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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Boston College

Oct 24, 2009, 9:00 PM EST

There were no style points rewarded, but in the end the Irish came out victorious. As Boston College freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie’s pass hit linebacker Brian Smith in the chest, Notre Dame won another football game that was too close for comfort, and left many Irish fans scratching their head, wondering what — if any — positives they can take out of the hard fought victory.

Still, the Irish are 5-2, and put to an end a streak of six losses to Boston College. While the Eagles’ defensive game plan and excellent special teams kept Notre Dame’s offense in tough situations, the Irish did what it had to do to win 20-16. That included forcing five turnovers — two from running back Montell Harris, who had yet to cough the ball up all season — and three interceptions by the besieged Irish passing defense. The Irish shut down the Eagles’ running attack, holding Harris to only 38 yards on 22 carries, and constantly won the battle on first down.

Last week, a common refrain was that there are no such things as moral victories. If that is the case, then there is no such thing as bad wins, either. Let’s take a look at the five things we learned from the 20-16 win over Boston College.

1) Notre Dame can win ugly.

With the score 3-2 at the end of the first quarter, it was apparent that this was going to be an ugly football game. Boston College’s ability to absolutely dominate the field position battle and refusal to play tight coverage on Notre Dame’s receivers meant that they were willing to give Notre Dame 6 yards a play, if only to prevent them from taking 60. For the most part, Clausen and the Irish offense obliged, constantly throwing quick hitches and comebacks, and settling for 1-on-1 plays on the perimeter. Clausen spread the ball to seven different teammates, including the first two catches of Roby Toma’s career. BC focused their defensive game plan on stopping Kyle Rudolph and Golden Tate. They achieved half of their goal.

No one will call this one of Notre Dame’s better performances, but if anything it was admirable in its workman-like traits. The Irish never wavered from their game plan. They ran the ball effectively with Armando Allen going for just under 5 yards per carry, and took what the defense gave them. Even if they didn’t play well, they still won the football game. Good teams win when they don’t have their best. I’m not ready to say Notre Dame’s a good team, but this certainly was a win that good teams get.

2) Notre Dame avoided the biggest pothole of the season.

There’s was no bigger trap game this season than today’s tilt against the Eagles, and secretly I’m sure the coaching staff is absolutely relieved they walked away with a win. Just think about all the things stacked up against Notre Dame. Not only did the Irish lose a soul-crushing game to USC last week, but there was a bizarre amount of mutual respect and love being shared between two programs that absolutely hate each other. Notre Dame and Charlie Weis’ respect for Mark Herzlich was one of the under-reported stories of the year, but it was just plain weird seeing an All-American linebacker for Boston College being presented a Notre Dame game jersey right before kickoff. These are the guys that have trashed Notre Dame locker rooms, have torn up pieces of the field, have done every single thing you could imagine to poke and prod — and recently dominate — a team that should be their superior.  If you’re Notre Dame, you’ve got to be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and if Notre Dame can get by a mediocre Washington State team in San Antonio next week, they’ll get Michael Floyd back and prepare to unleash some offensive firepower.

3) Notre Dame might have another Heisman contender

I’m all for promoting what Jimmy Clausen is doing out on the field this season, but it’s time to take a hard look at Golden Tate and ask why he’s not in the Heisman Trophy discussion. He’s got 847 receiving yards through 7 games, and is averaging nearly 7.5 catches per game and over 16 yards per catch. He’s also doing most of this damage since Michael Floyd went down, when defensive coordinators are trying everything they can to stopping #23. He was in the top 6 for yards on the season before his game today, and with no front-runner stepping forward to seize the award, why not mention Notre Dame’s most explosive weapon. His three consecutive 100 yard games are the first time a Notre Dame receiver has done that since Derrick Mayes in 1995, and while his numbers certainly warrant a place in the discussion, his chances might actually be hurt by having another teammate share the spotlight with him.

4) The defense still hasn’t figured it out.

