YOU CAN HAVE IT, I DON’T WANT IT
Passes were dropped and/or sailed astray. Three interceptions plus four fumbles including two that fell into the wrong hands. Multiple muffed punts. Thirteen fourth quarter points allowed.
That was Notre Dame’s lot in life Saturday night in Fenway Park, winning in unimpressive fashion over a Boston College team a full side of scrimmage away from being whole.
“It's like leaving runners in scoring position,” joked Irish head coach Brian Kelly post-game in reference to the ballpark’s summer occupants. “You can't go down there and not come away with points, especially -- that's a really good defense, and for us to come up empty every single time…You've got to score points when you're down there.
“We're moving the ball fairly effectively most of the night, and just to keep stubbing our toe down there becomes concerning, and it made it a lot closer.”
Three of Notre Dame’s five turnovers occurred inside the Boston College 5-yard line (a potential fourth, a lost fumble by DeShone Kizer at the Eagles 14, was overturned by the replay booth) including a pair of ill-advised passes from the Irish rookie triggerman. Kizer threw in-close picks on the game’s opening drive – on first down, no less – and early in the third quarter when the Irish had a chance to extend to a 17-3 lead.
“It happened and it was tough,” said fifth-year senior slot receiver Amir Carlisle. “It was an obstacle we had to get over. I think we did a great job of maintaining our focus and not letting it get us frazzled. Even though they piled on each other, we never were frazzled or lost the attention to detail we needed to win the game.
C.J. Prosise fumbled twice in the first half before leaving the game with what Kelly noted was a high ankle sprain. Backup runner Josh Adams fumbled as well – on 3rd-and-1 at the Eagles’ 1-yard line. The pair combined for 93 yards on 22 carries.
“If we take care of the football, this game separates,” said Kelly. “We turned the ball over four times in easy scoring areas of the field.”
Notre Dame was staked to a first-and-goal at the Eagles’ 5-yard line following a fumbled punt return but could not convert.
PICKING UP THE SLACK
Ranked 90th in the nation in rushing offense entering the contest, Boston College finished with a disheartening 214 rushing yards, a whopping 117 of which occurred after falling behind 19-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Eagles runners however were stuffed for gains of two yards or fewer on 20 of their 36 total rushing attempts. Notre Dame’s weren’t much better in that regard, running 31 competitive game snaps while suffering 16 Stuffs.
The inability to move the ball on the ground resulted in 38 pass attempts by Kizer including a combined 15 to Carlisle and senior Chris Brown.
“I know I don’t have much time left with these guys. I really love this team and I want to give them everything I have,” said Brown. “I really care about them and I want to keep moving on with them.
Brown finished with a career-high 104 yards on six receptions including a 12-yard touchdown. Carlisle led the team with seven grabs for a career-best 97 yards and the game’s first touchdown.
“I thought they both played very well,” said Kelly. “They were singled out in my locker room postgame talk about the team. (Boston College) played a lot of cover-two tonight. That's not something that they do. They played double zone outside on Will (Fuller). It frees up your inside players, and then Chris got a couple one-on-one opportunities on the outside, and DeShone was able to find him.”
Fuller was held to three receptions and 72 yards, suffering two drops.
FOURTH QUARTER FOLLIES
With neither team able to consistently poke holes in the other’s defensive fronts, it was an 80-yard scamper by Eagles backup quarterback Jeff Smith that helped turn the tide.
And it was the result of a missed assignment on the weak side of the Irish defense.
“Well, I don't have a perspective, I have an assignment error,” said Kelly when asked about the game-altering play. “It's crazy. I mean, it's absolutely crazy. There's one guy in there that is assigned to him, and we just -- we have a tendency to lose our focus on detailed items like that, the quarterback that runs, that came in the game that we have somebody on.”
Notre Dame yielded a second touchdown drive thereafter, the Eagles drawing to within three, 19-16, as a result. If not for a Matthias Farley recovery of the ensuing onside kick, the final minute in Fenway could have included a stunning upset of the No. 4 Irish.
Farley recovered an onside kick at Pittsburgh to secure victory three weekends ago – that after a 25-point fourth quarter Irish lead was trimmed to 12.
A similar scene unfolded in a mid-September victory over Georgia Tech, with Notre Dame recovering a Yellow Jackets onside kick after the visitors had cut a 30-7 margin to one-score, 30-22.
“We have to stay focused and be better in the two-minute scenario in the end,” said Irish co-captain Joe Schmidt. “We’re happy we won but we need to make sure to address that. There are times we could have gotten off the field on that last drive but we need to be ready to make plays and get out of there.
“That’s what we’re going to be focusing on this week.”
In the wake of Saturday night’s win, the 10th of Notre Dame’s season, a fourth quarter fight to the finish against Stanford on The Farm is something every Irish fan would sign up for without hesitation.