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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Boston College

Oct 2, 2010, 11:46 PM EST

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. TBoneND - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    Yes the yelling is nessasary. Football is a game of emotion as much as strengh and speed. If you notice Kelly (after a good play) steps up to the players coming off the field with high 5’s and “Good job”.He is trying to instill in them to reach above their very best. I know first hand, having a coach in high school, who is now in the ‘Michigan Sports Hall of Fame’.
    In high school and college football more games are won on emotion than talent.
    GO IRISH!!

  2. irish in the hammer - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    While I don’t agree with Mike’s comments about how Coach Kelly addresses mistakes etc on the sidelines, in no way do I think it is classy or appropriate #1 IRISHFAN to make snide and frankly homophobic remarks in your criticisms.
    Grow Up! It wasn’t cool in 3rd grade and it ain’t cool now!

  3. NDVTFan - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    Everyone should take a deep breath and read what Mike actually said. His point wasn’t “yelling is not allowed”, or “hugs all around” etc., he very specifically said, “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.” All coaches yell. Most coaches become so emotitional in the heat of the game that they over react. Players accept that as part of “the game”. But Kelly sometines goes too far, not in his reaction but in his abuse of his player. He will become a better coach when his screaming and anger has a purpose other than belittling his players. He is under tremendous pressure and wants to show everyone what a great coach he is. When his players underperform he seems to need to yell at them, and at times berate them, perhaps to reinforce “he knows better” and he is a “great” coach. There are a few top coaches who have learned how to be great and not berate. Hopefully Kelly becomes such a coach. Right now his tirades suggest he isn’t there yet, and instead selfishly feels entitled to yell and claim that his team should “do as I say — not as I do”.

  4. Rockne - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    Outstanding and solid win ND. Everyone who’s a fan I am sure is happy no doubt. Prologue: I think real fans remember the days of Holtz and Parseghian. Someone in the blogs made a great point. This place, when you sacrifice for it, is the best place in college football in the US. When you are a fan you are supposed to get a sore throat feel raw and exhausted that night and next day you’re suppossed to get gray hair and yes burnt out by the end of your tenure there meanwhile you place the team on a championship or two on the altar of greatness while you are there. That is the cost to your soul in a sense of being a fan and coach here at ND. What I think is the case of real trouble is as Brian Kelly says is the little details that lead to a huge cavity in soul of the passionate ND fan base. We have a student body who of course is a bright and kind group of kids what worries me is the bred in sense of terror and aversion to embrace that nasty throat soring sense of passion to cheer on its team the way I remember them under Holtz I stood in the student section then so I know. Todays students seem like gentle meek cynnically passionate and then they look at other alumni like you are abhorent barbarians cheering on the team well thats the problem… ND will have a hard time getting nasty home game environment going with that attitude oozing through the student crowd. I blame that on poor student leadership in student affairs 1 you can’t get a crowd of students parents fans and alumni fired up over britney spears fuzzy kitties and bubble gum pop music out at Dillon Hall although I liked the kid smashing plates off his head at the Purdue pep rally we neeed more like him baby insane but a good touch to get things going we need…. A Combichrist Marilyn Manson NIN let the bodies hit the floor Metallica blasting close quarters crowd cramping blasting music non comedic act smacking bone crushing use of building fervor and passion type of environment that lets students alumni and fans go away that night ready to eat steal and crack some skulls for the next day supporting ND the way they have the last 7 years isn’t bleeding blue and gold thats putting kiss your booboo on the forehead with a snoopy band aid cut on the skin!!! Take it back to the indoors like the pineapple bowl or Joyce pack them in a disorganized fashion and our band up in your face and make some noise folks crowd. Diplomatic and politically correct spiritualism is killing how Irish fans should be. PS I love little ND kids like the rest of them but please keep them away from pep rallies it makes everyone too nice ok this is for grown ups and teens just so we shout and scream without frightening the kids ok common sense folks!? Kelly and the coaches will do the rest for the boys to make them awesome but we should at least control what we control or not control in our case to produce a new culture of a mean death machine buzzing fanbase that no one monkey’s with our souls will still be intact after the game though how we are during the game may scare our opponents to death and put them in dread when the clock hits zero then we stop and then go to confession at Church and shake the hands of our enemy afterwards but have some passion Irish please don’t be afraid to let it show. Empty sections in the student body make me puke thats poor student body attitude starting from leadership positions all the way down… time to change student body now I know there are some true passion zealot hounds in the student body and if your fellow students fear you then really you should be leading them at games into an uncontrolled fervor then its time for you to take control of your dorm halls pep committees and institute our brand of ND insanity and old school Irish passion. Good on Coach Kelly for kicking out the media and no thats not sarcasm I am all for post pratcice media conferences but no access at practice telegraphing to other teams one reason why the Irish get in such close games and lose the other team knows whats coming also ….well no more advantage there baby. Oh one last item for game day at home or on the road institute the Irish Mighty Warriors fans program The team gets a pep speech from very special ND fans military vets with missing limbs children with cancer who may be dying or other very sick kids there is no better last minute inspiration before kickoff from warrriors who bleed blue and gold and have challenges they if you can’t win one for the Gip then win one for them Irish know you fight for them when they can’t be more than you think you can be and make us proud. Well I feel better after that rant Go Irish!!!!!!

