The annual stated goal at Boston College is to have the No. 1 run defense in the country. The Eagles were feeling pretty good about accomplishing their mission until they found out who their opponent would be in Sunday's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
Boston College (7-5), currently leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in run defense (80.17 yards allowed per game), takes on No. 13 Nevada (12-1), which ranks third nationally in rushing (305.92 yards per game). Call it the ultimate something-has-to-give game.
"When we start off the season, we want to be the No. 1 rush defense in the country. That's what we set our goal as," said linebacker Mark Herzlich, the Eagles' most inspirational player who missed last season while overcoming a rare form of bone cancer. "To actually finish the season where we are the No. 1 rush defense, we want to keep that title. Unfortunately for us, we're playing Nevada, who is really good at running the ball. It's going to be a really good matchup."
Boston College has better than a six-yard advantage than second-place West Virginia in rush defense. The Eagles will win the run defense title if they can hold the Wolf Pack to 161 yards rushing or less.
Nevada features the nation's No. 6 rusher in tailback Vai Taua (127 yards per game), while dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick pitches in with 91.1 yards per contest. The Wolf Pack have been held under 200 yards rushing just once this season, during their only loss to Hawaii.
"A lot of times this season, we've had teams completely abandon the run in the second quarter or so and then air it out," Herzlich said. "That's obviously not going to happen. It's going to be hard-hitting football for four quarters. It's pride on the line. That's when the best football is played."
The Eagles have shut down some pretty effective rushing attacks this season but have faced nothing like Nevada's pistol offense. Duke ran the pistol at times during the Eagles' win over the Blue Devils in November, but only sporadically.
It was nothing like Boston College is going to see Sunday night, especially against NFL prospects Taua and Kaepernick.
"You have to worry about both of them," said Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, a consensus first-team All-American who leads the country with 171 tackles. "When you have a combination like they have, it's difficult to stop."
As daunting as the Wolf Pack's offense looks from Boston College's perspective, the Eagles defense definitely has Nevada's attention. Boston College has allowed only one 100-yard rusher over the past two seasons and only four opponents this season have broke the 100-yard mark as a team.
"That front seven is as good as we've seen," Nevada coach Chris Ault said. "They've done a masterful job. When they make a mistake, they know why they made it. And they don't make very many of them."
Kaepernick said film study shows that the Eagles' strength on defense is their discipline. That makes for an intriguing matchup because Nevada's offense is predicated on attempting to lure defenders out of position.
"We know they are disciplined so we're trying to do different things to maybe make them take that one wrong step and let us hit that seam," Kaepernick said. "They are so disciplined with everything that they do."
Said Taua: "We run the ball. They stop the run. We're going to see who's going to give. It's going to be fun. It's great competition."
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC) vs. No. 15 Nevada (12-1, 7-1 WAC)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
AT&T Park, San Francisco