michigan. The original diagnosis was 4-6 weeks so he could be nearing a return, but it's unclear if it will happen before the bowl game. Fifth-year senior Trevor Ruhland will likely start in his place for the fourth straight week.
- Braden Lenzy: Lenzy sat out with "fatigue" against Duke, but returned to catch a 70-yard touchdown pass against Navy, showing off his elite speed. Kelly said the Irish wanted to "protect" Lenzy a little bit and said "he looked pretty fast to me" against Navy.
- Shayne Simon: The sophomore linebacker and special teams standout dislocated his kneecap against Navy and will have surgery Tuesday. He's out for the season and will likely be unable to participate in contact drills in the spring. Kelly said he anticipates Simon making a full recovery for next season.
- Jayson Ademilola: The sophomore defensive lineman, who has 24 tackles, including four for loss this season, has a sprained ankle sustained against Navy and is day-to-day. He is questionable to play against Boston College.
- Javon McKinley: The redshirt junior receiver missed the Navy game with a foot injury suffered against Duke. He was in a boot on the sideline against the Midshipmen, but Kelly said he is out of it now and started running Monday. He is questionable against Boston College, but likely won't be 100% if he plays.
- Kyle Hamilton: The star true freshman safety hobbled off after making a tackle against Navy, but was cleared to return after being evaluated for a stinger. He should be ready to go against the Eagles.