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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Boston College

Oct 2, 2010, 11:46 PM EDT

A win is a win is a win. It wasn’t particularly good looking, but Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish got back on the right side of the ledger this evening in Boston, coasting to a 31-13 win over Boston College, a team searching even harder for an identity than Notre Dame.

While the rivalry between Notre Dame and Boston College always seems to end up in down-to-the-wire finishes, the Irish exploded for three early touchdowns before coasting in for the victory, showing Irish fans what the offense is capable of when executed properly, but also frustrating those same fans with self-inflicted mistakes that almost let the Eagles climb off the mat and back into the game.

But behind quarterbacks Chase Rettig and Mike Marscovetra the Eagles couldn’t find a rhythm on offense, gaining only five total yards on the ground and relying completely on a passing game that was far too inconsistent to be dangerous.

In a Holy War rivalry that’s been hotly contested the past decade, this game had many similarities to the 2008 match-up, only this time it was Boston College’s offense that was held in check by the opposition’s defense and Notre Dame that did enough to coast to a victory.

In the end, Notre Dame gets an easy victory at night in Chestnut Hill, something that should never be discounted. While they won’t get any style points, the Irish improve to 2-3, and now head home with a chance to get back to .500 against Pitt.

Here’s what we learned during Notre Dame’s 31-13 win.

1. The Irish offense was ready for the opening bell.

With most of the fan base worried, the Irish offense opened quickly in the first quarter, putting together three touchdown drives in their opening four possessions and putting the game essentially out of reach in the first eleven minutes of the evening.

The decision to move Bennett Jackson into the kick return game was immediately rewarded when the lanky freshman scampered for 43 yards on the opening kickoff and gave Notre Dame great field position. Behind solid running from Armando Allen, and a zone-read keeper for Dayne Crist, the Irish got out of the blocks perfectly, starting quickly and getting a much-needed red zone touchdown.

Of the Irish’s three touchdown drives, the longest was 3:38, and they were the product of the Irish offense taking care of business and the Irish defense overwhelming a absolutely mediocre Eagles offense.

2. The Irish offensive line rallied after last week’s disappointing performance.

While the number don’t necessarily reflect it, the offensive line did a nice job establishing a running game. From the opening kickoff, the linemen cleared the way, with Armando Allen’s 90 yards on 19 carries a pretty good day at the office. And while Dayne Crist never really truly got on track in the pocket, the offensive line protected him well, giving up only one sack the entire evening. The line handled the crowd noise in Alumni Stadium flawlessly and also only committed one penalty, a declined holding call on Chris Stewart.

If defenses are going to continue to try and drop players into coverage to take away the Irish passing game, it’ll be up to the offensive line to create running lanes for the backs and protect Crist long enough to find open receivers.

3. Carlo Calabrese is becoming a very good football player.

Brian Kelly discussed it earlier in the week, but Carlo Calabrese probably played his best game in a Notre Dame uniform this evening. Calabrese led the Irish in tackles and also in tackles for loss with 3.5, and chipped in a sack for good measure. At a position that looked completely unstable during preseason camp, Calabrese has become a rock on the inside — a run-stuffing battering ram that plays incredibly tough on the interior of the defense while also playing more than good enough defense against the pass. It’s the work of Calabrese, Manti Te’o, and defensive tackle Ian Williams that held Montel Harris and the Boston College rushing attack to single-digit yardage, quite an achievement for a team that came into the evening ranked 98th in the country against the run.

4. The Irish won the game by being good at the little things.

The easy answer to the Irish win might be Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani’s refusal to put Dave Shinskie into the game after both Chase Rettig and Mike Marscovetra struggled, but if you’re looking for two key statistics on why the Irish won easily, look at penalties and third downs.

The Irish only committed two penalties for 22 yards while Boston College was hit with 12 penalties for 120 yards. In a game where Notre Dame only had 315 total yards and BC was held to 270, spotting a team an extra 25 percent of their total yardage is a very good way to give away a football game, something Boston College did by committing multiple personal foul infractions. While the three Notre Dame turnovers makes you forget that the Irish avoided the mistakes that have plagued them over the first month of the season, committing only two penalties — one that came on the final drive of the game — is a very nice sign for Kelly’s Irish.

The other key stat that has to have people feeling better about the Irish, is their margin of victory on third down conversions. The Irish converted 8 of 19 third down attempts, not an entirely great night on 3rd down, but excellent when you compare it to what Boston College did. The Irish held BC to just four of 19 on their third downs, forcing the Eagles to punt 11 times, and the Irish D consistently got off the field on third down, something that was a complete problem area for the Irish last week.

5. The Irish are poised to build on this victory.

It’s easy to downplay this victory because of the ebbs and flows of the evening, but there were plenty of good things for the Irish to build on Saturday night. With the Irish’s back against the wall, Notre Dame came out swinging and effectively knocked Boston College out of the game in the opening minutes of the evening. Those three quick strikes remind Irish fans that Notre Dame is picking up the elements of the offense, and with explosive downfield passes to Theo Riddick and Michael Floyd, the offense is slowly but surely coming around.

Defensively, holding any team to 0.2 yards per carry is a victory that has to have the Irish feeling better about their run defense as they prepare to face a Pitt team that features one of the more dangerous running backs in the country. And other than Gary Gray’s blown-coverage on Bobby Swigert’s double-move, the Irish intercepted two passes and held BC quarterbacks to an incredibly inefficient night passing. (On his Twitter page this evening, Gray apologized for the touchdown pass: “My bad on the double move. Fool me once shame on them, fool me twice shame on me.”) Robert Blanton played another excellent game, coming up with a great deflection and interception, and the Irish coaches should feel like they have three rock-solid cornerbacks. Safety Dan McCarthy showed up around the ball plenty in the second half in his first extended tour of duty in the secondary, a welcome site for those that are worried that Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta could be running out of gas. (Even Harrison Smith had an interception…) Irish fans also might have gotten a look at their pass rusher of the future, when Prince Shembo came off the edge twice to sack Boston College quarterbacks, providing two of the five Irish sacks that the defense put together.

More important that any individual effort, the Irish came away with a much needed win in a rivalry game, and did so in an incredibly comfortable fashion. There was no heart-burn tonight, only a quick flurry to open the evening and the Irish controlling the tempo of the game until the very end. With 2-2 Pitt coming to town, the Irish should be favored as they try to get back to level par on the year before a much needed week off. While
3-3 wasn’t what many of us
projected, removing the possibility of 1-4 was all that anybody could’ve asked for tonight.   

  1. vegasmark - Oct 3, 2010 at 1:28 AM


  2. joirish - Oct 3, 2010 at 2:16 AM

    Stay the course and good things will happen. Go Irish!!

  3. dom - Oct 3, 2010 at 3:13 AM

    Three games remaining on the schedule that will dictate the progress that ND is making, Pitt, Utah, and USC. Going 2-1 would be excellent (one of those wins needs to be USC). Tonight was a good start but these three games are the ones to watch.

  4. Seamus2 - Oct 3, 2010 at 4:08 AM

    ND is talented on both sides of the ball. We’re beginning to see their hard work pay off.
    Go Irish!
    Keep the Faith!

  5. TLNDMA - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    A comfortable win in the end. A much needed win. And in the end a win that left Kelly with much to go over with his team, starting Monday.(24hr rule)
    As comfortable a margin as this was, it should have been more. BC is not very good on offense. As poor as their QB play is right now, their WR’s are even worse. Poor routes and dropped balls plagued them all night. That said and as poor as Gray’s play was, the defense did their job. Kudos.
    The two fumbles in the first half are the kind of plays that have cost the Irish so many victories in the past couple years. If they had been playing a better team, one that could have taken advantage of these miscues (TDs instead of FGs)things might have turned out differently. I can understand a little inconsistancy on offense, BC has a good defense. This team has to stop shooting itself in the foot, if it wants to get to the next level.
    Keith, a positive element to take out of this game was the kicking of Ben Turk, on his last 5 or so punts. I think we might have seen a breakthrough from his inconsistancies.
    Beat Pitt! oops, oh yeah 24 hr rule, gotta wait til Monday.

  6. Mike - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:15 AM

    As a Notre Dame graduate and career military officer (now retired), I would never tolerate the kind of verbal abuse Caoch Kelly heaps on his players in public. Specifically, his use of abusive rhetorical questions like “What were you thinking?” or “What are you doing?” intended to elicit no constructive response. A stern lecture intended to immediately correct a flaw is one thing, but his repeated use of a denigrating interrogative beforehand is unacceptable.
    How is Dane Crist supposed to build confidence when he is humiliated in view of family and friends week after week on national television? How is he supposed to develop leadership skills when he is publicly humiliated in front of his teammates? What must potential recruits (especially at the skill postions) think when they see that kind of player treatment on TV? Is Michael Floyd repeatedly dropping passes because he’s more concerned about dropping a pass than catching one?
    I am a big Coach Kelly fan. For the first time since the Holtz era, I’m seeing preparation and practice sessions designed to truly prepare players for the rigors of a 60 minute football game. Coach has the system, player development schemes and coaching staff to return Notre Dame to greatness. But I’ll give up 10 national championships before I see one more son of Notre Dame treated so disrespectfully.

  7. mike - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    This Irish team has great potential!
    Look at the records and numbers that the teams they lost to are putting up…
    If our offense can just quit shooting themselves with dropped passes, passes off the mark and protecting the passer and fumbles this team will do some amazing things…
    They are still learning this offense and defensive system.
    I love seeing coach Kelly getting fired up on the sidelines and providing teaching moments for his players
    Bright future for the Irish!
    GO ND

  8. TLNDMA - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    I heard the same criticisms of Lou Holtz. Watch another game or team, same stuff. That’s how it is on the sidelines. When I hear the kid’s complain I’ll worry.

  9. Mel - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    “But I’ll give up 10 national championships before I see one more son of Notre Dame treated so disrespectfully.”
    That is about the softest comment I’ve ever heard.

  10. genrl1861 - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    Seems Mike never played football or faced an upset drill instructor. I’m not sure that the “kinder/gentler” approach works well in either instance.

  11. Dayton - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:08 AM

    I agree with what you say to a certain extent. Perhaps, Coach Kelly can dial down the public lambasting a little bit. But I will say that I am glad that he approaches his players and tries to get them to correct miscues. I don’t think Charlie Weiss did enough of that. As I was watching the game last night, I said to my wife, “It seems like the Irish have the physical talents to beat anyone they play, but they have the football intelligence of a Pop Warner team, and that’s why they lost those three games.” Judging by BK’s reactions on the sidelines, I sometimes think that he feels that way too. Nearly every time that the camera showed Coach Kelly, his mantra to his players was an emphatic, “Let’s Go!” This indicates to me that he knows his players can execute, but they often make mental mistakes or have effort issues. Those are the things that the players need to improve upon if they want to be great. BK wants them to give it everything on every play, and the players need to play smart football on every play. I don’t think they know that yet. Who knows? I could be wrong. Indeed, I agree that Coach Kelly should probably drop a few less f-bombs, but I like seeing him get after his players. And you are right; perhaps, it doesn’t need to happen so much. But it should still happen in some shape or form.

  12. Tom conroy - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:13 AM

    I don’t understand the yelling, and I cannot imagine how it positively motivates the players… However, I remember my father making the same comments about lou holtz during his tenure at nd. I remember one episode when lou grabbed the face mask of one player and let him have it for quite a while, all on national television. Lou was a yeller. However, like holtz, if you notice, the Kelly rants are short lived, and he gets on with the game.
    The players seem to love kelly, notwithstanding the verbal tongue-lashings. Certainly all new recruits will know what they are stepping into, and if they enlist in the program, so be it. While I would prefer a more corporate polished approach, my thought is…if it works…don’t fix it.

  13. Frank Degnan - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:44 AM

    When a coach has confidence in the system he installed and his ability to sell it to his players and in the players’ abilities to adapt to it, there is no need to grab players face masks and scream in the players’ faces. What this type of behavior shows is the coach’s inferiority complex and fear of failure. A coach is not comparable to a drill instructor in the military who is trying to teach you things that someday may save your life or the lives of your fellow soldiers. I can recall the NCAA basketball championship where the Georgetown player mistakenly passed the basketball to a North Carolina player. The G-Town coach, John Thompson, put his arm around the player; he didn’t berate him in front of the crowd or the TV audience. I’m no fan of John Thompson, but he showed a lot of class with his gesture — a gesture that spoke volumes about the proper role of coaches.

  14. goirish - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    Mike, I find it hard to believe that, if you were on the battlefield and a 2nd Lt deviated from the plan of attack and let his squad into an ambush, that voices wouldn’t be raised on the field of battle.
    Now is football life and death, no it isn’t. But it is a passionate game played in a loud environment with a lot of emotionally charged participants.
    I have yet to hear anyone complain about it, and recruits are signing up to play for him. Even Pete Carroll would get in to his players faces and scream and yell when he wasn’t happy.
    Charlie did not due that, instead he seemed to put players in the dog house without ever letting them know how they got in or how they got out. Kelly gets the players attention quickly, gets his message across and then moves on.

  15. jk - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    That big play was not Gary Gray’s fault. Like every other big play this year (See Robinson 87 yd run, Baker 56 yd run, fake field goal, and a few others, etc..) it was Harrison Smith’s fault. He jumped on the three yard route to the running back (which was already covered by Teo)

  16. Joe - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:50 AM

    MIKE, I can not believe what you are saying. Did you ever play football, not college football, any kind of football? Coaches yell. They yell a lot. Do you really think Coach Kelly is thinking about whether a camera is on him when when he is yelling at one of his players? ESPN has been showing Nick Saban, not a bad coach, during practices, and he yells at someone every play of every practice, and poor things, they’re showing it on ESPN where everyone can see. The emotional scars may never heal. That is what coaches do. If you want kinder, nicer coaches, watch girls volleyball. I’d be more worried if they were playing with so many mistakes and he was not yelling. Your comment is another example of the wussification of America. Hug them when they come off the field.

  17. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    And if he was soft and patted guys on the back ( awww are you ok little guy do you need a bandaid, I see you have a hangnail) You would jump all over him for that!! I doubt you were in our military with that girlie attitude! Or maybe you were and didn’t ask or tell!!

  18. FightinMad35 - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    Mike, I totally get what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t trade the championships. Dayne looks fragile mentally already. He is so inconsistent and I’m sure it’s because he’s thinking too much, not relaxed and just playing. I’m sure BK ripping him a new one, even after successful drives (points) doesn’t help. Good to see the team play inspired football last night, even if BC is down in talent all over the field. A win WE all needed. I also need the turnovers to go away and I need Dayne to relax and just play. Let get ready for a tougher challenge in Pitt next week. Go Irish!

  19. ndfan - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    First and foremost, thank you for your service to our country.
    With regard to Kelly’s coaching style, I don’t think that you’d be hard pressed to find examples of some extremely successful coaches that have the same in your face style when addressing player’s mistakes. I think it’s consistent with what Kelly is looking for in his team — mental and physical toughness. He’s not trying to coddle his players and I think they get that. I believe that they get that he cares about them. But you’re right in that this is not the style for everyone. There are a lot of prima donnas out there that couldn’t handle this in your face style, but they’re probably not a good fit for the tough gentlemen of the Fighting Irish.
    Go Irish!

  20. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    I’m gonna watch the film, although rite now I will agree with that!! Smith seems to pull off a boneheaded play at least once a game!

  21. Ed - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:11 AM

    I understand where you’re coming from (and BTW, thank you for your service to this country). However, as TLNDMA mentioned, until the players complain… We only see the televised parts and for all we know every single player on that team may love Coach Kelly. He may very well balance the yelling sessions with other more positive approaches of which we’re unaware. We only see a fraction of the interactions that Coach has with his players as opposed to the rest of the day/week. I’m not overly concerned about it. Maybe this winning continues for a few weeks and the “yelling” becomes less. Go Irish!!!

  22. cmhirish - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    I’ve got to disagree with you. I don’t find Coach Kelly’s questions to his players to be abusive nor rhetorical. It is entirely appropriate for him to ask questions like “What were you thinking?” or “What are you doing?” – especially to his QB, or any other player in a position of leadership.
    The question IS intended to elicit constructive response. Coach Kelly – and all of the coaches – have to know what the players are seeing on the field. Are they seeing the game correctly? Are they correctly reading what the opponent is trying to do? Is Coach Kelly’s QB reading two-deep zone coverage with man under; or did he read fire zone? Could he have checked out of a play with an audible before the snap? Is he correctly reading the keys that a QB has to read in order to lead the team? Tell me what you’re seeing and let’s understand now where we went wrong, so we can get it corrected. We don’t want to make the same mistakes on the next series. Any player worth his salt knows and expects this type of questioning from his coaches.
    Its a valid approach for any player on the team, and especially those from which leadership is expected – whether they are offensive or defensive players. I like the passion. Football is an emotional game that requires controlled passion from all hands. There is no place for a corporate polished approach on the sideline – controlled passion, yes – but this is not the sterile corporate boardroom. More than once, I saw Crist and Kelly exchanging dialogue on the sidelines, not Crist standing there like a humiliated child. I’ll wager Crist doesn’t care who sees Kelly yelling – Crist would much rather be yelled at and have a good season than to not be yelled at and finish the year with more losses than wins and 20+ interceptions.
    As someone has already said, when I hear the kids complain I’ll worry. I see continuous effort to correct mistakes and strive for improvement, not abusive nor rhetorical questioning.

  23. Joe - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Not sure what branch you served, but in the Marines, we use that kind of motivation all the time. What are we thinking?? Just one thing: it works.
    Whether you are a Ph.D. or are a 6th grade drop out from the backwoods…everyone understands and responds to pain.
    Truth: Lovey dovey doesn’t always work on the human psyche.
    ND grad, Marine Infantry here.

  24. TLNDMA - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:27 AM

    Mike if you want to complain about a real jerk of a coach, go on a Stanford blog.

  25. Ed - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    Agreed! Good call…

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