I don't think anyone can convince me that BYU is a better team than Notre Dame. You won't have any luck getting me to admit that Boston College has more talent than Notre Dame. But these two losses are the difference between an average season and a great season so far.
So why did the Irish lose to what many consider inferior teams?
Inconsistency on offense.
Inconsistency on offense has been one of two things Irish fans can count on so far during the short Willingham era—the other being inspired defensive play. For whatever reason, we don't see that same enthusiasm on the offensive side of the ball.
Looking back at BYU, Notre Dame's last three drives in their opener epitomize the Irish offense.
With the Cougars up 20-10, the Irish began a drive at their own 2-yard line. Quarterback Brady Quinn completed three passes to set the Irish up at their own 41-yard line.
A holding call on the ensuing first down put the Irish in jail. Two incomplete passes and a sack later, and the Irish were punting.
On the next drive, Marcus Wilson takes off for 11 yards on a first down run, only to have the Irish false start on the following first down. Two incomplete passes, and a rush for zero yards had the Irish punting again.
On the next series, Quinn completes on first down to move the chains. A pass for 1-yard, an incomplete pass and a quarterback hurry ended all hope for the Irish as the Irish lost to an inspired BYU team.
Looking at the entire second half of Boston College shows the same inconsistency.
The Eagles came out firing in the second half, marching to the Irish 4-yard line before missing a 22-yard field goal.
The Eagles set the tone for the second half with this impressive drive on offense. The Irish failed to answer the Eagle drive.
On Notre Dame's first possession of the second half, Ryan Grant rushes for two 4-yard gains on first and second down, only to be thrown for a 3-yard loss on third down, resulting in a punt in a critical series of downs.
The three-and-out series turned the momentum of the game in favor of the Eagles.
Boston College then put together another impressive drive, ending in a 21-yard touchdown pass to narrow the lead to 20-14.
On the next Irish series, Quinn finds Billy Palmer for a first down. But Darius Walker is thrown for a 2-yard loss on first down in the next series. A completion for six yards puts the Irish in third-and-long, and Quinn is sacked for a 9-yard loss, ending the Irish drive.
The Eagles then put together another impressive drive, advancing the ball to the Irish 4-yard line before kicking a field goal to narrow the lead to 20-17.
Notre Dame then went on a drive of their own advancing to the Boston College 35-yard line, but a 4-yard run and two incomplete passes put the Irish on the Eagle 30 with a decision to make. The Irish punted, a decision that might've cost them, but two critical missed throws ended this very important drive.
The Irish defense finally responded with their own three-and-out series in what looked like a game-turning moment.
The Notre Dame offense then went on another drive that found the Irish with a first down situation at the Eagle 29-yard line. Rashon Powers-Neal rushed for five yards, but Darius Walker was thrown for a 2-yard loss, landing the Irish in another third-and-long situation. The Irish called time out.
After the timeout, and much discussion (we assume), the Irish ran a draw play for one yard and were forced to kick a field goal to increase the lead to 23-17.
We all know what happened next.
Consider what likely would've happened if the Irish picked up just one or two extra first down in the second half, let alone scored on any of these four possessions.
How might've the game changed if the Irish had scored on their first possession of the second half?
One or two first downs in the second half would've made a difference and would've likely left the Eagles without time to go on their final drive.
The Irish will never be a top-10 team until they can find some consistency on offense. They need to be able to answer teams who make game-changing drives with a drive of their own. For whatever reason, they haven't been able to do that, and will likely find themselves in the midst of mediocrity until they can.
Momentum is such a critical part to football. There are points in every game where momentum is gained or changes and why a team becomes victorious.
I think back to watching the Texas/Oklahoma State game this past weekend.
The Cowboys went into halftime with a 35-7 lead, but allowed 42 unanswered points in the second half to fall 56-35 to the Longhorns.
At some point, Oklahoma State had to be playing pretty good defense to shut down Texas in the first half. Also, the Cowboys had to be manhandling the Longhorn defense to score so many points.
But as soon as Texas started scoring, the Cowboy defense, who had so much success early in the game, suddenly couldn't stop Texas. And the Oklahoma State offense, who put up big numbers in the first half, couldn't score a single point in the second half, or gain a yard. At one point in the second half, Texas out-gained the Pokes 343 to minus 12.
Momentum clearly changed in the game, and it was a tale of two halves of football.
Unfortunately for the Irish, they've been on the losing end of momentum changes more than they should've been lately, and the main reason has been inconsistency on offense.