Losers of six straight to the Eagles and seven days removed from an eighth straight loss to USC entering the contest, the Irish defense put forth its best effort since the season-opener, holding Boston College to 70 rushing yards while beating the Eagles at their own game: patiently carving out 20 points in a four-point victory.
Notre Dame was 5-2 and assured of a solid, though not BCS bowl berth if they could finish 4-1 or 3-2 vs. a manageable slate.
Since, the Irish have beaten a 1-11 Washington State team and a two-win Purdue squad that just seven days ago lost to Toledo…and lost to everyone else. Four times at home, three times on the road
Disciplined, Determined, OpportunisticPerceived personnel advantages aside, Notre Dame tends to struggle vs. the hard-hitting Eagles D. The Irish have managed an aggregate 34 points over their last three contests vs. BC, undone by either inefficiency (2007), turnovers (2008) or, to a lesser extent, capitulation to the Eagles' style of play (2009).
Last year, the pinpoint accuracy of quarterback Jimmy Clausen and a prudent, take-what-they-give-you edict from head coach Charlie Weis resulted in 18 completions to outside targets Golden Tate and Duval Kamara, 17 of which were caught outside the hash marks and in front of an Eagles' defender. Armando Allen ground out 98 of Notre Dame's 106 rushing yards to balance the attack and afforded the Irish their lowest point total in a win since the season-opener of 2006 (a 14-10 victory at Georgia Tech).
Saturday, patience will again a necessity. BC boasts the nation's No. 6 rush defense (No. 14 last season if you're looking for a larger sample size) and has forced 9 turnovers in three games. Speaking of sample size, the Eagles program ranks second nationally with 186 interceptions since the beginning of the 2000 season.
Led by a trio of talented linebackers including sophomore star Luke Kuechly (14 tackles vs. the Irish last season) Boston College's front seven has an early-season edge over the inconsistent Irish front. The play of rookie linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (2nd on the squad in tackles) and emerging DE Alex Albright (7 solos, sack vs. ND last year) has augmented the return of cancer survivor and 2008 first-team All-American Mark Herzlich. The secondary returns three starters from last year's contest in South Bend, including cornerback DeLeon Gause (two pass break-ups defending Golden Tate) who's already posted three tackles-for-loss in the season's first three contests.
Stanford proved to be the best, most sound defense the Irish have faced. BC employs a similarly physical, "through-the-whistle" approach, boasting strong open-field tacklers and veteran practitioners of defensive coordinator Bill McGovern's defense.
As usual, the defensive whole is greater than the sum of BC's parts. That's not yet the case for the still-developing Irish offense.
Where it countsHead coach Brian Kelly noted last week that he preferred to call an offensive game to score, rather than to get to the chains (first-down marker). He reiterated Thursday that his focus is ensuring the Irish offense play their game, not allow Boston College to dictate Dayne Crist and the ND offense.
"I would say that we're going to call the game to certainly take advantage of what we do more so than what they do," he said. "There's going to be opportunities for us to push the ball down the field, but there's also going to be opportunities the way they play for us to run the football in certain situations.
"I've always felt like the game will come to us and we'll decide based upon how they want to play the game."
That approach will be put to the test Saturday night. BC's veteran defense will force the Irish to settle underneath and trust in its rushing attack. If Crist is impatient, the opportunistic Eagles will accept his offerings.
If Crist continually makes the proper read, long drives that end in field goals, as have eight of Notre Dame's 14 forays into the red zone this season, would allow the Eagles to control the tempo of the contest. In seven red zone trips against its defense this fall, Boston College has allowed just two touchdowns (the Eagles allowed 14 in 40 red zone opportunities last year).
Boston College is not a great defense. But they're patient, consistent, and physical. None of the above has proven to be a strength through four games for the Irish.
The L-WordA win would put the Irish season back on track: 2-3 heading into a peer matchup vs. Pittsburg. A winnable game vs. an eminently beatable but talented team heading into the soft underbelly of the 2010 slate.
A win would change the atmosphere in South Bend and afford Kelly & Co. goodwill as we approach the season's second half.
But therein lies the rub. Seven losses in the last eight games and two road wins since the start of the '08 season. How did it come to this?
It's possible that an intense dislike for Boston College has fueled this prediction (though I did pick the Irish last season). In fact, I readily admit that Notre Dame's defense should handle the Eagles' scattered, rudderless offense.
It's possible that the continual false bravado from fellow Irish fans leading up to this matchup each season has pushed me away from a vote for my alma mater – subconscious preparation for another head-shaking, "I told you so" moment when disappointment again reigns on the Sunday morning after.
Or it's possible I've been paying attention to the last decade, the still-lingering previous era, and the shaky start to the new one.
"When we play teams, they know we're going to bring it."
– Boston College All-American left tackle, Anthony Castonzo
How long has it been since Irish opponents felt the same? There are plenty of games I want the Irish to win more than those against BC...but somehow there's no worse game to lose.
I think Brian Kelly will win big at Notre Dame, but I can't shake the feeling I was wrong about the 2010 squad. It needs more than a one-year fix and a changed off-season approach.
Patience is a virtue. The Eagles defense employs it, and Irish fans will need it as the program continues to eradicate its singular prevailing trait over the last four seasons: finding a way to lose.
Boston College 23 Notre Dame 22
Predictions to date: 3-1 straight up (UM); 3-1 against the spread (MSU)