As you've no doubt surmised by now, this is where things start to get fun...
We've all heard about the Eagles run defense, and even a cursory glance at their numbers is enough to tell you that this is not a unit to be underestimated under any circumstances. In addition to allowing the fewest average yards per game in the nation (an even 80), Boston College has allowed an opposing team's rusher to run for 100+ yards only once in the last two seasons. And while rushing defense is clearly what has brought the Eagles to this point, it's not like the rest of their defense is riding the coattails of the run-stoppers. They're similar to Nevada in that they give up a large amount of yards through the air (229.8 per game, 81st), but are surprisingly solid with regards to pass efficiency defense (113.3, 19th), which stems from having 19 interceptions on the year and allowing just 13 passing touchdowns, tied for 10th- and 12th-best in the country, respectively. On the whole, they're surrendering less than 20 points and 310 total yards to their opponents per game. If the Eagle offense is the atrophied and barely functional left wing of this bird, the defense is the steroid-enhanced and ridiculously muscular right wing.
Individual play-makers abound in this unit. They're led by sophomore linebacker and consensus AP All-American Luke Kuechly, who leads the country with 171 total tackles, 102 of which were solo, second only to Mason Foster of Washington in that category. Another sophomore stud is defensive end Max Holloway, with 13 tackles for loss on the year. Out of those 19 interceptions I mentioned before, 5 came from junior cornerback Donnie Fletcher and another 4 apiece came from sophomore defensive back Jim Noel and senior linebacker Mark Herzlich. If you think you've heard that last name before, it's for good reason: his story is one of the most genuinely inspiring you'll ever hear about anywhere. I'm not normally a fan of fluffy human interest subplots that lead up to sporting events, but if there's a "You've Got Balls" award somewhere out there, this guy has earned it ten times over. It goes without saying that we all should be fans of his after Sunday night.
This isn't to say there aren't some chinks in this bird's armor, though. For a team with such a great run defense, they haven't piled up a ton of tackles for loss (77, tied for 50th), and their 19 sacks on the year (tied for 90th) means they haven't generated a ton of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, either. Furthermore, they've allowed their opponents to convert a pretty mediocre 40.4% of their third downs, which will be robustly tested by the Pistol.
I'll now try the same brief look at how the BC defense stacked up to its competition this year that I did in the last entry with their offense. This time, though, I'll list what each opponent's offense managed to put up against the Eagles:
9/4 Weber State W 38-20
Total Offense: 7th (in FCS)
BC Defense: 381 yards, 2 TDs, 2 FGs, 24 first downs
9/11 Kent State W 26-13
Total Offense: 102nd
BC Defense: 205 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 10 first downs
9/25 Virginia Tech L 19-0
Total Offense: 41st
BC Defense: 343 yards, 1 TD, 4 FGs, 16 first downs
10/2 Notre Dame L 31-13
Total Offense: 61st
BC Defense: 315 yards, 4 TDs, 1 FG, 18 first downs
10/9 @ NC State L 44-17
Total Offense: 39th
BC Defense: 422 yards, 3 TDs, 3 FGs, 26 first downs
10/16 @ Florida State L 24-19
Total Offense: 59th
BC Defense: 311 yards, 3 TDs, 1 FG, 19 first downs
10/23 Maryland L 24-21
Total Offense: 80th
BC Defense: 222 yards, 3 TDs, 1 FG, 13 first downs
10/30 Clemson W 16-10
Total Offense: 88th
BC Defense: 264 yards, 1 FG, 19 first downs
11/6 @ Wake Forest W 23-13
Total Offense: 109th
BC Defense: 287 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 15 first downs
11/13 @ Duke W 21-16
Total Offense: 59th
BC Defense: 311 yards, 3 FGs, 19 first downs
11/20 Virginia W 17-13
Total Offense: 37th
BC Defense: 421 yards, 1 TD, 2 FGs, 25 first downs
11/27 @ Syracuse W 16-7
Total Offense: 97th
BC Defense: 238 yards, 1 TD, 13 first downs
Looking at these numbers takes a bit of the luster off of the Eagle defense, but not much. Out of the three offenses they faced who had a pulse (three and a half, of sorts, if you count Weber State's), the team lost to two of them. The NC State game was far and away their worst performance, but given that two of the Wolfpack's (I'll never get used to spelling it that way) five touchdowns came on a blocked punt and a pick six, it could be argued that the defense might've kept that game manageable on their own were it not for the mistakes of their teammates, and Nevada fans should know all about those kinds of games. And poor offenses or not, there's something to be said for having your three best defensive performances in your final three games. Statistically, they're fairly comparable to a team like Cal, but are probably a notch or two better. Is their defense as good as Boise State's, the best one Nevada faced all year? No, but with more than a month to prepare for this game, it's certainly possible they could play like they are.
I'll end this entry by referring you to my interview with BC Interruption again for my "Best-Case Scenario, Worst-Case Scenario" outlines. Ultimately, I agree with the RGJ's Dan Hinxman in that the winner of this game will be whoever does the best job of executing their game plan. Both teams know pretty much exactly what to expect from each other with regards to their offenses, but I feel the differences in this game will be Nevada's passing attack and the motivation spurred by this particular class of seniors to end their losing streak in bowl games.
Now I'm off to San Francisco -- pictures and a road trip recap will follow soon after. Let's do this!