Nov. 22, 2015
By John Heisler
Since the Irish football team had invaded a Major League Baseball shrine Saturday night in Boston, maybe the most fitting analogy suggested Notre Dame worked a little too hard to locate its pitches.
Or maybe the Irish squeezed the bats a bit too tightly to get good wood on the ball on those 3-2 pitches.
Or maybe Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer should have gone to the rosin bag a few more times.
Regardless, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly opted to remain ultra-positive and realistic and look at the big picture. His football team moved the ball up and down the field most of the night, survived five turnovers and still defeated Boston College 19-16 at venerable Fenway Park.
And a 10-1 record leaves Notre Dame solidly in the College Football Playoff byplay (after ranking fourth the last two weeks)—with now only a single regular-season contest remaining, a primetime date Saturday against twice-beaten Stanford.
The Irish left a bunch of runners on base against the pesky Eagles. And Kizer probably wishes he felt better about throwing for 320 yards, one less than his career high at Clemson.
But Notre Dame decided nitpicking could be left for another day.
It’s safe to say the level of exuberance in the Irish locker room was not off the charts—yet Kelly made sure to urge his charges to never miss a chance to appreciate a victory. Even when the “pretty” factor and so-called style points would have to be saved for another day. He knows the red-zone productivity (or lack thereof) against Boston College won’t cut the mustard against Stanford, and he told his players as much.
But, similar to NCAA Championship basketball philosophy, it was survive and advance for the Irish.
“First of all,” said Kelly to his team after the game, “remember what I’ve said from Day One. Winning is hard. It’s not easy. We should be proud we’re at 10 wins. Never underestimate a victory. There should be no long faces.
“We know our performance tonight will not be good enough when we play Stanford. I don’t even have to tell you that. But we’re in a position to complete the mission with one more win. We’re gonna be humbled by this and now we’ve got to get one more win.”
Kelly particularly applauded seniors Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle who combined for 13 catches for 201 yards and the two Irish touchdowns. Throw in Will Fuller’s 72 receiving yards, and that trio ended with 16 grabs for 273 combined yards.
Then Kelly gave the game ball to safety Matthias Farley, who recovered the final onside kick attempt, downed a punt deep in Boston College territory and stopped the Eagles’ fake punt attempt.
“We’ve got a short week,” said Kelly. “Enjoy the victory. We know we’ve got to get better at everything. We’ll put everything we’ve got into beating Stanford.”
And then a shirtless Farley stood on a stool in the middle of the Red Sox clubhouse and led a rendition of the “Victory March.” It’s safe to say that’s the first time that has happened there.
After a nifty pregame segment that include pyrotechnics, a moment of silence for Doug Flutie’s parents who both died Wednesday (Flutie played for the Eagles and now does television analysis on Irish games on NBC) and a huge American flag draped over the Green Monster, the game actually began. And the way the football bounced all over the lot in the opening half, it seemed the football gods were questioning whether or not this notion of playing in a baseball venue was the right idea after all:
-- There was a foul ball on the opening kickoff when the Eagles kicked it almost into the baseball stands.
-- There were fumbles, lots of them—some lost, some recovered (including a key one by Nick Martin of Notre Dame on an Irish TD drive) and some overturned by replay. Give the Eagles lots of credit for aggressively ripping the ball loose on more than one occasion.
-- There were interceptions against the Irish, two in Boston College territory, one in the end zone.
-- There was a field goal try that clanked back off the upright (though it didn’t count because of a roughing-the-kicker penalty).
-- There was a fake punt attempt by the Eagles (it came up short).
-- There was a third-period PAT that didn’t work for Notre Dame when holder Kizer couldn’t get the ball placed.
-- There was a defense on the field that at times looked awfully good, but it wasn’t the Eagles’ crew that actually came into the game rated number one nationally.
Boston College’s points came via a field goal after a 67-yard kickoff return to start the second half, a first-down 80-yard run by the Eagles’ backup quarterback—and then a late 86-yard drive that made the final score way closer than it should have been.
The Eagles came in allowing only 71.7 rushing yards per game--and the Irish had that many before the first period was done (they finished with 127, in part because a high ankle sprain sent C.J. Prosise to the sideline at 5:56 of the second period and limited him to nine carries).
The Eagles came in allowing only 236.5 total yards per contest—and the Irish ended up with 447 (only Clemson with 532 has gained more in 2015 versus Boston College).
By the break, Notre Dame had shut out the “visiting” team, had outgained the Eagles by 100 yards and limited Boston College to four first downs. But four total turnovers kept the Irish from living out their dreams.
The halftime locker room scene featured all sorts of encouraging words, all sorts of Xs and Os on the white boards spread around the room—and plenty of byplay between Kelly and Kizer, with the Irish head coach dissecting the coverage with a red marker.
“Let’s have some fun now,” yelled linebacker Joe Schmidt.
“You know what the mission is,” said Kelly just before his team headed back through the Red Sox dugout. “We need to clean up everything we do on offense. We need two quarters to get where we want to go. We can’t give up any big plays on defense. We know what’s at stake. Sell out for Notre Dame!”
The early parts of the third period didn’t quite play out that way, as Boston College profited from its big kickoff return--and then Notre Dame’s opening drive reached the Eagle six, only to see a Kizer throw bounce around and end up in enemy hands at the three.
Kizer’s second possession in the second half saw him complete four passes—including a 32-yarder to Fuller (Carlisle also had a 33-yarder and Brown a 38-yarder that marked Notre Dame’s long gain of the evening). That 33-yarder to Carlisle began the fourth period for Notre Dame and led to Justin Yoon’s second field goal (he now has hit nine straight)—and that made it 19-3 for the Irish with 10 and a half minutes remaining.
The win came at a price, with Prosise a question mark for action at Stanford, along with senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who left with a stress fracture.
“A W is a W,” said Irish assistant coach Scott Booker as he greeted Irish players as they walked in the clubhouse after the game.
“It’s hard to win,” said assistant Todd Lyght.
Martin and Corey Robinson both clasped hands and hugged Kizer, who stood with his arms folded, knowing the big Irish number on the Green Monster scoreboard should have been larger.
“They just keep persevering. They keep playing,” Kelly said of his team to Hines Ward on the NBCSN postgame set on the Fenway Park first-base line.
“We just have to play better football. We moved the ball up and down the field. We’ve just gotta score points.”
Of Kizer’s effort, Kelly noted, “He gets humbled a little bit, but he learned some things today. He’ll take it and be better for it.
“Some guys would be a little shell-shocked and withdrawn,” he told the media later. “He was not fazed. He stayed in the moment and stayed aggressive. It’s a hard job.”
The Irish head coach admitted he took the field about 15 minutes earlier than most nights, simply to take in the Fenway atmosphere.
“It felt like a football stadium,” he told NBCSN.
“It feels like it worked out okay.”
It was left to Kelly--as he sat in the interview room facing all the Red Sox championship banners attached to the brick wall--to sum it up in the end in a few short words:
“Got one more. Gotta win it.”
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.
Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled “Sunday Brunch,” along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:
-- Top 10 Things Learned About the Irish So Far in 2015:
-- Brey’s Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner—and Moves On
-- Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers:
-- Men’s Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation:
-- Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices: http://www.und.com/genrel/092215aae.html
-- Bud Schmitt Doesn’t Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium: http://www.und.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092315aag.html
-- Sunday Brunch: Nobody Better at Home
-- Remembering Bob Kemp: Notre Dame Lacrosse Family Honors Devoted Father
-- Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15: