Captain’s Corner with Courtney Watson

Notre Dame’s turnovers – particularly in the red zone – were critical in keeping an offensively-challenged Boston College team in the game in Fenway Park.

I don’t know if the guys weren’t ready for it to be cold, but it seemed like both teams had problems handling the ball. A lot of guys were dropping balls – fumbles, passes, punts – and I don’t know if the lighting was weird or what. Maybe it was colder than it looked.

That was my first time seeing Boston College play this year and I was very impressed by their defense. They came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country and they did a very good job of keeping Notre Dame out of an identity. It seemed like we couldn’t figure out what we wanted to do offensively, and the turnovers in the red zone kept it close.

Boston College mixed up coverages a lot. They mixed up blitzes a lot. Individually, nobody jumps out at you, but as a team defense, they rally to the ball and they obviously tackle the football. They’re like Navy in that they’re very disciplined. They don’t take a lot of chances, and when they do blitz, they typically get home.

As far as BC’s offense, I couldn’t believe – knowing Steve Addazio like I do – how poor their offensive line play was. I know Notre Dame has a very good defensive line, but no quarterback would have had much of a chance for anything with that young, inexperienced offensive line.

I was really impressed with the way Notre Dame’s defense played, at least through three quarters. The way BC plays on offense, they obviously try to be very conservative and not turn the ball over. That’s one way we could have helped ourselves is if we had generated more turnovers, and BC makes it difficult to do that, which you need when you’re turning it over five times yourself.

Our two big plays in the first quarter were when we got on the edge and we ran the weakside away from the three wide receiver set. We did that a couple times in the second half, but Boston College adjusted better.

Formations like that, where we spread teams out and use our athleticism that we have at the skill positions, can be very good for us. We’ve got receivers we can go to besides Will Fuller, and then we can take shots with Fuller.

I thought Amir Carlisle really stepped up against Boston College. He’s shifty. He’s a hard guy to tackle. He really helped supplement the passing game. We’ve had a receiver step up every other week with Fuller. If you’re going to play us man coverage and you’re going to double Fuller, we have other weapons. I like the fact Kizer can get a first down with his feet. With his patience and mobility inside the pocket, that’s something we have going for us.

With the quarterback run, you’re always one play away, and BC put itself back in the game with Jeff Smith’s 80-yard run at the start of the fourth quarter. When you incorporate the quarterback run, you have the extra blocker, and if one guy misses a tackle or overruns the play, that’s the result. You hate to see the timing of that run in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame was close on a lot of tipped balls defensively. If they could have turned one or two of those into turnovers, it would have been a totally different ball game because we showed that we were able to move the ball between the 20s. We just didn’t finish off those drives.

As a defense, you’re always going on the field saying, ‘Let’s get the ball back into the hands of our offense.’ Other than scoring for them, which we did a lot of in 2002, the best thing you can do is give the offense more opportunities.

That’s the most I’ve seen DeShone Kizer back on his heels. I don’t know if we got too conservative after the first couple turnovers in the red zone. But if we could have gotten a couple of extra possessions with those tipped balls, it would have been a bigger spread.

The decisions you make in the red zone have to be so much quicker. They want you to hold on to the ball and force you into making a bad throw. You get down closer to the goal line and you start to get a little tighter. You don’t want to make another mistake after you’ve made one or two, which trickled down to the coaches who seemed to get a little more conservative.

If Notre Dame isn’t in the top four of the rankings this week, I think they’re right there. I think we’re forgetting about some of the teams that we’ve beaten. If you played that Clemson game 10 times, it would be 60-40 or 50-50. I think Notre Dame is a lot better team than people realize. Notre Dame’s schedule is tougher than it looks.

Do I think they’re a playoff team? If they’re not in the top four, they’re right on the cusp of it. Given an opportunity to play on a neutral field and given time to prepare for a game, I think they’re right there with any team.

I’ve been okay with the top four that the committee has put out. I’m not super high on Iowa, but their brand of football travel wells. I haven’t had any issues with the top four for the most part. We’ve seen a shakeup with the Big 12 and you’re going to see some more next week also.

I’ve seen Stanford play twice. It’s going to be a very low scoring game. Stanford’s defense isn’t what I remember it was from two or three years ago. They’re still rugged, but they seem to give up points in bunches this year. They’re not dominant week-to-week. They’ll have a dominant game and then they don’t show up.

With Kizer, we have a really good shot. We’re going to have to run the ball, and without C.J. Prosise, that’s a weapon you’d like to have against Stanford. Obviously with Stanford, you’ve got to be able to stop the run, and Christian McCaffrey is very good. We have to be prepared because they do actually run a bunch of trick plays, and that’s hurt us this year.

We can pull this out because we have better skill positions on both sides of the ball, but it’s going to be a tough, rugged game like it always is with Stanford. Losing KeiVarae Russell really hurts.

You have to respect their offense because anytime in college football you’re playing with an experienced quarterback like Kevin Hogan in a good offensive system that knows their identity, it’s going to be tough. They’re always a tough out, especially in a game of this magnitude.


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