BOSTON – DeShone Kizer settled into a black leather chair inside the Red Sox’s weight room late Saturday night trying to make sense of the worst game of his college career. The red-shirt freshman threw three interceptions. He almost lost a fumble. He led a Notre Dame offense big on yardage but short on points.
And through it all, Kizer will still lead a College Football Playoff contender after No. 4 Notre Dame (10-1) survived the Shamrock Series at Fenway Park, holding off Boston College (3-8) for a 19-16 victory in front of a capacity and partisan crowd of 38,686.
But this was more heavy lifting than anyone expected.
“It’s very humbling, very humbling,” Kizer said. “There’s a lot to learn from.”
Kizer finished 20-of-38 for 320 yards, two touchdowns and three picks, not that he was alone during Notre Dame’s night short on aesthetics.
C.J. Prosise (high ankle sprain) and KeiVarae Russell (stress fracture) are potentially done for the season, which represents the real losses Notre Dame suffered here. Prosise and Josh Adams lost fumbles. C.J. Sanders muffed enough kicks that Will Fuller replaced him. And Fuller dropped enough passes, including a potential touchdown, that he was a complementary receiver against the Eagles.
Notre Dame made Boston College’s offense – ranked No. 127 in yardage and starting a freshman walk-on quarterback – appear as advertised through three quarters. But after allowing 130 yards to that point, the Irish gave up 172 in the final quarter as the Eagles rotated quarterbacks.
That burst included backup Jeff Smith’s 80-yard touchdown run that Brian Kelly blamed on an assignment error. Smith also hit receiver Charlie Callinan for a touchdown with 0:54 remaining that put some game pressure on Notre Dame.
“Any win is gonna be difficult,” said Jaylon Smith, who led the Irish with 11 tackles. “We don’t focus on winning in style and things like that. The most important thing is just trying to make sure we can execute. We have a lot of areas that we can improve on.”
Notre Dame got its biggest boost from the senior class, starting with receivers Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown. They combined for 13 catches, 201 yards and both Irish touchdowns. Matthias Farley got the game ball for his special teams work, stopping a fake punt, downing a punt inside the five-yard line and recovering the onside kick that followed Callinan’s score.
It was a shock to Notre Dame’s system that Farley’s contribution would be so consequential so late. It was also better than the alternative, which Ohio State and Oklahoma State endured Saturday while Oklahoma almost did too.
For how much Notre Dame depends on its quarterback, that quarterback depended on Notre Dame’s seniors.
“That’s the reason we’re sitting here as a 10-win team rather than a nine-win team,” Kizer said. “And the vibe would be a lot different here.”
Instead, against the nation’s top rush defense, Notre Dame endured.
The Irish have now won 10 games twice in the past four years. Notre Dame won that many just twice in the 18 seasons that preceded this run.
“To get to 10 wins for our club was a very important number for us,” Kelly said. “But more importantly, gets us closer to the goals we've had all year. You know what I love about this team is they persevere. It's been injuries all year. Tonight it was turnovers.”
Kizer took the blame for his interceptions, saying he should have tucked and run on the first (forced pass to Alize Jones) while the pick just before halftime was an “idiotic” decision to throw off his back foot. Kelly was quick to credit the quarterback for not folding mentally on a night that went off script from the start.
“They can go one of two ways, right?” Kelly said. “They can become a bit shell-shocked and withdrawn in a sense. He was not fazed at all. He stayed aggressive and stayed in the moment. I thought he played much better in the second half.
“But he is going to learn so much and take so much from today's game that you sometimes can't practice.”
Notre Dame seemed to solve its red zone issues the past two weeks against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, but the Irish reverted to form against the Eagles. Notre Dame went 2-of-7 in red zone conversions for touchdowns, turning the ball over more inside the 20-yard line than crossing the goal line.
Boston College had allowed five red zone touchdowns all year, tops in the nation.
“It's like leaving runners in scoring position,” Kelly said. “You can't go down there and not come away with points. We're moving the ball fairly effectively most of the night, and just to keep stubbing our toe down there becomes concerning, obviously, and it made it a lot closer in my perspective.”
As for what impact a three-point win over a three-win team has on its playoff position, Notre Dame will find out Tuesday night.
“The committee is out of my hands,” Kelly said. “It's out of our players' hands. All we want to do is put ourselves in a position to be considered. We feel like we need to win another game to still be considered.”