BOSTON – In the history of sports, a coach or a player has never volunteered mention of “style points” without a member of the media initiating the conversation.
It’s the media and fans who constantly refer to winning pretty while coaches and players have a much more narrow scope of what is and isn’t the focus in a game of athletic competition, particularly one as physically taxing as football.
One such game took place in Boston’s venerable Fenway Park Saturday night as Notre Dame took on an inferior yet tough-as-a-three-dollar-steak Boston College team that had no business losing by a mere 19-16, but kept battling through the fourth quarter as No. 4-ranked Notre Dame fumbled over its own feet and quit playing defense in the fourth quarter en route to yet another uncomfortable victory.
“It’s just one of those things that you really can’t put your finger on because they haven’t been sloppy and they haven’t been mistake-prone all year,” said Brian Kelly of his team’s five turnovers and seemingly strong desire to add to that total. “Then tonight, they throw up a game like this.
“I just never felt during the week that they weren’t locked in and that they weren’t prepared to play. Boston College needs to get a little credit for ripping the ball loose, and then we need to understand that we’ve got to be smarter with the football down in the red zone.”
Wherever Notre Dame’s focus was – whether it was on the Green Monster, Pesky’s Pole, the catacombs filled with Red Sox memorabilia or the adoration the Shamrock Series creates – the Irish never could quite zero in on the matter at hand.
The Irish turned the football over in the first series of the game, came close to turning it over in each of the first four drives of the game, and played sloppy enough defensively in the fourth quarter to turn a one-sided low-scoring victory into merely a sloppy, low-scoring victory.
Did somebody say sloppy?
A teenager’s bedroom strewn with a couple months' worth of laundry is tidier than what the Irish had to offer against Boston College.
“I honestly have no idea what happened on the college football landscape today, but I can guarantee that there was a lot of stuff that happened that you didn’t exactly think was going to happen,” said linebacker Joe Schmidt, who was part of a defense that allowed 86 yards rushing through three quarters and 128 in the fourth quarter.
“That’s college football and that’s why people love it.”
OUT OF STYLE
The unpredictable nature of college football stung No. 3 Ohio State and No. 6 Oklahoma State while No. 7 Oklahoma and No. 8 Florida – along with No. 4 Notre Dame – limped to the finish line with another style faux pas.
Could the Irish have solidified their standing as the No. 4 team in the country in Fenway? They certainly had numerous opportunities. As it was, they still led by double digits for more than half of the game. But that won’t be the lasting impression in the minds of the “deciding dozen” that will render their fourth ranking this week.
Notre Dame had numerous opportunities to put the Eagles away and couldn’t do it. The offensive ineptitude as it relates to ball protection is an anomaly, and the committee almost undoubtedly will look at it thusly.
Notre Dame came into this game with just 12 turnovers in 10 games, four of which came against Clemson. The turnover total now stands at 17 with an incredible 52.9 percent (nine) coming in two out of 11 games.
But when the committee looks at that defense, it must shake its head and wonder because it is one of the most schizophrenic in the land. Notre Dame’s inability to play 60 minutes of defensive football rose up in embarrassing fashion against Boston College as the anemic Eagles offense accounted for 172 of its 302 yards total offense (56.9 percent) in the final 15 minutes.
The Eagles averaged 12.2 yards per play in the fourth quarter after accounting for just 2.9 per play in the first three quarters.
If Boston College had a legitimate FBS offense, one with a Division I level passing game, such an outburst would be palatable. But they don’t, and quite frankly, the Irish do not have a defense that is representative of a playoff team. At some point in this polling process, the committee is going to sting the Irish for said shortcoming.
Will it be this week as Iowa moved to 11-0, not in convincing fashion per se against Purdue, yet still a 20-point victory, which is about where Notre Dame’s victory over Boston College should have been?
Oklahoma had a clear chance to shoot past the Irish while leading TCU by 17 in the second half without its starting quarterback, only to hold on for a one-point victory on the successful defense of a two-point conversion. Still, it’s a huge win against a quality opponent.
Could Baylor vault past the Irish with its double-digit victory at Oklahoma State? What about Michigan State? The Spartans won at undefeated Ohio State without Connor Cook at quarterback.
While it’s understandable that Kelly and the Irish players would downplay the importance of style points, the committee can’t.
“You don’t understand what those 12 people are going to look at when they decide who’s going to put themselves in a position to play for a national championship,” admitted Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer. “They’re good at what they do. They’ll break it down and see what our pros and cons were in the game.
“But at the end of the day, we won. We know that style points don’t matter when you’re a losing team. We came out and won and we accomplished the mission this week and we have to make sure we take advantage of the last opportunity. We have one more opportunity against a very good team – a cross (country) rival. We’re going to try to make the best of it.”
Notre Dame did not make the best of its opportunity against Boston College, other than the fact that the Irish reached the 10-victory mark in perhaps the quietest, most unappreciated fashion in school history.
It would be a mistake to take it for granted. That’s just the 13th time since 1950 that it’s happened and fourth time in the last 22 years.
Yet there was little-to-no style in the Fenway Fracas, other than the Irish kept their goal intact heading into the 12th game of the season against Stanford, a season in which style – for virtually every team competing for one of the coveted playoff spots – is a difficult look to wear.