"Happy, happy, happy," Kelly said shortly before midnight on Saturday. "Everybody is happy in Notre Dame land ."
Not really. The Irish head coach knows his 2-3 team was far from perfect in this 31-13 victory over Boston College , but he didn't care.
"We can't handle the big picture stuff," Kelly said. "We just have to focus on getting better every day."
On this day, the Irish were a little bit sharper than a significantly flawed BC squad. The Eagles (3-2) benched their starting quarterback, Dave Shinskie, following a shutout loss to Virginia Tech. Not a bad idea on paper, but neither of the QB's head coach Frank Spaziani inserted were prepared to move the ball against Grand Valley State, never mind Notre Dame on kind of national TV.
Notre Dame scored TD's on three of its first four possessions, bolting out to a 21-0 lead, and was never seriously threatened. Through three quarters, BC had a 58-yard scoring pass, and 96 total yards on 50 other offensive plays.
Manti Te'o and Carlo Calabrese (10 tackles apiece) are excellent inside linebackers – but less than two yards per play on the road? This was a gift for the Irish and, to their credit, they snatched it quickly.
"We knew they had issues with their quarterbacks," said wide receiver Michael Floyd. "So it was important to hit them early. We did that."
As a result, Notre Dame earned its most lopsided win against its Catholic rival since a 52-20 victory in Bob Davie's first year, 1997. It also won for the first time at BC since 1998, the contest that featured a dramatic goal-line stand in the final seconds.
No such drama in this one. In fact, with the exception of the notch in the left-hand column, you might want to completely forget about this one. Kelly realizes this is not a performance worthy of the BCS stage.
"We are just so hot and cold now on offense," Kelly said, biting off the words. "Mental and physical toughness. That is our weakness right now."
Consistency, too. Notre Dame gained 181 yards on 20 offensive plays in its three first-quarter scoring drives. It managed just 134 more in 56 snaps the remainder of the contest.
"We are hot and cold," quarterback Dayne Crist (24-for-45, 203 yards) said, agreeing with his coach's assessment. "But we also just needed to get a win tonight. That is progress. And there is no better feeling. There was a lot of jumping around in our locker-room."
Kelly is going to challenge Crist all year to get better. Fast. He gave this beauty to the gathered media, "If he can't run the spread offense, he can't be the quarterback here. It's his job, under those conditions."
Crist did account for all three ND touchdowns in the first quarter, running in the first himself from seven yards out on the opening Irish drive. He threw a 2-yard scoring pass to the otherwise invisible Kyle Rudolph on the second set, and then concluded the onslaught with a 20-yard scoring bullet to Theo Riddick (team-high nine catches for 69 yards), his best throw of the night.
The sold-out crowd at Alumni Stadium – BC's hideous concrete and aluminum, bargain-basement home – had barely settled in and the outcome was decided. So much for any drama from the new kid.
Boston is not exactly a rabid college sports town, but the local media was in a relative lather pre-game. The normally reserved Boston Globe referred to Boston College true freshman QB Chase Rettig as "one of BC's most highly touted recruits in recent memory." You can either look at that as hyperbole or an indictment of BC's overall recruiting.
Rettig, after all, was only a 3-star recruit, the No. 45 QB signed in the class of 2010. By comparison, ND reserve signal-caller Andrew Hendrix was the 29th ranked signal-caller. (Tommy Rees was No. 64, Luke Massa No. 74.)
Rettig, somewhat predictably, was overmatched. BC went three-and-out in its first three possessions as Notre Dame was building its 21-0 lead.
Gary Gray fell asleep on BC's fourth possession and let Bobby Swigert get behind him on a double move. Swigert went in untouched 58 yards for a score. Displaying the lack of toughness that galls Kelly, the Irish responded by going fumble (Cierre Wood), three-and-out, and fumble (Armando Allen) the next three possessions.
Fortunately, BC could only convert those mis-steps into a pair of field goals. It was 21-13, but the lead still felt safe.
"That was the time of the game where we had to play like men," said Te'o. "We had to dig in and stop them."
Again, part of that stoppage was due to BC's personnel. Rettig's star-crossed night ended in the second quarter when he twisted an ankle. He was replaced by sophomore Mike Marscovetra. Dreadful.
Marscovetra ended up completing 22-of-37 passes for 193 yards, most of it underneath stuff. The two neophyte quarterbacks may have done more if heralded back Montel Harris ever got started. But he was held to just 28 yards in 15 carries.
Notre Dame padded its final margin with a 37-yard field goal by the automatic David Ruffer before the half and one good second-half drive. Allen (19 carries, 90 yards) concluded a 14-play, 76-yard team excursion with a 2-yard scoring run in the third.
"We really focused on taking the rush away," said Kelly. "We talked about two things – get off to a good start, and defend the rush."
So the Irish were two-for-two in their goals, and that led to a victory that was neither beautiful nor memorable.
"But it was a win, and that's better than the alternative," said Floyd.
Is it ever.
(Alan Tieuli is editor-in-chief of IrishEyes Magazine)