Sunday, October 25, 2009

Odds & Sons: Here We Go Again Edition | by Mike

This is not what you had planned. If you had told me before the season that Notre Dame would hold Boston College to 70 yards rushing and would force five BC turnovers, I would have wanted to know whether Weis let Dayne Crist pass in the fourth quarter or just the third quarter. Instead, the now-familiar struggles in the red zone, on special teams and in pass defense turned what could have been a blowout into a nailbiter.

Red-eyed and blue. The Irish were only able to cross the goal line on one of their four trips to the redzone, settling for two field goals and getting stopped on fourth down the other time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the winning TD was scored from outside the red zone. On the first trip Parris dropped a pass that would have been a touchdown, and on the second trip a touchdown on a well-designed fake field goal was negated by a holding penalty. However, these are not isolated instances; the Irish offense has struggled in the red zone ever since Floyd was injured. When the Irish faced fourth and goal from the 1, I was hoping at the time that Weis would decide to kick the field goal. On further reflection, I don't have a problem with the call. Following the Washington game, I wrote that one of the ways settling for field goals hurt Notre Dame was the ensuing field position exchange. Following ND kickoffs the opponent will usually start their next drive with great field position due to ND's poor coverage, so it's even more important to get the seven point before kicking off. Even though BC stopped Hughes, the Eagles were so close to their own endzone that they had to run on their ensuing possession. Following three rushes as ineffectual as the rest of the BC running game that day, BC punted and the Irish started what would be the winning touchdown drive on BC's side of the field. As an aside, on the Hughes fourth down rush, it looked like Hughes was knocked out by a helmet-to-helmet hit. I'm not sure what I think is the appropriate call in this situation. On the one hand, things are so crowded in goal line situations that the defense is simply trying to hit any exposed part of the ballcarrier. It's tough to tell the defense to look our for the helmet in those scrums. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to make those allowances when you're not the one taking a shot to the brain.

Exchange. The Irish continued to lose field position on the exchange of possessions due to inferior special teams play. BC averaged 42.0 yards per punt to the Irish's 32.7 average. BC had two punts of 50+ yards; ND had none. BC had three punts downed inside the 20; ND had one. Additionally, Boston College's second touchdown drive started at the 44 following poor coverage on the opening kickoff of the second half. I would probably peg the cumulative field position advantage BC obtained through superior special teams play as comparable to a turnover or two.

Put it in the air. For the third time this season, a freshman quarterback put up big numbers against the Irish pass defense. It was to the point where I would have felt more confident about stopping BC on 3rd and 2 than 3rd and long. BC converted 7 of their 14 third and fourth downs. However, not one of these conversions came via the run. Boston College completed passes of 24, 23, 22, 7 (TD), 20, 33 and 28 yards on 3rd and 4th down. This would be a shocking performance from a freshman had we not already witnessed the success of Matt Barkley and Tate Forcier against the Irish defense. WIth each passing game (both by ND and Michigan), Forcier's success against the Irish looks less attributable to Forcier's skill and more like an indictment of the ND defense.

Roll the credits. Despite those negatives, the Irish still did enough things right to win. Armando Allen led all rushers with 98 yarrds on 21 carries. The defensive line and linebackers seem to really be improving over the course of the season. One week prior, Montel Harris rushed for 264 yards and 5 touchdowns on 27 carries. At the time, that was the highest rushing yardage in a single game this year in Division I-A. The Irish held Harris to just 38 yards on 22 carries. Randy Hart and Bryant Young have done a great job with a fairly young unit. Manti Te'o again led the Irish defense with 9 tackles (2.5 for loss) and added a pass break-up. His fantastic stop on the screen pass on BC's final drive should have been enough to seal the game. While the attacking defense gave up play after play through the air, the aggressive play helped generate the five turnovers. On the final interception, for example, Shinskie was under pressure from two defensive linemen and was about to get hit by Darius Fleming when he let go of the ball.

As frustrating as the game was, I have to remember the context. Following the Southern Cal game, I wrote about how the timing of this game worried me and the Irish did appear to come out sluggish. If you find yourself upset by the game, just remember how difficult it would have been to stomach Rich Gunnell's postgame antics and yet more post-whistle shots from Austin Giles had BC won.