It never felt good. But late in the game Notre Dame was driving and ready to put a touchdown on the board for the cover and a reasonable final scoreboard finish. Then, the Irish slept through a few minutes of football and scraped past Boston College. Let's discuss.
Play-Call of the Game: Kizer 33-yard Pass to Carlisle
I chose this play for a number of reasons. First being, this was a game where Boston College paid minimal attention to Notre Dame's slot receivers in favor of playing aggressive and keeping linebackers closer to the box. It was evident early on that if the Irish were going to move the ball consistently they'd have to exploit this and that's exactly what happened as Amir Carlise had a career-high 97 yards and tied his career high with 7 receptions.
I also like the quick but effective play-action fake which completely sucks in linebacker Steven Daniels who began in poor position to cover Carlisle at the snap anyway. Thirdly, Kizer delivers a decisive and accurate ball that allows the receiver to pick up plenty of yards-after-catch in a wide open field.
Let's talk about the good first. Kizer had a nice day running the ball. Nothing too memorable but he finished with 33 rushing yards on 7 carries (his fewest carries since Georgia Tech) and was dropped behind the line only once. Against a team that produces so many negative rushing plays Kizer did well pushing the ball forward.
In our preview I mentioned that if Kizer was able to be around 8 YPA, 250 yards, and 2 touchdowns it'd be enough for the Irish to win. Well, he finished with 8.4 YPA, a very productive 320 passing yards on 20 completions, and 2 scores. Without looking at other aspects of his play this is very good production against a stingy Boston College defense.
Still, even counting some bad drops from the Irish receivers Kizer spent a good chunk of this game really struggling with his accuracy. A handful of throws to open receivers were either too far in front or more often too far behind. Additionally, while it's fair to put Fuller's would-be touchdown drop late in the game on the receiver that's still a ball that needed to be thrown harder or earlier and leading the wideout for a touchdown. Instead, Fuller is forced to slow down and use his body instead of extending his hands to catch it.
Disaster clearly struck as Kizer had his second multi-interception game and his first with 3 picks. I don't put his third interception on him as I don't think that's a great play-call in the situation attempting a screen to the short side of the field with little space to operate from the 6-yard line against an active front seven.
However, his other 2 interceptions were about as bad as it gets and he was lucky to avoid a 4th that was plainly dropped by an Eagle defender. Rightfully so, this absolutely colored Kizer's and the offenses performance. Along with the fumbles it allowed a very comfortable win, and maybe even a laugher, to turn into an embarrassingly close game at the end.
Turning Point: Kizer 12-yard Touchdown Pass to Brown
Notre Dame tried its best to prove me wrong, that's for sure. I was certain a lead of over 10 points with just over 16 minutes left to play would be far too much for Boston College to overcome with their anemic offense.
In the end, it took some shenanigans and more mental errors from the Irish to make it a tight game late in the 4th quarter but this effectively turned the tide in the second half. By this point you got the sense Notre Dame just needed another touchdown to finish the Eagles off.
Surprising Stat: 0 Sacks by Boston College
The Eagles came into the game averaging nearly 9 tackles for loss per game and 3 sacks per game. Against Notre Dame they totaled 8 TFL (for a season-low 19 yards) and did not notch a sack.
It'll get lost amidst the turnovers but the Irish did a really good job of not getting into huge holes on offense against one of the country's top defenses. On first down Notre Dame rushed for 110 yards on 21 carries for a healthy 5.2 average. Kizer's first interception did come on first down but he finished 7 of 12 for 106 yards on 1st down which was good production, as well.
Unheralded Star: Amir Carlisle
Carlisle has been such an interesting player to me. He's never lacked toughness but he's always struggled in open field situations our top play-call above where a slot receiver should excel. In a perfect world, Amir plants his left foot and forces the safety to miss the tackle, perhaps even taking this all the way for a touchdown. Instead, he lowers his head, decelerates, and kind of allows the safety to tackle him, nearly losing another fumble in the process.
