Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer dropped back in the pocket, planted his foot and unleashed a beautiful 40-yard pass to star wide receiver Will Fuller, who had blown past his coverage and was streaking free down the sideline. Leading 19-9 late in the game, Notre Dame was primed to put the finishing touches on the Boston College Eagles and capture some much needed style points in the process. Instead, in a turn of events that has mirrored Notre Dame’s season all too well, Fuller lost focus and let the ball get into his body – a reoccurring mistake wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock has chided him for since before the start of the season – causing an incompletion and forcing head coach Brian Kelly to punt. A seemingly assured 26-9 lead with only several minutes remaining instead began a downward spiral.
Accentuating Notre Dame’s missed opportunity was Boston College capitalizing on the Irish’s miscue. The Eagles, boasting one of the most anemic offenses in the nation, took its patchwork quarterback rotation and moved down the field with ease. Notre Dame’s defense failed to stop the Eagles even after a Boston College personal foul that forced them into a second down and 17 on their own 7-yard line. But the icing on the cake took place when Eagles quarterback Jeff Smith shook off a Sheldon Day sack, rolled out of the pocket and connected with Tyler Rouse, who fumbled after a devastating hit by cornerback KeiVarae Russell. Notre Dame was unable to recover the loose ball, however, due to safety Max Redfield being too preoccupied with making the incomplete motion to a nearby official. The Eagles capped off a 9 play, 86-yard drive with a touchdown, creating a final score sheet of 16-13.
Boston College may have failed to destroy Notre Dame’s chances of a national title a la 1993, but the Eagles struck an indirect blow that has left the Irish reeling. The Notre Dame offense struggled the previous week against Wake Forest, but that struggle morphed into a full-blown slump against Boston College’s No. 1 ranked defense. DeShone Kizer suffered the worst game of his young career and flatlined in the red zone. On the first drive of the game Kizer marched Notre Dame’s offense down the field to the Boston College 7-yard line. Set in the shotgun formation, Kizer rolled to his right to elude pressure and uncharacteristically threw to a blanketed Aliz’e Jones rather than throwing the ball away. The situation was repeated in the third quarter when Kizer forced a screen pass to a well-covered Will Fuller leading to his third interception of the game.
The offense’s slump couldn’t come at a worse time, as Notre Dame’s injury-plagued season added two more to its number. Star running back C.J. Prosise exited the game after twisting his ankle in an awkward manner. Prosise was seen on the sideline in crutches, casting doubt on his ability to play next weekend against Stanford. Additionally, cornerback KeiVarae Russell suffered what appeared to be a foot injury when causing the Tyler Rouse fumble, and his status for next weekend is also a question mark.
One of the only bright spots for Notre Dame other than NBC’s decision to broadcast the Boston College game on cable rather than network television came courtesy of several other teams falling to capitalize on Notre Dame’s vulnerability. No. 3 Ohio State’s playoff dreams ended at the hands of No. 9 Michigan State and its backup quarterback, Tyler O’Connor. Undefeated Oklahoma State – a program many considered to be the biggest threat to Notre Dame’s playoff hopes – fell at home to No. 10 Baylor, 45-35. And No. 7 Oklahoma, the next largest threat, squeaked out a last second 30-29 victory over TCU without the Horned Frogs’ two biggest playmakers, quarterback Trevone Boykin and wide receiver Josh Doctson.
Despite Notre Dame’s No. 4 College Football Playoff ranking, a playoff berth has been far from guaranteed even if Kelly’s team were to win out. The most Notre Dame could do is put its best foot forward to convince the Selection Committee the high ranking is deserved, yet the past two weeks have been a fight for survival rather than racking up style points.
The Fighting Irish now face the daunting task of taking an injury-ravaged roster and slumping offense to Palo Alto to face a Stanford team fresh off clinching a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. And given the past two weeks, all Notre Dame can do is hope a win is enough.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored severally nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.