What a difference 14 days makes.
Two weeks ago when Notre Dame headed home from the West Coast, the Irish had started the second half of the season off the right way, had a 5-2 record and had captured their first road win of the season in dominating fashion.
Two weeks later, Notre Dame returned from the opposite coast with opposite feelings. That great second-half start has been followed up with two losses, the Irish are suddenly 5-4, and their offense was shut down completely by Boston College.
Two weeks ago, zero represented the dominating performance that Notre Dame's defense played in limiting Washington to virtually nothing. Two weeks later, zero is again the number of the game, but this time it symbolizes the complete lack of production from the Notre Dame offense.
Zero as in the number of game-changing plays from the Irish offense. Zero as in the number of scoring passes from quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Zero as in the number of running backs that rushed for more than 25 total yards. Zero as in the number of times that the Irish capitalized on the numerous opportunities provided by their opponent. But most importantly, zero as in the number of points the Irish scored.
What is most frustrating about the performance against BC is that this offense has shown that it is capable of scoring points. Notre Dame entered the Boston College game averaging 31.2 points in the five games since the Michigan State loss when the Irish switched offensive modes to a pass-happy attack.
After the shutout loss, Charlie Weis said that his offense never got into any groove because it was playing behind the chains after some costly penalties. But when the Irish finally did get things going offensively, the quarterback was the one that shot the offense in the foot.
Clausen threw four interceptions, one for a touchdown, and all four were picked off inside of Boston College's 25-yard line just when Notre Dame appeared that it was finally ready to break through.
"I think that three of the four were him trying to make a play. I think one was a bad throw. I think three of the four were him trying to make a play," Weis said. "I think that there were people pressing and that he was right along with everyone else. They were pressing, especially as the game went further and deeper into the game."
The only problem is that is an issue that had been addressed with the quarterback months ago and Weis seemed to think that Clausen had moved past that problem after the Purdue game. So why six weeks later is Clausen regressing? To be fair, Clausen cannot take the blame entirely for the lack of offensive production.
The sophomore quarterback was one of the biggest reasons why the Irish offense had grown into an exciting and electric unit. After the Washington game, the only serious question about the offense other than how prolific it would become in the future was whether the success could be sustained without a legitimate running attack. The game at Chestnut Hill provided us with that answer, but not without bringing more questions along with it.
Notre Dame tried to keep the Eagles honest with the running game, but that was never close to being accomplished. The Irish finished the first half with 11 rushes for 24 yards, the longest being a nine-yard scramble by Clausen.
In the first half, Armando Allen had three carries for eight yards, which included a seven-yard run that he fumbled on. James Aldridge finished the half with five carries for three yards and fullback Asaph Schwapp had a two-yard carry.
By the time Notre Dame got the ball in the second half it trailed by three scores and became completely one-dimensional. The Irish had 10 rushing attempts in the second half, and five of them were by the quarterback.
Clausen had his worst game of the season, no doubt, and the passing game never got started, but once it became clear that the Irish couldn't and wouldn't run, the game became a lot easier for the BC defense.
It is totally unreasonable to expect a defense to play the way Notre Dame did in Washington every game out. But at the same time, it is completely unacceptable for the Irish offense to perform like it did in Boston.
Now the questions for the Notre Dame offense are plenty. Can Clausen minimize his increasingly poor decisions? How do the Irish fix the running game? Is it possible for Notre Dame to succeed offensively without a strong identity? Who will be calling the plays?
We will get an explanation to the last inquiry on Tuesday. But if Notre Dame does not come up with suitable answers to the other questions surrounding its offense, zero won't represent the key number in any game, it will be used to describe the amount of progress that a 4-1 team made throughout the rest of the season. And that would probably be being generous.