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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. Pepe - Oct 3, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    Looking at the video of the players locker room celebration after BC game leads me to believe that there is something more to Kelly than the side line yelling. What I empathized with was Kelly showing frustation and letting the few know that ND is not going to lose because you don’t do what you’ve been trained to do.

  2. tjak - Oct 3, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    Mike, get a life. Kelly is a great teacher and you are misreading the convos between Kelly and Crist.

  3. borromini - Oct 3, 2010 at 6:22 PM

    No problem here with Kelly getting after his players on the sidelines. Kelly’s handling players that got used to a “soft” coaching staff for 5 years. Kelly is handing things they way he has for 20 years…I personally don’t think that the rhetorical questions are denigrating to the players. Keep up the work and pressure Kelly! Go Irish!

  4. Joe - Oct 3, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    If you are a big Coach Kelly fan perhaps you should look a little deeper for why he is in the players face. He is quite clear about what he is doing. Here is a quote from today’s teleconference, “In every situation when I am talking to a player, I am clearly articulating why I’m talking to him about a particular situation, and demanding that intensity and that mental and physical toughness that our team has quite frankly lacked. That’s what we’re building. Job 1 is physical and mental toughness with this football team.”
    The players appreciate being told about mistakes because this is how they get better. Dayne Crist and Manti Teo among others say they would rather be told during the game about mistakes so they do not make them again. As Crist says we do not take it personally because we want to win and the way to win is getting better.
    As for if Coach Kelly is not accustomed to such close scrutiny, I doubt he will change because he has a system and he wants to win. I hope he does not change because we have all waited long enough for this. The last time I recall an ND coach getting into a players face was Lou Holtz. God please let us have the same success.
    Do you think a player would rather keep making mistakes and lose games or have a coach that cares and tells them how to be better and win? I doubt there is any question which they prefer. GO IRISH!!!

  5. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    You call what he did “BELITTLING”? My my my, like I posted earlier it is a shame we can’t let our kids be raised with ‘TOUGH’ love instead of the coddling nature you obviously were raised with! There is a time for everything and I’m sure BK knows when and when not along with who he can push in certain ways!!! For PRIME example BK gave it to Turk just like most of us did in our living rooms, what came of that? NOTHING BUT GREATER EFFORT WITH HIS PUNTING! As far as I’m concerned he needs to lay it on harder and it tickles me pink watching him get that fired up and gettin in the guys grill!! I applaud you BRIAN KELLY for what you are turning our FIGHTING IRISH into “MEN”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO IRISH!!!! And by the way for those of you who don’t like it there are sports for you too as posted earlier!! THIS IS FOOTBALL

  6. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 7:59 PM

    Yes yes yes!!!!!!!!!!! I most definitely agree and we all need to let these pansies know that we won’t have them ruining ALL of our success because they want to watch cheerleading out of our coaches! Weis for the most part never had the fire and we see how that worked out!!

  7. kevhurls - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:02 PM

    - and there’s no crying in football!

  8. DomerHead - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:04 PM

    Are you kidding me!? This is EXACTLY what this team needs! Somebody to get it their face and say, look here %$#@ face, you were brought to ND, one of the most prestigious schools in the country, to kick some @$$! Wake the %$#@ up and get it right like you do in practice everyday during the week. BK then goes and confess’s on Sunday and all is good in the Catholic world. Have you ever played football on a team that was any good? This is common practice for any decent football coach, especially with players that are not performing to their potential on a consistent basis. Keep up the yelling BK, just please don’t drive yourself into the grave in doing so.

  9. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 8:20 PM

    By the way ya I just read what I wrote again and I’m not understanding what all the hoopla is about? Politically correct or not it is my opinion and this is a blog so you can hate me all ya want as long as ya stop breeding “SOFTNESS” And to JJ I am very happy for you and your upbringing at “The Little House on the Prairie” But you are absolutely rite with my attitude and I live in the “REAL” world and It’s rough out here “Dog eat Dog world” and I’m surviving as best I can, maybe I needed a little MORE of that yelling it may have better prepared me for REALITY!!!