While the Irish limited Boston College to just 349 yards and 14 offensive points, this is still a defense that is struggling mightily. How can a team continue to give up such gigantic chunks of yardage through the air? The Irish gave up 10 passing plays of 20 yards or more, which is just unacceptable any way you look at it. Rich Gunnell took his turn decimating the Irish secondary, making 10 catches for 179 yards. Not that he should feel special, because every week a different character lights up the ND secondary with big plays. Check out the guys that have either put up 90 yards receiving or gone for 20+ yards per catch:

Gunnell, BC: 179 yards — 17.9 per catch
Larmond, BC: 61 yards — 20.3 per catch
McCoy, USC: 153 yards — 30.6 per catch
Williams, USC: 108 yards — 27 per catch
Kearse, UW: 94 yards — 11.8 per catch
Goodwin, UW: 65 yards — 21.7 per catch
Johnson, UW: 59 yards — 29.5 per catch
Smith, Purdue: 136 yards — 12.4 per catch
Taylor, Purdue: 38 yards — 38.0 per catch
Valentin, Purdue: 36 yards — 36.0 per catch
Dell, MSU: 121 yards — 20.2 per catch

I’m running out of things to say about this Irish pass defense. Even with an incredible win rate on first down, they still managed to let freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie throw for 279 yards, and if it weren’t for 3 gift interceptions, he’d have had plenty more opportunities. Right now, the secondary is playing with zero confidence, and a promising talent like Harrison Smith looks absolutely clueless out there.

I’m not going to say that this defense didn’t improve, because it’s obvious that they did this week. Sergio Brown looked good playing free safety, and his forced fumble was just another big play he’s made in his limited time on the field. Plus, anytime you can force five turnovers and hold a team to 2.4 yards per carry you’re doing something right. But this defense makes it so very hard on itself when it gives up over 200 yards on explosive plays, and it needs to figure out a way to make an offense beat them, as opposed to beating themselves.

5) Time to reevaluate the specialists.

Ben Turk should feel relieved tonight. He was horrendous punting the ball, managing only a long of 38 yards and averaged a shade under 32 yards a punt. That’s a bad day for a high schooler, let alone a guy you burned a redshirt year on. I love the fact that Turk can bench press 400+ pounds, but if your best punts are low line drives that only end up going 35 yards, maybe it’s time to put the barbells down and start kicking more footballs. Likewise, the story of dorm football player turned Irish kickoff man David Ruffer is a nice one, but if Notre Dame is going to rely on a kicker that can only put it onto the opponents 10 yard-line off the tee, then they’re in trouble. Way too often today the field was flipped in Boston College’s favor, and it’s a big reason why BC nearly won a football game where they lost the turnover battle 5-0. It’s time to see if Eric Maust has anything left in his leg, and to see if placekicker Nick Tausch or Brandon Walker can do better on kickoffs. 

  1. robertg - Oct 26, 2009 at 12:10 AM

    keith,
    1. yes, the truth is out there and some coaches in the conference are ignoring the threats from the conferences under the so called sportmanship conduct rules and publicly outing game officials and tech reviewers for dishonest acts of officiating which did alter the outcomes of games this past week.
    2.according to our reliable sources,including press releases, mississippi state coach dan mullen publicly demanded( article by ap reporter chris talbott currently posted at the college sports section of yahoo sports) that sec commissioner mike slive fire sec tech reviewer dan dembinski after dembowsi failed to overturn an obvious florida fumble that was ruled a florida td by the sec game officials, thereby allowing florida to escape its second straight loss, last week’s being to coach bobby petrino’s arkansas team.
    3. the sec commissioner mike slive did suspend the entire sec crew that officiated the florida/arkansas officiating crew for an unspecified period of time(the old slap on the wrists trick), but also publicly admonished coach petrino for speaking out publicly about officiating misconduct(meaning basically, if you do this again we will hit you with a huge fine and/or have you banned from college sports) via the new ncaa level vehicle called college football officiating llc(this outfit has a website of the same name with lots of great information), which is run by long term con artist dave parry, formerly of the big 10 conference, and representives from each of the big 6 conferences.
    4. we are also informed that coach mike riley of oregon state intends to complain publicly about dishonest pac 10 officiating at the oregon state/usc game which allowed usc to escape its second straight loss. riley has been around the pac 10 long enough to know that cutaia and muldoon have been con artist for many years and the riley should direct his complaints to new pac 10 commissioner larry scott. coach riley is a distant cousin of myself and of notre dame’s own ruth riley, although none of us have met or spoken to one another yet.
    5. michigan state coach mark dantonio is very likely to complain publicly about the dishonest officiating at the michigan state/iowa game which stole a win over iowa. coach dantonio has powerful allies in the big 10 conference, including joe paterno of penn state, who graduated from the same jesuit high school in brooklyn that i did 20 years later and jim tressel of ohio state and other big 10 coaches, not incliuding rodriguez of michigan who is an active parrticipant in the big 10 dishonest officiating scam, as were his predecessors at michigan. the big 10 conference is rotten to the core with jim delany at the top, bill carollo as the cordinator of football officiating and still calling the shots at the big 10 and nationwide now, dave parry, the 1st national coordinator of college football officiating at the ncaa level college football officiating llc.
    6. we are informed that charlie and his staff and notre dame’s student athletes are aware of our activities. however, charlie has already been admonished by parry several times and, with notre dame being an independent, there is really nothing that charlie and his staff and notre dame’s studen t athletes can do other than to prepare every weak to defeat each opponent and crews of dishonest officials. after all, charlie and his staff and notre dame, along with navy, are the last real independents in college football and cannot really get involved in anything that we are doing, except to appear as witnesses at public jury trials involving these matters.
    7. anyone who needs to contact us can simply send whatever they want to the main office of the associated press to the attention of chris talbott ref robertg. after all, we provided a lot of help to the ap, which was a co plaintiff in that big win over the ncaa in the 10/15/2009 case that compelled the ncaa, for the first time ever in any matter, to disclose to the public all documents and transcipts and other records relating to the ncaa inmvestigation of academic fraud at the florida state athletic department(coach bobby bowden self reported the violations to the ncaa as soon as he found out about them and florida state volutarily cooperated in the ncaa investigation, but refused nto make any payoffs to certain people related to the ncaa).
    8. unlike usc which has played coverup and made payoffs, florida state was cstripped of every win and every tile in every sport in which florida state competes, along with other sanctions.
    9. bobby bowden has also been very public in his outing of dishonest acc officials at last week’s failed attempt by all acc game and tech officials to steal a win for north carolina over florida state.
    10. as in the case of joe paterno of penn state, bobby bowden has always been an honest man and not afraid of any threats.
    11. we are also infromed that south florida’s coach is going to publicly complain about the dishonest big east officials who organized what appeared to be a blowout win by pitt over souyth florida.
    GO IRISH!!!

  2. Art Vandelay - Oct 26, 2009 at 1:53 AM

    robertg:
    I would like to solicit your opinion on the following topics:
    1) The Kennedy Assassination;
    2) The disappearance of Amelia Earhart;
    3) The move away from the Gold Standard to the Federal Reserve system;
    4) The influence of the Skull and Bones society on our Government;
    5) UFO abductions – real or imagined?;
    6) Bigfoot, Sasquatch and the Yeti;
    7) The Bilderberg Group;
    8) The Loch Ness Monster; and,
    9) Crooked Officiating of NCAA Football.
    Please, no more than 10,000 words per topic and be sure to use numbered paragraphs, frequent typos and bad punctuation. I, for one, would love to know what makes you tick. You, sir, are the human embodiment of the wildcat.
    Yours truly,
    Art

  3. ourlady$ - Oct 26, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    I see this win as nothing but that, a win. We played a lot better against USC ,but having said that, the trait that we don’t give up is one of the biggest pluses this year that we have and is essential in building a Championship team. WE are going to have to play a lot better against Pitt and Stanford ( that will be a tough one against Toby Gerhart). But let’s not look ahead, Washington State is not going to be a push over, nobody is. So let’s go into San Antonio and kick butt.
    GO IRISH!!!

  4. Tiredagain - Oct 26, 2009 at 8:15 PM

    I just noticed the ND is back in the top 25. Again, why? Year after year except for a few very tough teams, and this year is no different, the rest of the schedule is at best weak teams. Some years cupcake city. The voters have got to forget the ND of old; reputations have to fade and live in today. Their wins are against below average teams, and a few teams had the same kind of schedule they did. Their refusal to play a lot of good teams on a home on home schedule, makes good teams walk away. If ND wants to be ranked for what they are and not what they were 15 yrs ago, then the AD has to fix the schedule. Why should ND play 7 home games yr after yr, or at best a neutral site and six home games and then expect to be recognized. Drop the service academies, play more SEC, ACC, and Big Ten schools and win and then maybe you will finally deserve to be ranked much less play in a BCS bowl.

  5. scott - Oct 26, 2009 at 9:39 PM

    i know CW makes some mistakes game in and game out, but you can’t have it both ways.
    he was crucified when he threw passes against UofM and did not run to burn time and punt it away. against BC he runs to make them burn their last time outs and eat clock and now you are saying he went conservative and almost cost ND the game.
    it’s a no win for CW, run and not convert and he went conservative pass and throw incompletes and he isn’t killing the clock.
    5-2 no quit in this team and, at times, the pass defense looked respectable. no excuse for giving up 30 on 4th and 17 but they made enough plays to win.

