Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Overcomes Slow Start to Ground Eagles

A bumpy beginning was smoothed out in time to raise the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s record to 8-0 on the season as they knocked off the Boston College Eagles, 45-31, on Saturday afternoon. Those Irish points came on the strength of a season-high 557 yards of total offense, the third time this year the Notre Dame offense has broken the 500-yard threshold.

That yardage was delivered with a balanced offense, though the running game helped eat up enough clock to salt away the win during the second half. After the break, the Irish found a way to neutralize BC, with 150 of the Eagles’ 197 yards in the second half coming when Notre Dame eased up while holding leads of more than 20 points.

Below are some of the critical facets of the game.

Early Dose of Reality

For much of the first half, Notre Dame fans could be forgiven for thinking that the Irish were experiencing a letdown from last week’s big win over Clemson. That’s because Boston College scored on three of their first four drives and led 13-10 less than three minutes into the second quarter.

On the Eagles’ first drive, the Irish looked to have held their foes to a field goal, but a defensive holding call instead set up a BC touchdown. On the first play of the next series, an Irish fumble put the Eagles in prime position before Notre Dame clamped down and held them to a three-pointer. Finally, an apparent onside kick recovery by Boston College was negated by a penalty, which delivered the necessary wake-up call and 21 unanswered points over the remainder of the first half.

Book-Ends

Given Boston College’s sketchy pass defense, Ian Book had the potential for a big afternoon, and he didn’t disappoint by completing 20 of 27 for 283 yards and three touchdowns. His receivers had little trouble getting open during the 31-point first half when he threw for 213 yards.

Yet Book also supplied a healthy portion of the Irish running game as well, leading the team with 85 yards on 10 carries and one score. The effort by Book continues his recent uptick in that department, with his effort against BC surpassing what had been a season-best 67 yards on 12 carries last week against Clemson.

Some Cause for Concern

The Notre Dame faithful will happily accept the win, but it was far from a thing of beauty. The Irish may have scored more than 40 points for the second game in a row and the fifth time this year, but some aggravating aspects were still evident. The two most prominent issues were the three turnovers and eight penalties on the afternoon.

While the latter two turnovers were wiped out by the Irish defense forcing turnovers of their own, the first of these gave Boston College prime field position and, eventually, three points. In the penalty area, Notre Dame has seen their penalty yardage per game jump in recent weeks after keeping that area in check during their first four games.

Dynamic Duo

The tandem of Javon McKinney and Ben Skowronek led the Notre Dame receiving corps with five catches apiece against Boston College. For McKinney, it marks the third consecutive game that he’s grabbed that many tosses, and combined with his two catches for 50 yards against Pitt last month, he’s averaging 20.4 yards per catch in his last four games.

Skowronek hasn’t been quite as prolific, but his performance on Saturday mirrored that of his effort in that Pitt game when his two catches racked up 107 yards and a pair of scores. Against BC, he caught all three of Book’s scoring tosses for 63 yards, with that ability to reach the end zone in contrast to McKinney’s continuing searching for his first 2020 score.

Next Up for Notre Dame

Notre Dame gets next week off, allowing them to prepare for their road game at North Carolina on the day after Thanksgiving. That Nov. 27 late afternoon clash will mark the first time in three years that the two teams have met, with that 2017 contest ending in a 33-10 Irish victory.

Notre Dame has dominated this series, winning 18 of the 20 previous matchups; however, the explosive Tar Heels improved to 6-2 on the year in a wild 59-53 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, with Carolina on a bye next week. In their last four games, the Heels have scored an average of just under 52 points a game.

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