  5. lmcm - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    Absolutely agree. This needs to be the year that Notre Dame beats USC. This will mean that this team has finally learned how to win. USC will be going into the game with the ingrained attitude that Notre Dame cannot beat them. A win will change the paradigm of SC thinking that ND simply can’t beat them. Thirteen years it took for SC to finally beat ND. ND is not at this stage yet, but another loss would foster a “We can’t beat them” mantra that would be anathema.

  6. Rocko - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Clearly, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ got you to your pension.

  7. goldendmr75 - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:46 AM

    Great win for a team that badly needed it. But anyone else concerned about the amount of dropped passes or the fact that Christ seems to have trouble when he throws to his left?

  8. Steve - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    you have to be kidding me. if we asked the players “would you rather get yelled at and win a championship or have coach hug you when you make a mistake?” what do you think they would say? this is football, not girlscouts.

  9. ljmcm - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    We were blocked out of this game, Mike, so I was not able to see what you were talking about, but I have seen it before from him. This is not a good sign of things to come. While I never thought much of the previous coach I did respect how he reacted to a bad play from a player or bad call. He, I do not remember ever berated a player in front of the camera. But I would hope it would be discussed later. A look from a player’s coach should be enough said. Sometimes just grabbing a player by the shoulders, looking into their eyes and saying we’ll talk about this later is enough. But never berate a man in front of his peers and belittle him. Coach Kelly would be better off taking names and commenting off camera.

  10. al - Oct 3, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Hey Mike you must have really liked the last 8 years of Notre Dame football. This type of talk and accountability at the point of failed execution is exactly what the last 2 coaches neglected. It is a large part of the reason their teams failed to improve as the year progressed.

  11. jj - Oct 3, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    The posters that disagree with Mike’s comments were not paying attention. They were not only not paying attention to Mike, they also haven’t noticed that a culture of losing has evolved at ND whose origins go back to the Willingham regime. IMHO, that’s where the real challenge lies when criticizing impressionable young athletes. While it may be true that to build a man up you first have to break him down, it’s vital to understand the individual/team psyche. Otherwise, you run the risk of having to wait until the players suffering from Weiss-itis matriculate before your philosophy can be rooted in the new, untarnished recruits. Kelly is faced with the dual challenge of not only developing football players, but also deconstructing a losing mindset. Let’s hope there are quick ways to do this in order to avoid the more circuitous route. There are two paths to wisdom – enlightenment and fatigue.

  12. nmark - Oct 3, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Kelly’s style seems to have served him well in the past though.

