SOUTH BEND, Ind. — To say Notre Dame beat Boston College by 33 points Saturday does not do the blowout justice. Once the No. 16 Irish forgot about any Senior Day emotions and remembered the November roll they have been on, a 16-7 halftime lead ballooned to 33-7 in the third quarter before easing to a 40-7 final.
If Notre Dame (9-2) had finished its early drives with the same steadiness it found in that third quarter, it could have scored 50 or 60. At no point did the Eagles (5-6) slow down the Irish, and only once did they find offensive success, on a 39-yard pass to the one-yard line in the second quarter. Otherwise, only false starts, dropped passes and sloppy execution troubled Notre Dame.
“We were a little uneven early on and credit a little bit to Boston College,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “… I was happy with the offense (at halftime) and its ability to take a deep breath after being a bit uneven and starting to execute at the level that they’re capable of.
“Defensively, other than the explosive play, do not give up an explosive play. If they do not have an explosive play, they cannot beat us. They flat out can’t beat us.”
Kelly’s halftime logic was sound. Notre Dame had come within one yard of doubling the Eagles’ output, 253 to 127. It had 16 first downs to their seven, and gotten inside the Boston College 30-yard line a total of four times. While the Irish scored on each of those drives, three of them came via junior kicker Jonathan Doerer’s leg.
The third quarter began with another Doerer kick, but after that, senior quarterback Ian Book took over. He had already connected with senior receiver Chase Claypool for a touchdown. Next up was junior tight end Cole Kmet. Book added a score for fifth-year receiver Chris Finke in the fourth quarter. None of those touchdown catches were particularly impressive, but in Claypool’s and Finke’s last game in Notre Dame Stadium, they stood out as worthy Senior Day moments.
“Really today all I can think about is Chase’s slant touchdown and Chris’ scramble touchdown,” said sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy, more focused on discussing those than his own 61-yard touchdown run. “That makes me so happy. Then [senior walk-on receiver Aaron Shinaver] got on the field.
“When I think of the game, that’s super cool, to see all the seniors do what they love.”
The defensive seniors had their own moments to do what they love. Senior defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji each forced a fumble, Ogundeji finishing with three tackles for loss, including two sacks. (He has another year of eligibility; same with Book.) Fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal received the game ball after leading the Irish with eight tackles. Senior safety Alohi Gilman had seven tackles, including the first sack of his career. Perhaps the only misplay by the seniors Saturday was when the fumble forced by Ogundeji bounced off fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford’s arm. Considering it was the same elbow he dislocated earlier this season, it is hard to fault Crawford in the slightest, though he demonstrably did himself immediately afterward.
“When you look at those [seniors], you look at the way they started their college careers, a 4-8 season their freshman year, they battled back to, hopefully, three 10-win seasons,” junior linebacker Drew White said. “The seniors have done so much for this program.”
The final thing they did at Notre Dame was to hold one of the best rushing attacks in the country, featuring one of the best running backs in recent history in junior AJ Dillion, to only 128 yards on 43 carries, a 3.0 yards per attempt average. The Eagles gained a total of 191 yards.
Comparing that 191 to the Irish 501 better illustrates the magnitude of the blowout than a 40-7 scoreboard.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The confidence at halftime belies how easily Notre Dame could have been in worse position. Without Doerer proving reliable this season — 12-of-14 this year — the 16-7 lead would have been much more tenuous.
“Jon Doerer was outstanding during that period of time when we were a little uneven where he kicked field goals and kept us ahead of would have been momentum swings,” Kelly said. “Those were big kicks for us.”
The Irish likely would have won regardless; the yardage differential and plus-two turnover margin suggest complete control of the game. But missed field goals leading to bound nerves could have produced a different mood in the decisive third quarter.
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
When Kareem knocked the ball away from Boston College junior quarterback Dennis Grosel — praised in recent weeks for avoiding costly mistakes, that was Grosel’s second fumble of the day and he would add an interception — White did not have to work hard to recover it. It set up Notre Dame at the Eagles’ 40-yard line.
With only a 19-7 lead, the Irish had not yet put the outcome beyond doubt, but the ensuing drive showed how smoothly things would be moving forward, and should have been all along. Five of the six plays gained at least six yards, the only one failing to do so an incompletion. Somehow Boston College forgot to cover Kmet, making Book’s touchdown toss not only obvious but easy.
“We were just converting,” Kmet said. “Converting third downs, making more plays, keeping drives going. That was a big deal, making big plays when we needed to.”
PLAY OF THE GAME
Lenzy saw Finke return a punt to the 39-yard line and he had a feeling what the first offensive play call would be. To hear him say it, he looked at offensive coordinator Chip Long and he was sure: The ball would be coming to him.
It did, and as he came around the edge, Lenzy’s eyes opened wide as a pair of Eagles defenders misplayed their assignments. The path ahead of him was so open Lenzy compared it to a parted Red Sea. Neither pulling tight end needed to even bother with a block. Lenzy was gone.
Well, close to gone.
Boston College junior safety Brandon Sebastian managed to track down the former track star as he reached the goal line. He might have forced a fumble if not for the Notre Dame Stadium crowd.
“I was running, I was kind of tired,” Lenzy said. “I heard the crowd going, ‘Ooooooooh.’ Then I just held the ball tighter. Right when they did that, I felt him and then I fell into the end zone, so it worked out.”
STAT OF THE GAME
Only Clemson has held the Eagles to fewer rushing yards than the Irish did Saturday. Excluding that game, Boston College entered Notre Dame Stadium averaging 321 rushing yards per game.
Then came 128 against the Irish.
The last time Dillon rushed for as few as 56 yards was last season against Clemson’s NFL-caliber defensive line. Before that? The sixth game of his collegiate career back in 2017.
“You’ve got guys that are accountable, that trust what we’re doing, that do their job,” Kelly said. “They have done it in a fashion that has allowed us to now in back-to-back weeks shut down the No. 1 ranked rush offense and the No. 5, I think, ranked rush offense.”
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“I’m going to recruit him. I want him back.” — Kelly on Book.
Book diplomatically said, “We’ll see,” when asked if he will return for a fifth season in 2020. That was the appropriate answer, considering there are two games left, draft evaluations to receive, and broken promises lead to spurned irrational fan bases.
11:11 — Notre Dame field goal. Jonathan Doerer 47 yards. Notre Dame 3, Boston College 0. (9 plays, 50 yards, 3:49)
14:52 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 29 yards. Notre Dame 6, Boston College 0. (12 plays, 61 yards, 4:45)
7:56 — Boston College touchdown. Dennis Grosel 1-yard rush. Aaron Boumerhi PAT good. Boston College 7, Notre Dame 6. (16 plays, 84 yards, 6:52)
2:48 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 6-yard pass from Ian Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 13, Boston College 7. (15 plays, 75 yards, 5:08)
0:01 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 45 yards. Notre Dame 16, Boston College 7. (7 plays, 56 yards, 1:17)
7:03 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 37 yards. Notre Dame 19, Boston College 7. (7 plays, 27 yards, 1:58)
3:44 — Notre Dame touchdown. Cole Kmet 11-yard pass from Book. Notre Dame 26, Boston College 7. (6 plays, 40 yards, 1:56)
1:44 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 61-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 33, Boston College 7. (1 play, 61 yards, 0:11)
11:31 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Finke 6-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 40, Boston College 7. (3 plays, 12 yards, 0:38)