Boston, MA (UHND.com) – Notre Dame entered Saturday’s game desperately looking for a win after losing a heart breaking 4 overtime contest with Pitt a week earlier. They left Saturday’s game desperately looking for a clue on offense after getting shut out by the Boston College defense in a 17-0 loss which leaves the Irish with more questions than answers on offense nine games into the season.
There have been moments this season when the Notre Dame offense has looked potent offensive attack. Unfortunately, none of those moments occurred Saturday night when the Irish offense failed to score a point for the first time this season and totaled just 292 yards of total offense while turning the ball over four times (a fifth turnover occurred on special teams).
The main reason behind Notre Dame’s struggles moving the ball Saturday were the result of a season long problem of being unable to run the football effectively. The Irish ran the ball 21 times for just 66 yards, but even those numbers don’t tell the full story – they actually make the Irish running attack look better than it was.
From the start of the game the Irish found it tough going on the ground and that inability to run the ball took away one of the most effective weapons for the Notre Dame offense this year – the play action pass. When an offense can’t run the ball, the play action pass becomes a useless tool because the opposing defense doesn’t respect the running game.
The struggles the Irish encountered Saturday night weren’t entirely new either. The blueprint for stopping the Notre Dame offense was shown a week earlier when Pitt slowed the Irish offense enough to beat Notre Dame in 4 overtimes. The Panthers rushed just three or four down lineman most of the game and dropped seven or eight defenders into zone coverage.
The philosophy slowed the Irish offense against Pitt, but they were still able to put a decent amount of points on the board. Such was not the case this past weekend when Boston College shut out the Irish for the first time in the history of the Notre Dame-Boston College series. Boston College used the gameplan Pitt put into action the week before and ran it better than Panthers were able to. The Notre Dame passing attack couldn’t move the ball against the Boston College zone and those problems were magnified even more when the Irish failed to rush the ball effectively as well.
To make matters worse, turnovers killed the few promising drives Notre Dame had going. Jimmy Clausen threw four interceptions in the game – one of which was returned for a Boston College touchdown. All four of the interceptions occurred in Boston College territory. Had the Irish been able to protect the ball in these situations how different of an outcome would there have been?
Penalties were also an issue for Notre Dame Saturday night according to Weis. “It killed the first drive, it killed the third drive and it killed the fifth drive. So three out of the five drives that you talk about in the first half were all killed by penalties,” said Weis on Sunday.
The loss will be a tough one for the Irish to handle. This was as close to a must win game as a three loss team could have at this point in the season. What makes it tougher to handle is the fact that the Irish defense played well enough for Notre Dame to win this game. For as bad as the Notre Dame offense looked, the Boston College offense actually totaled fewer yards.
Boston College gained 46 fewer yards than Notre Dame, converted just 3 f 14 third down conversions, converted just 2 of 4 trips to the redzone into points, punted eight times, gained just 13 first downs, completed just 41% of their passes, and committed 9 penalties for 90 yards; but the Eagles never trailed and Notre Dame never really seemed in the game. All of those numbers point to a defense that played well enough for their team to win the game.
The difference was Notre Dame turned the ball over five times and Boston College didn’t turn it over once. Those give turnovers gave Boston College short fields to work with all game and led to 14 of the 17 points Boston College scored in the game. The fact that Boston College scored just 17 total points with outstanding field position all game long aided by the five Notre Dame turnovers speaks volumes to the job the defense did Saturday night.
“That was a pretty gutty performance by the defense,” said Weis on Sunday. “Just for example, with them buying time and BC starts the ball in plus territory five times and they give up points once,” he would add.
The loss gives Notre Dame back to back losses for the first time this year and leaves them with more questions than answers after nine games. After nine games the Notre Dame offense is still struggling to run the football, still struggling to move the ball in the air against zone defenses, and still struggling to protect the football. Some of these problems are still the result of a fairly young football team, but some are issues that should have been improved upon as the season has progressed.
Against Boston College, however, the Irish offense took a step backwards. For the first time this year the Irish failed to put points on the board and failed to make a single trip into the red zone. The five turnovers Notre Dame committed against Boston College were also a season high.
What’s confusing about all of this is the fact that the Boston College, while statistically strong, is not a dominating defense. The Eagles gave up 38 points to a North Carolina offense which is not exactly high powered (UNC added 7 more points courtesy of a pick 6). This was the third shutout of the season for Boston College, but the other two came against Kent State and Rhode Island.
Notre Dame won’t have long to find the answers they’ll be looking for this weekend with another road game this weekend against Navy in Baltimore. A matchup with Navy might be just what the doctor ordered for the ailing Irish offense as long as it can lick the wounds from Saturday’s loss and put it behind them. Boston College beat Notre Dame once already. A game against Navy should be an easy win so the Irish will have to focus on not letting Boston College beat them a second time.