  13. Fitz - Oct 3, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    I love Kelly’s fiery Irish temper! It’s a welcome sight after so many years of the emotionless dud Chalie on the sideline. I think Kelly has the passion and know-how to take us back to greatness!

  14. Chris - Oct 3, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Boston College is so unbelieveably untalented that I have a hard time believing Western Michigan, Tulsa and Army won’t give Notre Dame a better fight than that. At no point was Notre Dame ever seriously threatened. The only reason Boston College got within 8 was because of two Notre Dame fumbles, and all the Eagles got was 6 points off of them. Notre Dame quickly got another field goal to extend it to 11, and it was never a game again.
    Did Jeff Jagodzinski recruit? This was not the same team that beat Notre Dame 6 out of the last 7 meetings, not even close. This Boston College team has no talent whatsoever. Boston College typically has a nice little football team that can win 8 games, but I can’t believe they entered this one 2-1. All Notre Dame had to do was show up and they won by 18. This wasn’t even close to a clean, crisp performance from Notre Dame and yet they still weren’t threatened.
    The biggest thing holding this offense down is Dayne Crist’s inaccuracy. He does not make the routine throws routinely, and that is what is slowing this offense down. This offense has certain ball-control throws in it that are designed to keep the offense in short down-and-distance situations, but Crist misses too many of these easy throws, putting them back in 2nd and 10 rather than 2nd and 4. If he would just make the routine plays in this offense, it would be about unstoppable. Notre Dame has some drives where they look really good, and that can happen more often if he would quit firing rockets behind receivers on slip screens, or throwing quick hitches in the dirt.
    I would also love to know what his completion percentage is when throwing to his left. I’m probably exaggerating, but it feels like 30%. He is sometimes wildly inaccurate when throwing to his left, which is unacceptable for someone with as much talent as Crist has. Crist probably has more natural talent than Clausen, but his accuracy isn’t even close. I think we all took Clausen’s automatic accuracy for granted.

  15. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    MY GOD, What kind of world do we live in that we can’t yell at college football player’s on the sideline for fear of hurting ego’s and feeling’s! This is the same lackadaisical attitude that has transformed our society into a me first, you all owe me attitude, in my opinion Kelly has every rite to do whatever he wants with these kids in order to not only transform them into better players but also more productive members of our society!! The world is not a nice place why should he sugarcoat everything just to make you pansies happy!!!!! P.S. I Don’t care who ya sleep with as long as ya leave me alone so I’ll take back the terrible unthoughtful comment I made earlier about “DON’T ASK DON’T TELL”…… wouldn’t want to make someone cry!!

  16. Irish Fan - Oct 3, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    Wow!! What a great win over BC!!!
    The season could turn on this game.
    If we would all stop playing with ourselves, we could go undefeated for the rest of the season.
    Go Irish!!!

  17. jj - Oct 3, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    It’s clear you are the product of a ‘Great Santini’ household and can’t fathom a different approach to getting the most out of someone other than berating and belittling. If that is how you’ve become a productive member of society, then it’s no wonder society is in the shape it’s in. I’m quite sure all the correction you’ve received in your life has served you well… how else could you have arrived at your mantra: the world is not a nice place. It might do you good to have a nice cry for all the hugs you didn’t get.

  18. jnj nj - Oct 3, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    The team continues to make boneheaded plays and the frustration just explodes from Kelly when they get to the sidelines. So you have that and the crowd noise and Kelly just has to yell to be heard.
    Think he can’t give Crist a pass while chewing out everyone else–treats everyone the same.
    These guys need all the criticism they receive. If BC had a QB outcome could very well have been -4.

