BOSTON – There’s ugly. There’s Quasimodo. And there’s Saturday night’s football game played between No. 4 Notre Dame and No. Nowhere Near That Boston College.
The 3-7 Eagles lived up to their billing on both sides of scrimmage, plodding along for the better part of three quarters at three yards per play when afforded the football; blowing holes in Notre Dame’s offensive front when asked to defend it.
An eyesore of a first half included a combined 67 snaps between the teams – 24 resulted in gains of two yards or fewer. Add to that four Notre Dame turnovers (plus two fumbles not lost) and a botched punt return by Boston College and you have the college football equivalent of a trip to the dentist – if the dentist’s office was in a room where paint was drying and 36,000 people were forced to watch its process.
“They persevere,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his squad. “It’s been injuries all year, tonight it was turnovers. They found a way to win against a very spirited Boston College team despite the amount of turnovers we had tonight.
“Our kids made a couple of plays that they needed to late and found a way to win.”
The Irish struck first with a 30-yard field goal by Justin Yoon – that after the first of three DeShone Kizer interceptions on the evening occurred inside Boston College’s end zone, negating a fine opening drive.
Fifth-year senior Amir Carlisle scored from 10 yards out to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 10-0 thereafter, an advantage that held into the halftime break.
Following a 67-yard kickoff return by Michael Walker to open the second stanza, Eagles kicker Colton Lichtenberg trimmed the Irish lead to seven with a 43-yard field goal. Twelve game minutes and a third Notre Dame red zone turnover followed before Irish senior Chris Brown plucked a 12-yard touchdown toss from Kizer, giving the Irish a 16-3 lead (PAT botched).
Yoon connected from 35 yards out early in the fourth quarter for what appeared to be an insurmountable 19-3 advantage, but backup quarterback Jeff Smith gave the Eagles hope one snap later, sprinting 80 yards untouched on a read-option keeper.
But Boston College’s sudden momentum was short-lived as Smith’s two-point pass attempt sailed woefully wide, keeping the margin at 10, 19-9.
“We have a tendency to lose our focus on things like that: the quarterback that runs and that we have a (defender) assigned on,” said Kelly of a missed assignment that allowed Smith to run freely into the weak side of the Irish defense.
The Eagles scored again late with starter John Fadule hitting Charlie Callinan from six yards out, albeit with 54 seconds remaining.
Notre Dame’s Matthias Farley recovered the ensuing onside kick – his second game-sealing recovery this month -- putting a merciful end to the yawner on Yawkey.
In short, it was a game only a mother could love, and none of Notre Dame’s doting parents are members of the 12-person playoff Selection Committee.
“The committee is out of my hands. All we want to do is put ourselves in position to be considered,” said Kelly. “We have to win another game. We have another game against a nationally ranked team (Stanford) which will give us an opportunity.”
The teams began a combined 2 for 19 on third- and fourth-down conversions, finishing 6 for 29 in that regard over a grueling 60 minutes. Keeping in theme with Notre Dame’s fourth quarter defensive follies, a whopping 166 of Boston College’s 302 yards dented the Irish defense in the final 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s attack produced 447 total yards but fell victim to five turnovers, three inside the Eagles’ 5-yard line.
“I thought Boston College did a great job of ripping it loose,” said Kelly of the fumbles. “The (first) interception was careless. We tried to force a pass on first down – that’s crazy, throw that thing away,” he said. “And the (third interception), a little screen pass. Ill-advised. At worst we should have gotten a field goal.”
Irish senior running back C.J. Prosise left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell suffered a stress fracture to his foot, his status for the bowl game is uncertain.
Notre Dame improved to 10-1 with the victory and will conclude their regular season next week at current No. 11 Stanford. The Cardinal faced archrival California in Palo Alto late Saturday night.