With 127 yards rushing on 34 carries (3.7 yards per attempt), Notre Dame rushed for 55 yards more per game than Boston College had allowed through 10 games and 36 more than what the Eagles had surrendered against seven ACC opponents. The 3.7 yards per rush was more than a yard better than the Boston College defense had yielded.
Included in those 127 yards were a 31-yard by C.J. Prosise on the opening drive, a 14-yarder by DeShone Kizer on a designed run, and a 12-yarder by Josh Adams. But subtract those three runs from the equation and the Irish managed just 70 yards on the other 31 attempts, just a notch above two yards per carry. Throw in the lost fumbles by Prosise and Adams and the ground-game performance deteriorates into an ugly grade. (Note: BC entered the game with 11 forced fumbles and seven recovered; Notre Dame added four fumbles and two more recovered by the Eagles.)
For the first time this season, the Irish did not have a rushing touchdown in a game. Notre Dame tried to pound it into the end zone after snapper Scott Daly recovered a fumbled punt at the Boston College four-yard line, only to have Adams cough it up on his third attempt inside the five. An attempt by Kizer to score on 2nd-and-goal from the five resulted in a one-yard loss. The Irish had only a few situations of 3rd-and-short, and they tried to throw for the first down.
Prosise finally cracked the 1,000-yard mark, which was four weeks in the making. But a severe high ankle sprain midway through the second quarter put him on the shelf (and crutches) for the rest of the game while likely eliminating him from the equation next week against Stanford. Even before the injury, however, Prosise had carries taken away from him for losing one fumble and having another ripped from his grasp and recovered by center Nick Martin.
The good news is that when the Irish have an off running game these days, they still manage to crack the 100-yard mark. That’s an improvement over the five previous years when Notre Dame averaged three games per season with less than 100 yards on the ground.
The three interceptions – two in the red zone and one on 1st-and-goal from the seven – were major blunders for red-shirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer, who finally performed like a raw rookie in his ninth career start. (Actually, the deep-ball interception before the half was worth the gamble and the equivalent of a punt.) In addition to his interceptions, several passes were thrown behind receivers.
The Irish were an abysmal 4-of-15 on third down, almost all of which were through the air. For the first time in 24 games, Will Fuller did not score a touchdown in consecutive games, which comes on the heels of his three-touchdown performance against Pittsburgh.
Fuller also had what would have been a 3rd-and-11 completion for a first down jarred loose with the Irish leading, 19-9. In the very next series, Fuller dropped a pass that would have been a completion inside the Boston College 10, which would have given the Irish a chance to take a 17-point lead.
Give Kizer credit for hanging in there. He still managed to throw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, including a clutch 12-yard score to Chris Brown with 1:10 left in the third quarter to give the Irish a 16-3 lead. Kizer found Amir Carlisle and Brown to bridge the gap of Fuller’s off game.
For three quarters, the Notre Dame defense did exactly what it should have done against an inferior offense. The Eagles had just 130 yards total offense and 86 yards rushing on 30 carries.
But much of that work was trashed when freshman quarterback Jeff Smith sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown with 10:17 left to make it a 10-point contest. Starting quarterback John Fadule would come back into the game and clip off a 22-yard run in a nine-play, 86-yard drive that once again ruined what had the makings of an excellent rush defense performance.
Two of Boston College’s 36 rushing attempts covered 102 of its 214 yards rushing. Thirty-four carries accounted for the other 112. Smith and Fadule, the two quarterbacks, rushed for 164 of the 214 yards, or 76.6 percent of the Eagles’ rushing total.
Boston College’s most effective running back was 224-pound red-shirt freshman Richard Wilson, who gained 24 yards on seven carries in the second half. Starter Tyler Rouse and the first back off the bench, Myles Willis, combined for 14 carries netting 22 yards. Notre Dame had just six tackles for loss against an offense surrendering nine per game.
Any way you slice it, you can’t give up 214 yards rushing and 5.9 yards per carry to a team that was averaging 107.3 yards rushing and 2.7 in seven ACC games. You just can’t, no matter how many times you stuff the running game. You particularly can’t allow a quarterback to run 80 yards in the fourth quarter when the game is completely under control, particularly a guy whose longest run had been 37 yards with a 4.4-yard average.
When it’s the 11th game of the season and you’re starting a walk-on freshman quarterback, chances are you don’t have a guy who can sling it all over the yard and you can’t rely on the passing game to help erase a deficit. Most of the night, John Fadule found himself in 3rd-and-long situations, which is just not something he was equipped to handle.
Boston College converted 2-of-13 third downs with Fadule and Jeff Smith combining to complete 12-of-22 for a mere 88 yards, although Smith’s three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Charlie Callinan with 54 seconds remaining made it a three-point ball game.
The longest pass play of the night was a 22-yarder. Fadule was sacked twice. The Irish did not come up with an interception, snapping a seven-game streak of at least one theft.
What a mixed bag of productivity and calamity.
First, the positives. Notre Dame stopped a fake punt late in the first quarter. Matthias Farley downed a 55-yard punt by Tyler Newsome at the six. A hustling Scott Daly pounced on a muffed punt at the Boston College four. Justin Yoon converted field goals of 30 and 35 yards with a missed attempt from 44 yards negated by a roughing the kicker penalty, thus extending his consecutive field-goal streak to nine. Matthias Farley recovered an onside kick – with most of Notre Dame’s 11 players on the field unprepared for the suddenness of the attempt – to seal the game. Notre Dame benefitted from a tough day by Boston College punter Alex Howell, who is suffering from a quad injury.
Now the bad. C.J. Sanders struggled mightily to hang on to punts and kickoffs to the point that Will Fuller eventually replaced him in the former. Sanders also was called for a delay of game when he signaled for a fair catch, watched it bounce, and then returned it. The Irish allowed a 67-yard kickoff return by Michael Walker to start the second half. Kizer’s inability to successfully place the football for Yoon to kick an extra point late in the third quarter led to a failed two-point conversion attempt.
The Irish came out and moved the football against a stingy defense, totaling 157 yards of offense in the first quarter to Boston College’s 26. On both sides of the football, Notre Dame showed it was ready to play.
But when you fail to protect the football as blatantly as Notre Dame did, a team’s focus is not as laser sharp as it needs to be in week 11 when a playoff berth is on the line. One might have figured the Irish would come out sharp in the second half, but the Eagles returned the opening kickoff 67 yards and got on the scoreboard just 1:50 into the third period.
DeShone Kizer cleaned up his game a bit in the second half, but then in the fourth quarter, Brian VanGorder’s defense gave up an 80-yard run and a nine-play, 86-yard drive that showed once again that it was not prepared to play 60 minutes of quality football on a weekly basis.
The Irish never really were in danger of losing the football game. They held a double-digit lead for 15:04 of the first half and 17:54 of the second half. Yes, Boston College was an onside kick away from having a shot at tying/winning the game. But this felt like an extremely sloppy game in which style points would go against Notre Dame, not a game that actually might slip away from them.
Of course, these are things that were said a week ago against Wake Forest when “sloppy” and “ugly” were used, which means that’s two weeks in a row that Notre Dame has missed its peak, which is something that shouldn’t be happening to a team that is solidly contending for a playoff berth.