by John Vannie
On a day when the offense was unable to sustain success through the air or on the ground, Notre Dame’s defense stood tall and held off a determined effort by Boston College in a 16-14 win. The Irish started fast but could not find the end zone after the game’s opening drive, and could not put away the Eagles until Robby Toma grabbed an onside kick with less than two minutes remaining. Unfortunately, the victory was overshadowed by the loss of stellar running back Jonas Gray to a serious knee injury just after halftime.
Gray was around long enough to stake Notre Dame to a 7-0 lead less than three minutes into the contest with a 26 yard run that capped an 80-yard opening drive. The heavily favored Irish appeared to be in good shape for a comfortable win when Tyler Eifert made a sensational catch on the next possession to set up a 40 yard field goal by David Ruffer. Meanwhile, Boston College could not get its offense moving, but punter Ryan Quigley did his best to keep the Irish in horrible field position with an impressive display of punting.
The defensive strategy employed by the Eagles began to take root over the next few possessions. Notre Dame had to start from inside its own ten yard line on three consecutive series, and could not keep the chains moving against the Eagles’ umbrella defense. BC finally put together a scoring drive midway through the second quarter. Chase Rettig found Bobby Swigert and tight end Chris Pantale in the intermediate zones and backup Josh Bordner came on to finish the drive in Tim Tebow fashion to make it 10-7 with three minutes remaining in the half.
Michael Floyd, who had ten receptions on the day, carried the Irish into scoring territory moments later with a pair of catches sandwiched by a personal foul on the Eagles. The drive stalled following a near interception thrown by Tommy Rees, and Ruffer came through from 41 yards for a 13-7 lead at intermission.
Boston College continued its strategy of dropping eight defenders into coverage and forcing Notre Dame to patiently work its way downfield. The Irish were unable to make the Eagles pay despite an attempt to increase the tempo. Gray’s injury occurred when he was hit directly on the knee after catching a swing pass, and a Rees interception a few minutes later shifted momentum to Boston College. Fortunately for Notre Dame, the defense had an answer for every challenge as Darius Fleming, Louis Nix, Manti, Te’o, Jamoris Slaughter and Gary Gray each had key stops to frustrate the Rettig and the Eagles.
Floyd and Robby Toma finally helped Rees put together a march midway through the final period to give the Irish some breathing room. In the key play of the sequence, Floyd caught a pass in the flat and completely reversed his field to gain 14 yards. Ruffer again drilled a short field goal when BC tightened up in the red zone, and Notre Dame pushed its lead to 16-7 with eight minutes remaining.
After an exchange of punts, Rettig ignited a last gasp Eagle drive against the Irish prevent defense. His passes began to find their targets and a costly pass interference penalty by Notre Dame’s Zeke Motta placed the ball at the two yard line. Rettig his Swigert two plays later to close the gap to 16-14 with 1:57 left in the game. Boston College had no time outs remaining and went for an onside kick. Toma caught it cleanly and the Irish were able to hang on for the win.
In the final analysis, the outcome was preserved by Notre Dame’s superior talent. The Irish offensive weapons and a solid defensive line were simply better than the Eagles, who lacked the playmakers to pose a serious scoring threat and the athletes to contend with the man among boys named Michael Floyd. BC’s defensive coaching staff did a superb job to throttle Notre Dame and give their team a chance to win, but the young Eagles missed several opportunities to alter their fate including a trio of dropped interceptions.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions for additional insight.
Will the Eagles be able to run the ball effectively? Not really. They managed only 85 net yards and could not avoid third and long situations.
Can Rees turn in another flawless passing performance? Rees was adequate at 24 for 39 and 256 yards, but was fortunate that he suffered only one interception and his receivers made a few superb plays for him.
Will Kuechly single-handedly stuff Notre Dame’s rushing attack? The Irish ran well early but Kuechly and the Eagles held their ground in the second half with Gray on the sidelines.
Will the Irish help the Eagles by making costly mistakes? One interception was not enough to get the anemic BC attack over the hump.
Can the BC defense hang on into the fourth quarter? The Eagles’ defensive plan was solid and Coach Spaziani thoroughly out-coached Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, who never was able to make BC pay for its use of two and three man fronts.
Will Robby Toma continue his exceptional play? Yes. Toma made five clutch receptions. What I can’t understand is why Eifert was thrown only one short pass after his brilliant first quarter grab for 37 yards.
Can Rettig improve his 53% completion rate against the Irish defense? Although he put together a decent drive at the end of the game, Rettig was held to a sub-.500 rate of 18 for 38 covering only 170 yards.
If Notre Dame wins, will they immediately petition to join the ACC? BC is already there, so no thanks.
The Irish advance to 8-3 and finish the regular season at Stanford next week. The afternoon was disappointing in that Gray was injured and also because their narrow lead kept the Irish from getting many senior reserves onto the field. This may not be an issue against the Cardinal, but probably for an entirely different reason.