Outside the Irish Huddle: Notre Dame Finally Wins at Boston College

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Outside the Irish Huddle: Notre Dame Finally Wins at Boston College
Notre Dame is playing defense this year.

After coming out and blowing the doors off Boston College, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit a big road block in the middle of the game but controlled the contest and rolled to a 31-13 victory.

For the most part this was a very solid victory with plenty to be happy about, although the Irish once again showed that they are hesitant to really bury an opponent when they are down.

Let’s go Outside the Irish Huddle and take a look at this rivalry game a little closer.

 

Crazy Socks

I am a uniform aficionado and the Irish were all over the place with their socks in this game. If this were the NFL, we would have seen thousands of dollars worth of fines.

Some players wore short white socks, while others wore medium length white socks. Then there were some players with long white socks, and a few wearing the blue and white pro-style socks. That’s the first time I can remember when Notre Dame was really not wearing the same style of socks for a game.

 

Big Ups to MH

A lot of Irish fans became familiar with Mark Herzlich last year after his battle with cancer and subsequent friendship with former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and a local South Bend nun. After battling the bone disease, the hulking Eagle linebacker was finally able to play against the Irish on Saturday and it was a great sight to see.

Even though he didn’t have a big game, just the fact that he is out there competing at this high of a level with a titanium rod in his leg is close to miraculous. It is very hard not to root for a kid like that.

 

Kelly Returns Home

Did you know this was only Notre Dame’s seventh game ever at Boston College? That kind of puts into perspective how much of a modern rivalry this series is.

Anyway, this was Brian Kelly’s first game in Massachusetts where he grew up as a kid, and Notre Dame’s first win in Chestnut Hill since 1998.

Maybe Boston College isn’t very good this year, but this was a big win nonetheless.

 

Question Corner

Did the Notre Dame Running Game Get Back on Track?

This was a decent performance by the running game, not terrible but certainly not encouraging. The Irish came out on the first drive and ran a picture-perfect, run-heavy spread offense culminating in Crist keeping the ball and trotting into the end zone for six points, but thereafter the team didn’t really tally much on the ground.

 

Allen had a pretty good day at the office again with 90 yards (4.7 average) and a score, but he also had a costly fumble deep in his own end. Besides a few pitch plays (technically pass plays), the running game continues to be very bland, and Crist still does not pull the ball down even when there is nothing but daylight off the edge.

 

Was Notre Dame Able to Respond After Being Physically Outworked by Stanford?

There is no doubt that the Irish responded well, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and brought a lot of physicality to this game.

The middle linebackers and corners continue to be hard hitters and it is now starting to seep through to the rest of the team. For most of the night the Irish were just too physical for Boston College.

 

Were the Irish Able to Pressure the Eagles Freshman Quarterback?

Chase Rettig left early in the second quarter with a leg injury and did not return, but besides his long touchdown pass, he looked incredibly uncomfortable and out of sync.

True sophomore Mike Marscovetra was able to come in and make a few throws, but for the most part the BC passing game was held in check. Without a running game and a serious lack of playmakers, the Eagles didn’t have a chance to move the ball through the air with any consistency.

 

Unit Grades

Offensive Line: B

A week after a pathetic showing against Stanford, the Irish offensive line improved and stood up to Boston College’s stout run defense. It wasn’t a dominating performance but they opened enough running lanes for Armando Allen, and typically gave Dayne Crist enough time to throw.

 

Wide Receivers: C+

This unit is still underachieving, although it’s not always their fault. Floyd is playing like a solid No. 1 receiver, but nowhere near the All-American everyone thought he would be. Riddick is a nice slot player who is showing more consistency on screen plays, but he’s not blowing people away with his athleticism. Jones has been all but invisible the last two weeks, while John Goodman is getting more comfortable with more minutes.

Overall, there are still a lot of question marks and head scratching with these players.

 

Tight Ends: D

Does Notre Dame even have a tight end anymore?

I am not completely sure what the ratio is, but it seems like Rudolph is lined up at receiver more often than not. At one point he was even lined up on the outside against Boston College.

What’s going on here? I know Rudolph is a great receiver, but is it really beneficial to keep him split out wide so often with smaller, quicker corners, and safeties able to get in his face on passes? I think it’s definitely a case of teams purposely rolling coverage towards the big tight end, but if that’s the case we’re not taking advantage of other match ups.

Why not put Rudolph on the line and help out the running game more often and really create a mismatch with linebackers in the passing game?

 

Running Backs: B

As already mentioned, Allen had a strong day and continues to be the most reliable member of the offense in 2010. Cierre Wood had a good run early, but fumbled a swing pass later in the game and didn’t see the field after that.

Robert Hughes came in late and had a couple nice runs, but the running game still does not exhibit a ton of explosiveness. After Allen’s 30-yard rush in the first series, the team only gained about 70 yards the rest of the game on the ground.

 

Quarterbacks: D

Dayne Crist has regressed a little bit over the past two weeks.

He was just over 50 percent on Saturday, threw for only 200 yards, tossed a bad interception, and sent multiple inaccurate passes all over the field.

 

I continue to be excited that these are the bad games (no ugly three-INT games, eight-completion days, etc.) but there has to be some concern whether Crist is going to improve a lot this year. He’s got a strong arm but continually misses easy throws, stares down receivers, and fires the ball downfield to receivers who aren’t ready.

 

Defensive Line: B+

This was a very good game by the big boys up front. Ian Williams continues to be one of the most underrated nose tackles in the country and is constantly pushing defenders back towards the quarterback.

Should we just accept the fact that KLM and Ethan Johnson aren’t going to be edge rushers, but very solid gap control linemen? They aren’t quick and agile sacks machines, but they are showing a lot of strength and allowing the linebackers free reign to make tackles.

Up-and-coming nose tackle Tyler Stockton notched his first career sack late in the game.

 

Linebackers: B+

Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese are among the best young middle linebackers in the country and are improving each week. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this combination of speed and hitting power in the middle of the Irish defense. Both players had great games again.

 

Brian Smith played well with a couple nice tackles on special teams and Kerry Neal held his own. Fleming added another TFL and Filer saw more playing time than he has been used to this year. There wasn’t a lot of play by the outside linebackers mainly because Boston College was incapable of attacking the edge.

Freshman Prince Shembo notched his first two sacks of his career.

 

Secondary: B+

Except for the long touchdown pass given up (Harrison Smith bit hard on play-action; Gray was beat on a stop-and-go move) the secondary played very well again.

Two more interceptions from this group, and the tackling continues to be the most improved aspect of this entire team. The three corners are finally playing up to their potential and Slaughter and Smith have at least provided some stability at safety.

 

Final Thoughts

The sense I am getting from Irish fans is that everyone is glad the team finally picked up a victory, but this was a game in which Notre Dame should have dominated when they didn’t.

That’s because Boston College is not a very good team at all.

 

The Eagles got terrible play from their quarterbacks, receivers dropped a ton of passes, and an offensive line that was supposed to be one of the better in the nation has turned into a serious liability.

BC’s Harris only ran for 28 yards on 15 carries, and with sack yardage added on, their team rushed for a total of five yards at 0.2 yards per rush. Give the Irish defense a lot of credit for playing well, but with the way Army has been playing this year, you could make the case that this BC offense will be the second worst the Irish will see all year (I’m betting Western Michigan is the worst).

The Notre Dame offense continues to be highly frustrating to watch.

After a dominant first series where the running game looked like it was going to have a big day, and after the offense looked great overall in the first quarter, everything just fell apart for the remainder of the game. The BC defense is pretty good, but with the way the Eagle offense was performing and giving the Irish great field position, Crist and Co. should have put a few more points on the board.

The turnovers continue to be a huge issue, with Wood fumbling near midfield, Allen fumbling deep in his own territory, and Crist throwing another head-scratcher of a pick.

Overall, the offense simply never got into a rhythm and Crist’s accuracy was seriously suspect in this game. It’s not like he’s been asked to make a ton of difficult throws either. He’s sailing simple screen passes over receivers’ heads, putting balls at guys’ feet, and zipping the ball downfield to a receiver who isn’t open.

 

Again this isn’t to say that Crist is playing terrible, but even as a first-year starter he should be doing a little bit better than he is. If there are a bunch of defenders in his face and he’s missing throws in tight windows that’s one thing. But if he has enough time to throw and is not hitting open receivers, that’s another thing.

I will say this though, it is a lot more exciting for long-term growth and program development to see that the defense has outplayed the offense for the majority of this season.

I don’t think this point can be emphasized enough because last year’s defense was so horrendous and now they have really made a lot of strides. Maybe last year’s offense would have scored 50 points against this BC team, but last year’s defense would have allowed 30 points and made either one of the Eagle quarterbacks look like All-Conference performers.

So even though the offense is sputtering, it’s a better feeling to have more confidence in a defense that is no longer a sieve and actually stops teams in key situations.

Next week the Irish will play another one-dimensional offense and the defense will have an opportunity to keep up this season’s progress and get this team back to .500 on the year.

 

From the FanTake blog: One Foot Down

Follow on Twitter: @OneFootDown

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