That being said, we've quietly been getting quality production out of the slot position this year. Carlisle and Hunter have combined for 51 receptions, 615 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Missed Opportunity: Fuller's Last Drop
Despite all of the turnovers which were massive missed opportunities in their own right the Irish had the opportunity to score a touchdown with just over 4 minutes left and finish the game with a 26-9 victory. That would have been right around my prediction (23-9, FWIW), the Irish would have covered the spread, and the narrative afterward would have been much closer to "Boy those turnovers were frustrating and prevented a blowout but we still took care of business and won rather easily."
Instead, Kizer over-shot a third down pass in the flat to Hunter on the next snap, the Irish punt from mid-field, and then allow the Eagles to drive down the field for a touchdown to make the game far closer than it should have been.
Flag of the Game: Roughing Yoon
This was an early but major impact flag that took the wind out of Boston College's sails. It was late in the 1st quarter and the Eagles had held Notre Dame out of the end zone thus far. The Irish had already lost two turnovers and Yoon was attempting a long-ish field goal from 44-yards which he ended up clanking off the upright and missing.
Following the penalty, the Irish scored their first touchdown 2 plays later and took a 10-0 lead that kept Boston College chasing all night.
Red Zone TD Success: 28.5%
Notre Dame had a season-high 7 opportunities in the red zone and only scored 2 touchdowns. Way to blow up this stat after punching in the the last 6 opportunities over the prior 2 weeks. For the history books:
- Kizer INT in the end zone from the 7-yard line
- Settled for a FG from the 13-yard line
- Touchdown pass to Carlisle from the 10-yard line
- Adams fumble from the 1-yard line
- Kizer tipped interception from the 6-yard line
- Touchdown pass to Brown from the 12-yard line
- Settled for a FG from the 18-yard line
I thought the Adams fumble on the whole was the worst of the bunch from a mental standpoint. Boston College had just gifted a fumbled punt return at their own 4-yard line, and instead of the Irish going up 17-0 and possibly beginning to start a blowout, the game eventually becomes a one-score contest early in the 2nd half.
Putting up 7 touchdowns in this game was probably too much to ask against this tough Eagles defense but in the end the Irish left 30(!!!) points on the field in the red zone when you factor in the missed PAT.
Schemes n Such
I thought this was a very well planned game by the Irish staff. Upon reflection I was trying to think of examples where Boston College put us in bad positions or we really didn't put our offense in a position to succeed and I couldn't come up with much. Notre Dame's 6.21 YPP and 447 total yards were the 2nd most given up by Boston College by a wide margin. For the most part, the Irish stayed on schedule, had little problems moving the ball, and had the opportunity to score 30+ points which would have been at least double the Eagles' season average.
These turnover-heavy + quality production games are always really interesting to review. I think there's a tendency to ignore the production or find a correlation between being playing too loose with the ball (turnovers) which should downplay the amount of yards piled up. Other times, there's a tendency to just look at the scoreboard and say that's the be-all-end-all talking point.
I'm not sure this is entirely fair. Had the Irish offense been bogged down but didn't turn the ball over no one is saying, "Hey, we played tough and did a good job protecting the football."
This isn't to say that turnovers don't matter--clearly turnovers matter a ton. It's just I don't know how much we can go back and wish the staff had done x, y, and z so that Kizer & Co. didn't cough it up 5 times. Sometimes bad stuff happens and I don't know how to quantify how or why these bulk turnover games keep occurring once in a while. Big picture we have 17 turnovers in 11 games and on a per-play basis we're among the most efficient offenses in the country.
Looking toward the Stanford game which part is vastly more important?
Quality performance from both lines. The O-line played up to expectations and gave Kizer plenty of time to throw the ball. Keeping Boston College off the stat sheet in sacks and quarterback hurries is impressive--although as we say the last stat is horribly kept and the Eagles did get into Kizer's face a couple times.
The run blocking was fine. At times not much was there but that was to be expected. Prosise was able to rip off a pair of long runs before leaving the game with an injured ankle and Adams was steady enough to run through holes and keep a balanced offense.