  10. Joe - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:10 PM

    When I was in Vietnam where I was in the field only two weeks before I was made a clerk because I could actually type,(and had a BA), a First Lieutenant chewed me out royally for using profanity on a land line in his presence (profanity forbidden on military land lines). He got my attention and my gratitude because he was trying to correct me. He had the best squad in the Company and his men loved him. And he never held back. Great guy.

  11. ErikJan12 - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    Great win for our team but the main problem with this team is Harrison Smith. I would rather see one of the coners moved to safety instead of him. He’s a poor tackler and he falls for the play action everytime! On the offense we can con’t to run our no haddle but how about putting the QB under center with Allen & Woods in the backfield with Floyd, Riddick, Kyle spread out. Just more of a running attack to open up the passing game.

  12. TLNDMA - Oct 3, 2010 at 9:47 PM

    Understood. I didn’t mean to oversimplify things. I think these kids are all in with Kelly.

  13. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 3, 2010 at 10:27 PM

    Touche`

  14. T.C.. Couhig - Oct 3, 2010 at 11:48 PM

    Constant berating is not the way to go, but like anything, there is balance needed. Television coverage shows the immediate reaction of the coach to good and bad plays. As a former football player, I can tell you that the reactions that really stick is what kind of feedback you get in the film room when you break down the game you just played. That is where your successes and failures are laid out for your entire peer group, the team, to see. When coaches berate a player here, it can destroy a player, and it almost never helps. But on the field, I never gave a second thought to an emotional outburst from a coach, other than to be reassured that he was as invested in the outcome as we the players were.
    Another point. 20 year olds that likely come from a career of “that’s O.K., you’re the star, don’t worry about the mistake you made” or worse yet, such phenomenal talent that they never had to face what they are facing at ND: every game is being played against talented, good football players.
    This calls for the coaching staff to hone the player’s mental focus. That is usually the area of the game that seperates the winners from the losers in games agains the Michigans and Stanfords of this college football season. One blown assignment, and Robinson runs for a touch, or there is a sack or turnover. More than a couple of those errors, and you’re going to lose. I notice that Kelly really loses it when the mental errors are made, and that is something that can be rectified regardless of talent. It just takes discipline, something that Kelly seems to be bringing to the program.

  15. indy - Oct 4, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    You are retired military, yet you think the verbal abuse that Kelly gives the Irish players is too much? The military when you were probably in was not only verbal but also physical. You were taught discipline, respect and how to follow orders without a thought of doubt. I know, ex-military myself. Kelly is a pussycat compared to my two drill instructors.
    Some of the greatest coaches in the history of sports were always fired up and very vocal towards their players…good and bad. Lou Holtz to name one but boy I can’t think of an Irish coach that was successful that didn’t jump his players. Look at the big winners and show me one that didn’t get fired up on the sidelines.
    I am very disappionted in the Irish being 2-3. In my opinion they were good enough to be 4-1 right now. Their only lose should have been to Stanford because they are a better team. I will say this, their 3 loses were all to Top 25 teams. Only Standford has a loss and that was to Oregon which no one can dispute is a darn good team. The Irish should have beat Michigan and Michigan State. They were the better team. They will get on track and hopefully prove that while they may not be elite yet, they are on the right path.

  16. BigDimmy73 - Oct 4, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    A. Name of BK’s mentor …. also, is there somebody he is emulating with his sideline bluster. Lombardi, Bryant, Ara, Wally Butts, Earl Bruce, Woody, Paul Brown …. ??
    B. If you go ballistical on every muffed play, it loses impact. Tiresome.
    C. Hey Coach: didja ever think maybe the opponent made a spectacular play, and that is what stymied our guy ??!?
    D. Verbally abusive little pissant bully-punk ….. BK needs to look in the miror for the flaws of his team. Ara went 9-1 his first year at ND. BK will surely fall short of that mark. No excuse, BK. Coach the boys. Time to steer the ship, Coach !!