  6. rocky - Oct 27, 2009 at 12:05 AM

    Tiredagain is why you don’t know that CBS, which has us ranked 29th, has our strength of schedule at 25. Happens to be more difficult than Alabama (27), Texas (35), USC, LSU, Penn St, Okl St., Ohio St, WV, South Carolina, and a host of others. Maybe those SEC teams should cut out their three yearly scrimmages against community colleges. The service academy that we traditionally play almost beat OSU, just beat Wake, and very likely will win 10 games. Every team but Nevada and Navy are from BCS conferences and those two are no slouches. We’ve beaten a team that beat USC, that beat Ohio State, and that got robbed from beating Iowa. We’re beating teams with talent and our schedule strength is higher than most top 25 ranked teams according to CBS.

  7. Derek Pomaranski - Oct 27, 2009 at 3:35 AM

    I just noticed the ND is back in the top 25. Again, why? Year after year except for a few very tough teams, and this year is no different, the rest of the schedule is at best weak teams. Some years cupcake city. The voters have got to forget the ND of old; reputations have to fade and live in today. Their wins are against below average teams, and a few teams had the same kind of schedule they did. Their refusal to play a lot of good teams on a home on home schedule, makes good teams walk away. If ND wants to be ranked for what they are and not what they were 15 yrs ago, then the AD has to fix the schedule. Why should ND play 7 home games yr after yr, or at best a neutral site and six home games and then expect to be recognized. Drop the service academies, play more SEC, ACC, and Big Ten schools and win and then maybe you will finally deserve to be ranked much less play in a BCS bowl.
    Ah, you sound like another “GAAYTOR!” fan again. Come on Notre Dame! Play a stronger schedule. Play McNeese State, Charleston school of the blind, and University of NW Georgia State like we do in our non-conference schedule! And your idea that Notre Dame refuses to play great teams on a home on home schedule is completely ridiculous. All the major conferences are trying to play 6-7 home games a year. I can tell you one thing, Navy would beat alot if not all of the teams that these other major schools play on their non-conference schedule. Why, bc they play patsies. I can’t remember a time in the last 100 years where Notre Dame played an opponent from div. 1-AA. Ask that question to the “GGGAAYYTORS”, LSU, Buckeyes, etc. Kapeesh?

  8. john - Oct 27, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    I will say it, THIS TEAM IS JUST NOT VERY GOOD! It has come down to not wanting a bcs game because there is not a bcs qualified team WE CAN BEAT! Please God let it be the gator bowl so we can maybe win another bowl game! Pitt Uconn Stanford are far from easy wins folks. Is it me or does watching ND games feel like a slow death!! WE NEED A REAL COACH!!!!! Mike Floyd is the only WR we can go deep downfield with? WTF!!!!

  9. JOHN - Oct 27, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    BTW I am already sick of hearing how great JC is he is one arrogant move away from having his head ripped off. He constantly gets in defenders faces opens up his mouth and acts like anything but a leader. The problem here right now is that from day one it has been the CW and JC show and boy does that show. Why is it that Dayne Crist has bsrely thrown a GD pass he may very well wind up being our QB going forward and he has almost no experience!!! I will bet however once we are rid of another clausen bust DC will lead us to much more convincing W~!!!!

  10. Chuckie - Oct 27, 2009 at 12:40 PM

    Golden Tate should be in Heismann consideration, oh yes!!! ANd the ND defense should be in consideration for a total overhaul, including its coach.

  11. bringbacklou - Oct 27, 2009 at 9:51 PM

    it is discouraging that USC is the worst they have been in many years and ND still lost. They will only get better. The fact that many of the games have been so close, but the opposition has been led by freshmen QB’s is scary…especially for the future…the BC game…USC…Mich… The mystery of “who’s playing today?” at ND is mindboggling considering they have such a powerful balanced offense shows that cw cannot commit to anyone, so what team members are ever going to buy into that?…ramble…ramble…ramble…

  12. BC92 - Oct 28, 2009 at 9:02 AM

    during pregame, Clausen was chirping to the BC players “Get your b!tch asse$ off my field” and gave one of the receiver a shove.
    that is why Gunnell did not accept Clausen’s phony congratulations at the end of the game.

  13. irish81 - Oct 29, 2009 at 9:15 AM

    Shaq evans has not been playing b/c he had the flu USC week and was still recovering BC. Also weis said in his press conference that evans is more of an outside reciever rather than an inside reciever so he played goodman and toma in the slot, rather than put evans in a postion he was unfamiliar with being in the slot. look for him to get more playing time against Washington St.

  14. Fred - Oct 30, 2009 at 3:54 AM

    Keith, you have built here a labor of love. Keep it up for our lady!

  15. Brad - Nov 2, 2009 at 1:45 PM

    I wish ND would play Florida. It would be worse than the beating Florida gives Ohio State. You guys DONT PLAY ANYBODY WORTH A CRAP!!!!

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