Notre Dame Earns Pyrrhic Victory at Fenway

Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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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 scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

 

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25 Comments

  1. @ JDH…yes bullied. I call it bullying when instead of just tackling a runner, BC propped him up to allow someone time to strip the ball. Bullying is not just tackling but lifting our #3 and dumping him on his head after a great pass reception over the middle. Bullying is not just taking Kizer down for a sack, but then rolling over his face while kneeing him in the helmet. Nasty dirty bullying. BTW, the ‘experts’ are saying that Kizer had his worst day. Maybe so, but not between ND’d 20 and BC’s 10 yard lines. He was great as long as we could spread BC’s defense and kinda keep them away from him. But inside the 10, well then it became up close and personal. I saw doubt, uncertainty, maybe even fear in his actions. The two goal line INT’s were avoidable. How could he make those throws? Not like him unless fear and intimidation by bullies had set in.

  2. Shaz-i-am-NOT-a-rock… too many holes in that retort to warrant my time…but how’s this…if you’re gonna use “averages” then we have an undefeated season. Nice. Er, btw, can we continue the ‘averages’ thing into the playoffs, which if not for our piss-poor defense, we’d be a lock right now. If we can average our offensive points, then subtract the average of our defensive give-up points, hey…we’re national champs. Congrats Shaz-i-am-not, you found the solution…what’s that like 25 years between championships?

    Let me guess…you and your buddies watch these games while hoisting a few. I guess everything looks better through the bottom of an empty glass. Try paying attention to the ‘funny’ antics of our defensive backfield (LB’s, CB’s and S’s). It’s like a blooper reel. LB’s running up the backs of their DLinemen (hey coach tell me again…what’s a gap?), CB’s actually waiting for receivers to catch the ball, then meekly attempting a tackle (i do look for the ball in the air- i watch it go right into his hands coach), S’s well they’d rather defend a run then a downfield pass, so they’re always getting suckered by play action (but coach, remember last week i stopped that guy after his 20 yd run).

    Reality check…BVG had ONE GOOD GAME…Texas. Then real coaches figured out how to attack our 3rd and long Defense. Just think, if you gave me the averages answer right after that one…now you got something.

    Just thank God for our Offense!

  3. @ Subway Alum: You think BC’s defense “bullied” ND? We racked up 450 yards of offense on them, got 22 first downs. Granted, the score certainly didn’t show that because of mostly self-inflicted errors that led to turnovers. I certainly give them credit for their aggressive ball-stripping. But as that was 1 game out of 11 this year that that we got bit with the turnover bug, I’ll take that kind of “bullying” any day.

  4. Subwaya,

    It would seem apparent that if you start a conversation with the words “If”, “opinion”, or “guess”, “far fetched” is probably going to be a foregone conclusion.

    Not sure what your boggle is about the defense other than they are not perfect.
    Sure they give up some plays and they have their share of challenges, but they also come up with big plays, make key stops, and force timely turnovers.

    Over the last 4 games the defense has allowed 73 points. Not great, but it is an 18 point per game average.

    And if someone had told us at the beginning of the year that ND is going to average 18 points on defense down the stretch, the majority of us would had gladly taken that.

  5. If we can some how get by sat I think the month off will really help and we can compete very well
    in the playoffs or big 6 bowl. Remember last year with the time off? There are a lot of very good
    college teams this year but not a great one.

  6. @ Ron (can’t wait to drink some more) Burgundy. I suggest you look up the definitions of 3 syllable words before you use them in a sentence. I’m offering a “Users Manual” for the inept ND defensive coaching staff. A 4 step approach to turn a woeful ND defense into the “vaunted” BC defense. Who BTW, didn’t Defend as much as Bullied ND. To me a defense doesn’t allow 60 to 80 yards every time an opponent has the ball. But you know what, if we’d deploy each of those 4 tactics i recommended, we’d have a D that people would fear also. Instead, Offenses circle the date they are to play our D just so they can improve their morale for future games.

    Now that’s more like a di-a-tribe. Glad to be of help…

    You, on the other hand, offer up only one-liners mostly, i guess, for your own amusement. Try writing something more insightful.

  7. Shazza-man…i love your takes on my nom de plume.

    Thanks for reminding me of that “My guess…” piece also. Very well thought out…based on the then current landscape. You didn’t comment then at how ‘far fetched’ it was so I take that as a compliment.

    It’s genesis stems from two realities…(1) i hate the “the” in Ohio State’s title, thus i hate the school and (2) the committee drinks heavily of the B1G’s Kool-Aid (witness them giving Ohio St a shot at the final 4 last year from the #16th position)…putting Iowa ahead of Big 12 schools this year…

    Now, my guess still stands except for one minor change…substitute another B1G school (Mich St, Iowa, yadda, yadda) for Ohio State and you have the same result. This CFP process is not about getting the 4 best teams but rather the 4 best TV draws they could find. That’s why (a) they’ll keep ND in as #4 this week, praying for a miracle win at Stanford, and (b) they’ll insert a B1G in the final 4 ranking…cause that’s what it’s all about.

