The fireworks at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill didn’t make it past the pregame show. Notre Dame’s 10th win didn’t come with any exclamation points attached Saturday night. Periods will suffice for Notre Dame in November.
Sophomore Everett Golson ran for 39 yards in a touchdown against Boston College.
The Irish marched to a ho-hum 21-6 win against an overmatched, undermanned Boston College team. There was little style involved, if any, but an undefeated season might be fashionable enough if Notre Dame can continue to check off boxes late in the season. An upset loss from top-ranked Alabama added to Boston’s pregame pyrotechnics and provided all of the excitement Brian Kelly and his team needed Saturday.
“It’s hard to win,” Kelly said Saturday night. “Our guys really played hard tonight. They played hard for four quarters and came up with a nice win.”
Kelly’s offense dinked and dunked its way to three touchdowns, and the defense was its usual stingy self. Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig threw for 247 yards, but like others before him, couldn’t get his team into the end zone.
The Eagles defense couldn’t find a way to get off the field. Notre Dame turned its first 10 third downs into first downs. Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, who according to Kelly played his best game of the season in Boston, was responsible for picking up nine of them. He ran for five with a combination of empty set quarterback keepers and his first crack at the speed option. He carried the ball 10 times for 39 yards. While neither of those will blow back anyone’s hair, Golson’s ability to pick up crucial yards and keep his unit on the field kept the game from getting close.
“I just try to come out here and provide some energy for this offense,” said Golson, who also passed for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “I feel that I did a pretty good job of that. With the third down conversions we got a great push up front and I was able to run.”
Slowly but surely, those conversions helped Notre Dame build a 14-3 lead at halftime. The Irish left themselves time for only three possessions in the first two quarters, but scored on two of them.
They started the game with a 13-play drive that went 95 yards — the longest since last year’s season opener — for a touchdown. Golson powered his way across the goal line on third down from the two-yard line, taking a Boston College defender with him. He also completed a 23-yard pass to senior Theo Riddick in the middle of the field on another third down to extend the drive and set the tone for the rest of the game.
““You have to play good defense to win, and you certainly have to play good third down defense,” Eagles head coach Frank Spaziani said. “Some of it was our execution. Some of it was their execution. Some of it was their improvisation. We have to make some plays.”
Sophomore Troy Niklas closed the half with his first career touchdown reception. Golson got him in position with four rushing first downs. This time the offense used 16 plays and eight and a half minutes of clock to go 87 yards. Niklas got behind the Eagles defense and picked a lob pass out of the air from seven yards out to finish another red zone scoring opportunity.
Notre Dame’s offense has gone ice cold inside the 20-yard line for most of the year. They scored touchdowns on only 45 percent of its red zone chances prior to Saturday’s game (Good for the 115th ranking among FBS schools). They were 3-for-3 against Boston College, which Kelly attributed to a sharper rookie quarterback.
“We want to get there more often, but when we did it was pretty good,” Golson said.
Golson didn’t need to worry about precision on his last touchdown red zone score of the game. Irish receiver John Goodman found himself wide open in the far corner of the end zone to start the third quarter, and Golson made a long through across the field for an 18-yard touchdown.
Boston College was the one trading touchdowns for field goals Saturday. The Eagles squeezed their own 16-play marathon possession between Notre Dame’s first half touchdowns. Rettig threw for 80 yards to get his team to the eight-yard line before taking a sack and resigning to a 36-yard field goal.
Junior kicker Nate Freese made both of his attempts, moving to 14-of-16 this season. He also hit a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles tried to keep the ball on the perimeter when they could. They rushed for only 53 yards with a depleted backfield. Leading rusher Andre Williams missed the game due to an abdomen injury. Veteran receiver Bobby Swigert joined him on the sidelines during the second half after injuring his knee.
Spaziani turned to every page of the playbook to try to get what he had left on the field moving against Notre Dame’s defense. Freshman David Dudek, who entered the game with only 25 career carries, had success early with screen passes. He caught four of them for 40 yards. Spaziani dialed up reverses, hook-and-ladders and double passes as well, but nothing got behind the Irish defense.
“You thought you were at Disney World. There were Mickey Mouse plays everywhere,” said senior linebacker Manti Te’o, who set a school record for interceptions by a linebacker with his sixth of the season. “But everybody did their job. Nobody really stepped out of the framework of the defense and even though there were some reverses, screens a lot of those type of plays we kept them out of the end zone.”
The win was hardly a pretty one. The same problems that pushed the Irish to triple overtime against Pittsburgh surfaced again on the road. Riddick (18 carries, 104 yards) and sophomore George Atkinson III both lost their first fumbles of the season. Notre Dame lost 65 yards because of eight penalty calls.
“The only thing I’m not happy with is the turnovers. We gotta take better care of the ball,” Kelly said. “But they played hard and they played physical for four quarters.”
Only eight quarters remain for Notre Dame now. The Irish return home next week for Senior Day against Wake Forest before ending the year in Los Angeles against the floundering USC Trojans. If they can continue to play complete games in those final two weeks, they will at the very least be one of three teams with a legitimate claim to a ticket to the national championship game. Kansas State and Oregon stayed at the top of the polls with definitive wins this weekend. It’s too late in the year for a fireworks show to push the Irish past either one of them. For now the best they can do is hope for one of those two to lose and in the meantime take care of business on their own end.