  19. orrsra - Oct 3, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    If the Irish could just put four quarters together as they did in the first against BC, this team might win. I saw more emotion from Coach this game and even Crist had an emotion or two. The problem is that games are 4 quarters not one, so they need to get that killer instinct mojo for four quarters every game. Why is it when ND gets ahead they seem to rest on their laurels. Coach kick more ass this week and KILL PITT, I mean destroy them, show no mercy get the offense moving 100% of the time. Stick a boot up Crist’s ass and lets win all the remaining games, so we can go to a BOWL GAME not the TOILET BOWL. Coach’s mom showed some spunk on the sidelines, maybe it will be contagious. GO IRISH

  20. Fenian Fox - Oct 3, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    A couple thoughts on Mike’s comments (from another career military ND grad – there is no shortage of us).
    Coach Kelly has probably never had extensive TV coverage of his sideline activity before, definitely not to the extent he has had at ND, and not by a coverage crew interested in making a point about his style. This raises the questions of whether Coach Kelly perceives his approach as “public humiliation.” In the past, it probably wasn’t very public – this may be something that Coach needs to grow into.
    The most important aspect of ones style might be consistency. If coach is consistent, which he seems to be, his approach is much less personal, rather it is general. There is a known stimulus response for making mistakes – if you make a mistake (perhaps one that you were trained to avoid), you will receive instant fire and forget feedback.
    I think his success will ultimately depend on buy in from the players, as TLNDMA suggested. If his players recognize his style as a means to an end to success, it will probably work. He has succeeded in the past and appears driven by the desire to succeed as a team, so I think that there are a lot of reasons to buy in.
    Personally, I think you are doing the players greater service with an aggressive style that gives them the tools they need to succeed then by not holding them accountable, but I am a SOB submariner and have little fear of loud voices in manly pursuits. It is completely inappropriate to question Mike’s sexuality, but I would be interested (sincerely, not sneeringly) in his proximity to line/combat billets. I have let go some tirades that make Kelly look like the Mother Theresa singing silent night – you never feel good about it, but sometimes it seems necessary and appropriate to the mission at hand. DBF.

  21. orrsra - Oct 3, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    I taught and coached at the High School level for 32 years. I would yell at my players to “grab your ears” when they goofed up, it meant grab your ears and pull your head out of your ass. The kids knew what the comment meant and they also knew that once said, it was over. I praised them when they did well. I do not know what branch of service you were in, but it wasn’t any of ours, maybe it was the French Army. Get real. A good coach will get in your face and you know it was a learning experience. If the coach was angry at you enough, you would be sitting on the bench. I have seen excessive yelling at all levels Little League up, but I have not seen excessive yelling out of Coach. I think he should be more in your face.

  22. greg - Oct 3, 2010 at 3:34 PM

    I think ESPN did this on purpose to make Kelly and the Irish look bad. Do we see these type replays on NBC? No. Kelly is an emotional guy and people handle it differently. Typical ESPN !!!!! At least he is coaching.

  23. Dick - Oct 3, 2010 at 4:15 PM

    You must have served in the boy scouts if you think Coache’s comments were abusive.
    Dial up Crist’s interview after the game and see if that doesnt change the color of your glasses.
    If ND wants to get back to a BCS contender annually then those players who are not cutting it are going to have Coach in their face daily.
    Go IRISH

  24. ODog - Oct 3, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    While I generally agree that HSmith typically makes boneheaded plays, it’s hard to tell what the coverage was on that play. At the speed that he was creeping up to the underneath, it looked as though he wasn’t expected to cover the deep on that play – maybe the opposite safety was supposed to roll over and cover deep on that side – I don’t know. Bottom line is someone blew it badly and we can’t keep letting those mental mistakes happen.

  25. JD67 - Oct 3, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    On more than one post there was the comment: when I hear the players complain (about verbal abuse) then I will worry. Players never complain in public about a coach, regardless of what they may think about the coach. Did you ever hear of a player complaining about Charles Weis? Therefore a lack of public complaints means nothing. Different players respond to different approaches. Kelly needs to know which players respond best to harsh verbal comments and which don’t, and then not treat all players the same.

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