The story of this defensive front all year has been applying pressure but just not doing quite enough to turn in a dominant performance. There were opportunities for more negative plays where 6 TFL and 2 sacks really wasn't all that impressive against a dreadful offense. They still played well no doubt yet it wouldn't have been too much to ask for Notre Dame to pitch a shutout in this game because the front completely overwhelmed a hapless BC offense.
Alize Jones picked up another start at tight end and finished with 1 catch for 4 yards.
Te'von Coney, C.J. Sanders, Justin Yoon, Nick Coleman, Nicco Fertitta, Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Jerry Tillery were the other freshmen to see the field.
Coney saw some brief 1st-team snaps at weak-side linebacker early in the game when Jaylon Smith was shaken up after making a tackle. Sanders totaled 40 yards on special teams but dropped a couple punts and was replaced late by Will Fuller on BC's last punt. Yoon has hit his last 8 field goal and 25 PAT attempts. Adams finished with 39 yards on 13 carries, while Williams lone carry resulted in a loss of 2 yards.
Is the Notre Dame offense facing tougher defenses in the second half of the season? Are injuries and young players hitting a wall causing this side of the ball to come down from their early-season high? Perhaps it's a little of both? Four out of the last 6 teams have fielded Top 50 FEI defenses (before this week's re-ranking are released) which isn't all that suffocating but still tough grind.
A few weeks ago we were debating on our podcast if averaging 40 points per game was possible (we concluded swiftly no it was not) and since then the scoring has dipped. The Irish are now averaging 34.6 PPG and the rushing attack, which was among the country's most explosive at one point, needs 115 yards against Stanford to stay over 200 per game during the regular season. This was the 4th straight game the Irish stayed under 200 yards on the ground.
An underrated missed opportunity from this game came just a few plays after Fuller's dropped pass. On 1st down after Notre Dame punted from mid-field a Fadule pass went right through the arms of Jaylon Smith. Had he picked the ball off the Irish would have been right back near the red zone and able to have the opportunity for more points to seal the game.
Frustratingly, the Eagles still moved the ball for a touchdown even after a personal foul on 2nd down immediately after this near-interception by Jaylon. Giving up an 9-play drive for 86 yards at this point in the game was a black mark for a defense that, outside one dumb play of mental errors, had done a good job on the evening.
Chris Brown continues to excel as a senior. After singing his praises in our senior piece last week he came through with a clutch touchdown grab on Saturday, and believe it or not, totaled 100 yards receiving in a game for the first time in his career.
Do you ever feel like some day you're going to be watching a NFL game in the year 2018 and seeing this guy blow a two handed kiss to the crowd after a key special teams play? Farley has me thinking about things like that.
Later in the week I'm going to have an analysis on the Notre Dame defenses' run stopping ability and the relationship between stopping the running back, quarterback, and other ball-carriers. We've seen a pattern emerge for the Irish that might work out very well against Stanford or be their downfall in Palo Alto.
I'd imagine the biggest concern for everyone right now is that Notre Dame isn't playing like a playoff-caliber team, and ergo the Irish either aren't going to make the playoffs or don't deserve to make the playoffs. It's a difficult conversation to have because it lends itself to opinions on the extremes, which isn't unusual for passionate college football. In the big picture, trying to take a step back and look at this season and this Notre Dame team from a historical perspective, I would say this isn't a playoff-caliber team.
Offensively, it feels like reality is slowly beginning to hit us in the face. The linemen are dealing with ankle injuries, we're down to 2 true freshmen running backs, the tight end position has been average at best, and the passing game has been mostly solid but goes into a funk when Fuller is quiet. Don't get me wrong, we've done an amazing job playing the hand we're dealt but I'm not sure we're equipped to go beat 2 or 3 Top 10 teams in a row with this lineup.