    In my true Blue & Gold opinion, the best team in the country…Alabama (men playing among boys), all others are just pretenders. I have to keep asking myself as i witness ND’s pathetically prepared defense EACH week ‘why am i rooting so hard for them to land that final fourth spot’? Before last Saturday, i fully believed our offense will rescue our defense in the last two Championship deciding games, the first against a beatable Clemson, the next against mighty Alabama.

    Here’s the thing, our defense (coordinators and players) can’t learn shit from playing against better defenses. I watch and wish for players like that #5 from Pitt or #8 from Wake. Saturday it was #9 from BC. It’s a joy to see CB’s looking for the ball in the air…unfortunately it’s never our CB’s. Where are these guys? I keep hoping they’re on the sideline waiting their turn…or better yet, why can’t we get coaches in who can teach what other coaches teach. As i’m watching BC’s HC, my only thought was …wow, i finally found a HC i dislike more than Kelly. Did you get a look at BC’s Defensive Coach? Both those guys look like they came up from the ranks of a Boston mob.

    But anyway, thanks for hanging on every word I publish…it’s nice knowing there are fans out there.
    We’ll talk again.

  8. Sub alum,
    please take note:

    “My guess, the committee is angling for an Ohio St-Alabama final Jan 11th. They can’t put a once beaten Alabama team as #1 in the last ranking, so they set up Ohio St to be the #1. They realize that Clemson will probably be undefeated at year end (barely beating UNC), so how do they justify moving Ohio St ahead of Clemson? They give Ohio St an opportuity for a signature win…over a then #5 committee ranked Iowa. It wouldn’t be a meaningful win if Iowa was 10th at the time.(or if OSU gets throttled by MSU before then)

    Ohio St romps (something like last year’s final) and thus the committee is justified in their final ranking of… #1. Ohio St #2. Clemson #3. Alabama… and $4. either ND, Stanford, or Okla St.

    Now why would they do that? They expect #1. OSU to beat the #4 team, #3 Alabama to destroy
    #2 Clemson setting up the game of the decade between two very recent #1’s Ohio St – Alabama”

  9. ND (BK, BVG) please take note… here is the “Formula” for you to mimic the vaunted BC ‘Defense’…

    (1) CB’s keep a hand on potential receiver, while looking for the ‘ball in the air’…
    (2) Tacklers, one or two of you, prop up man with ball while another defender strips ball…
    (3) How to Strip Ball…don’t slap at it, reach in grasp ball at one end and pull forcefully straight up…
    (4) All other defenders are to fall on “stripped” ball on the ground. Do not pretend to be an Official, just drop down on the ball…

    Rewards: for every stripped or intercepted ball…1 to 2 co-eds in your room all day Sunday to help you “unwind” from a job well done.

  10. The opposition have figured out routes. Disguising and are blanketing the back half. Along with double teaming Fuller. So that leaves other areas/positions open to exploit. The O line needs to block 2nd level not double team when #’s allow for it. Stanford front 7 looked faster then what I’ve seen in past. I think that is a trouble spot ND’s front line and hasn’t overcome yet this season. Defense has been looking better. Knowing that last two offenses were below average. Still they have been improving. Also noting most teams get ball out quickly. They still got some pressure up front lately. Stanford has given up points. So I am confident that ND can control ball and score too. Let’s not sell this team short before the game is played. They have won 10 and nearly undefeated. That in itself should say something. ND defense has faired well against some powerful offenses keeping points down including Clemson. Trick and big plays we’re the problem earlier. That has subsided. Thanks.

  11. FXM, it’s not the end of the world yet. I’m still hoping ND pulls out a win against Stanford. They do seem to play up to their opponents level this year, so we may see a good game against Stanford next week. I’m not willing to say for sure one way or the other at this point.

    But ND did miss an opportunity to make a statement with BC. BC was no help to the SOS so a strong win was all we had to make a statement. They missed the chance on that. The win over WF, however lackluster, was still a 21 point win and I don’t believe it hurt us in any way (though it’s arguable how much it may have helped–I figure it did neither). But a close game against BC may have damaged our playoff spot. The media is basically saying if Michigan State wins out, they’re in, so we’re back to the OK vs ND debate. The media seems to think OK is in if it wins out. The only thing that hurts them is the Texas loss is pretty big (not even accounting for our win over Texas). Texas is pretty bad this year and our best shot is that the committee basically says to OK, you know, you did pick things up but that Texas loss is just too much to overlook.

  12. I agree with 45yearfaithful. I have read the word “pyrrhic” this year regarding Notre Dame at least 25 times this year. Could somebody please try some originality! BC is always tough for us, we blistered their vaunted defense except on the scoreboard. The game was never in doubt, and our Irish were in some kind of game show wrapped in Christmas paper! The Russell loss is painful, Prosise less so because Adams is doing very well. Whatever postseason game we are granted will be fun to watch with several returning players. We are a great team that is 10-1. Focus and execution will be much better against Stanford, and I anticipate a high scoring, exciting game. I’m betting we win again.