  17. Irish Fan - Oct 4, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    Thank God for the win at BC!!!
    Maybe now the priests will spend more time watching ND Football and less time molesting young children.
    Go Irish….It’s good for the children

  18. acciswack - Oct 4, 2010 at 11:37 AM

    Hey bossman. appreciate the day off. howd u do with ur picks? u need to look at this thing my neighbor came across the other day. http://sportscomplainer.com . its like the drudge thing u like but sports. ok cu tom sir.

  19. olemantj - Oct 4, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    next thing you’ll want is for the team to wear dresses.
    watch the nfl. sounds like it’s more your type of game when protecting the quarterback.

  20. Big Irish Fan - Oct 4, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    Don’t be overly optomistic.
    The priests will just watch the ND Game while they molest the children.

  21. DomerHead - Oct 4, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    You’re name says it all! If you go back and watch the game on ESPN 3 replay you will see his yelling is justified. Missed assignments, turnovers, flubbed punts, etc. are all things that, in my mind, justify this sort of reaction. Do not feel bad for the players. I played football from pop warner through high school and all of my coaches yelled at us. Shoot, even my soccer coaches yelled. Its the nature of a competitive personality and if you don’t like it then football may not be for you.

  22. Liam - Oct 4, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    Whoever wrote this comment made a good point. As a former military officer and now a teacher and a high school coach myself, the comment from Mike resonated with me and made me reflect upon the way I speak to my athletes. In today’s day, we as coaches all avoid using expletives, but tone is something we can all work on. Mike’s comment was a useful one for any coach.
    He should write a letter to Coach Kelly, who may find the critical feedback useful.

  23. irishfanintx - Oct 4, 2010 at 6:47 PM

    Check out some of the clips of Bill Cower on the sidelines…even more demonstrative than Kelly but his players loved him. At this stage in their careers I believe most players are used to being yelled at a little.

  24. RollingDomer - Oct 4, 2010 at 7:08 PM

    Hey DomerHead (you wish): Ya might want to repete another few years of remedial grammar — “you’re name” is an exzample of you’re mastery of the finer points of jr. high English, i take it. Father Ted would be so proud.
    ……………….
    Guy told me BK has a mysterious habit of only getting in the face of ND players of ONE certain ethnic backgound.
    Very serious charge. BK only picks on his own kind??!? I’ll have to look into that. Racist? We shall see.
    ………………………………………
    Watch a few coaches. OK, Lombardi screamed at Bart Starr. How did that work out? Take a look at Stoops, Meyer, Sweet Lou,
    Spurrier, Bill Walsh, Mack Brown, Frank Kush, the Boise State guy, the old guy at Pen State, heck, even Dave Wannshtedt.
    Maybe the choice of play was stupid, Mr. Coach. When you scream at a player, you are saying,
    DANG! I trained the entire team,
    I trained YOU perfectly,
    I gave you THE perfect play for the situation,
    and you failed to EXECUTE. You blew it. YOU !!
    It’s all on YOU! You 19-year-old moron.
    What the hell do you mean, failing to execute to perfection the brilliant plays i select for you ??!?
    Brooks Robinson used to make errors at 3rd base. Did Earl Weaver scream at him for such obvious failures?
    Face it fellas. BK = pompous posturing prick.

  25. DomerHead - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:53 AM

    First off, I apologize for making such a moronic grammatical error such as the one you pointed out. Honestly, I am a stickler when it comes to TYPOS. That being said, I will leave the English lessons to you and stick with my expertise in programming and architecture design.
    Intellect aside, are you kidding me!? BK is a racist now? Wow, I don’t even know how to respond to a statement as ignorant as that…
    I still firmly support the way he is handling himself as a college football coach and wish him and this team the best. We have had soft coaches for far too long now and we all know how that worked out. Don’t feel bad for the players, they have been subjected to it before. Anybody who thinks otherwise has either not played football or is just trying to stir up controversy at this point.
    GO IRISH!! Roll off a cliff RollingDomer

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