Defensively, we are what we are and have been for most of the season. It's a solid unit with flashes of tremendous play but they haven't been able to take the next step. Now without Russell the issues in the secondary look scary and any matchup against a legit top quarterback would not be ideal. Against BC, everything was going to script and the Eagles looked hapless then you look up after the final whistle and they've gained 302 yards at 5.2 per play. We basically let an offense whose only decent play was "run around quarterback" do that much damage.
It's a different question as to whether Notre Dame can and should get in the playoffs. So far, we've earned the right to be right where we are in the rankings. This definitively looks like a down year for great teams and there's plenty of options for good teams to get in the playoff. Again, I try to take a step back and look at things from where I'd be mentally before watching this season unfold. My opinion has always been that a 11-1 Notre Dame team is not making a 4-team playoff unless our schedule was among the most difficult for the program in that decade or if there was an absurd amount of carnage throughout college football.
So mentally, I'm prepared not to make it in because there hasn't been enough carnage yet and the schedule--while getting a major boost from Navy and Temple with 19-3 combined records--is a little bit lacking with the epic collapse of Georgia Tech (they've lost 8 freaking games!), a sorry Texas team, and a forgettable 4-loss USC team at best. I'm not saying we won't get in, and I'll admit the odds now are much better than I ever would have believed, but there's still a better chance than not we won't make it in.
Two important things to watch on Tuesday night's playoff poll will be if Iowa and/or Oklahoma jump Notre Dame and just how far Stanford moves up and Oklahoma State moves down. I've mentioned it before that while the committee re-ranks and starts over every week it's going to be psychologically difficult to flip flop teams like Oklahoma and Notre Dame if both teams win this upcoming weekend. That's why Notre Dame moving up to No. 3 might be the only way to hang on. I know that's a very AP Poll way of looking at it but I believe it's the protection necessary against the Sooners if Iowa wins out and claims the Big Ten.
Who knows how they'll treat Iowa, who out of nowhere, is now one of two undefeated teams left in the country? Looking at their resume we both beat Pitt (although ND did so more soundly) who might move into the Top 25. Their blowout win over Northwestern (who are now 9-2) looks better but it came at the expense of Wisconsin who was the Hawkeyes' other ranked win coming into this week. So that's Northwestern, possibly Pitt, with Wisconsin falling out, and everyone else on their schedule is under .500 for the season.
Oklahoma may be the more dangerous team and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Sooners at No. 3, Notre Dame at No. 4, and Iowa stays put at No. 5 by the committee. From OU's schedule Tennessee and West Virginia will be heavily favored to get 8-wins, Texas Tech will be favored to win next weekend and finish 7-5, and we just won't know how much emphasis the committee will put on winning the Big 12 and beating Oklahoma State. If we're still ahead of the Sooners there's hope.
Dear friends let's not forget we've won 10 games already this season. Honestly, this is an awesome achievement and checks off several of the Rebuilding Notre Dame™ boxes that were absolutely necessary for the program to move forward in 2015 and beyond. I know on the surface it's easy to get caught up in dreams of a championship but deep down in my core I'm happy as a pig in you-know-what that we're 10-1 and in the Top 5 this late in the season. When I look at things this way all I really care about is beating Stanford--I'm not all that concerned with Notre Dame getting left out of the playoffs. The only thing that bothers me would be a situation where we could matchup with Iowa in the semi-finals and then be in an anything-can-happen situation in the National Title Game. I'd hate to miss out on that matchup and then have to score 45 points to beat Baylor in the Peach Bowl, or something. That'd be cruel.
I'm an unapologetic #WearGreen supporter and refuse to blame this game on the uniforms. At best, the green was the 5th or 6th reason why we were tempting fate for a season crushing loss and bad performance. While I like the annual alternate uniform I still contend as a total package these were in the running as the worst of the Series. We went with a monochrome set and no white just like last year, but unlike 2014, we turned up the silliness. The worst part is that they just looked bad on television. The shiny gold helmets caused too much reflection and obscured the leprechaun logo. The facemasks were always stupid, and all the accessories on the uniforms from the numbers to stripes to the logos were difficult to see with absence of white outline. Better luck next year.