  13. Wait, so you’re telling me there is tape out there on Kizer and the offense???
    That explains everything, thanks for the heads up!

    And just so we’re clear, you’re suggesting a Plan B for Saturday night?

  14. One thing everyone is missing is that teams have tape on Kizer and the offense. They are taking away Fuller with safety help over the top. The other players need to step up on offense and the O-line needs to dominate.
    To me the weak link on this team is the defense which will get scorched on Saturday night against the Cardinal. The McCaffery kid may get his signature Heisman game against the Irish, unless the stick Jaylon on him all night.
    It may be an ugly night in Palo Alto on Saturday night reminiscent of USC in 2002. I hope they go back like they did against Temple and work on the Redzone issues and come out on fire. I think it is getting to the point that the injuries are to much to overcome. They have had a great season, but a top four team they are not. You need a dominant defense to win and they have an average to below average defense.

  15. Now settle down, “pyrrhic” is right to the throat. Surely you had to expect a tough B.C. game. We knew their D was stout and well coached. So now your going to cash it in and lay down. This team is exactly that. A team. It’s has resiliency, comoradery, and fortitude. Not sure how long you all have been fans of N.D. (all inclusive) but I myself for many years. B.C. game is what I expected. Just a win was my hope. I got it. Thankful. This team has proven its desire, depth, and pride in itself with all of its shortcomings, obstacles and gave us 10 wins. Imploded numerous times, games and could be 11 wins. Have some faith that they will rise to the occasion. Stanford didn’t worry me before. Their front 7 looked faster then years past. So that is bothersome.. I’ve watched many games like B.C. over the years. They won. Now I will be at the Stanford with my sons and we will be proud for them. Thankful for N.D. Administration, Swarbick, Kelly and staff, and all the young men on the team. N.D. is relevant with standards. Proving its still achievable. Stanford too. So have some trust and enjoy the battle. It will be another hard fought game. They all are and will be. Thanks.

  16. Nor do I blame Kelly for dropping passes or fumbling.
    But dropped passes and fumbles, especially vs. an aggressive ball-hawking D’, can and will happen.
    Maybe it’s just me, but BK ‘s play-calling feels more conservative, and the pressure of winning and winning big seems to lead to more caution than aggressive strategy. Once Kizer threw that first INT, I feared the rest of the times in the red zone would result in runs. Maybe that’s to take pressure off Kizer- but down at the goal line, I want it in his hands either running or throwing it. But hindsight is 20/20. ND makes big plays when they most need to- a tangible quality and focus that leads to many wins. But there just seems to be a more tentative feel on both sides of the ball as each week passes. At Stanford, ND needs to return to the haiku :
    scoring 31
    and still not being done which
    will be much more fun

    Turn it loose and have some fun.

  17. Put the fork in us, I think we may be done. Too worn out and nothing left in the tank. too bad, given the time off before the playoffs I believe we can compete with anyone. But now, seems like we don’t have enough to get there.

  18. If ND were to make the playoffs(which I doubt they will)they will get slaughtered by any of the three other teams unless they considerably step up their game. Sadly this is a team that has shown to have problems finishing a game and now finishing the season. I doubt they’ll be favored over Stanford and if that’s the case how are they the #4 team? If they are still #4 after Tuesday that is.

  19. Notre Dame just doesn’t seem to play to their potential week in and week out. Not sure of the reason. It seems to me the talent is there especially on offense. Just when they have a chance to really open up the game they turn the ball over or give up a big play or the special teams fall apart. I can’t always blame Kelly- he is not dropping first down passes, touchdown passes, fumbling at the goal line or after big runs.

  20. I agree. All Notre Dame can do is beat Stanford next week. I just hope we aren’t looking at this game as the game that cost ND a playoff spot. Wake Forest was an ugly win, but ND still won by a comfortable margin so any damage was probably minimal. Squeaking by BC, though, esp. late in the season like this can cost ND.

    But, they better clean things up in a hurry. Mistakes like their game against BC would result in a blowout, for Stanford. The only positive I can see is the mistakes they made are correctible. There have been times in football (college and NFL) where a team lays an egg and barely gets by, or even loses, only to turn in their best performance the following week. I hope ND can do that next week.

  21. In 1966 nd won the national title by destroying USC 51-0 in the last game of the season. A statement of greatness. If Kelly wants to get to the title game he has to do that to Stanford. Will these guys ever step up to greatness?

  22. In the era of style points for the CFP committee members, ND laid an egg against BC last night. A win is not necessarily a win. Add to that are the injuries to Prosise and Russell. We’ll see how it affects them against Stanford. This is definitely”Rally The Troops” time.

  23. We want Oklahoma State to win the Big 12. They have a flawed resume. 2 FCS teams on their schedule, close wins to bad teams like we do. Common opponent Texas which we destroyed. They will also have a loss at home to a third string qb. They will have two good two good wins against OK and TCU but think overall ND has an advantage.

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