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Football Commentary: ND did more to lose Saturday

Chris Hine | Monday, October 15, 2007

Boston College did almost everything it could to lose Saturday’s game. Notre Dame did a little more.

The Eagles did their part to create another historic game in the upset-laden rivalry between Notre Dame and Boston College by committing 15 penalties and squandering multiple scoring opportunities. An upset, however, requires more than a sub-par performance from the favored team. The underdog must perform above expectations. Unfortunately, for Notre Dame, it had another game typical of its season. The offense did not develop a running game, freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen struggled and the defense gave up 459 yards.

But even with all that, Boston College let the Irish stick around.

The Eagles quickly drove down the field in their first drive to take a 6-0 lead and were on their way to more points when Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski decided to go for it on fourth-and-nine from the 24-yard line. The Irish defense held and Notre Dame gained some momentum with the stop.

In an upset, the offense would come right on the field, seize that momentum and put points on the board. By doing this, the underdog has itself and its fans thinking, “Hey, we can beat these guys.” Notre Dame, however, went three-and-out on the following drive. Thoughts of an upset were put to bed until later in the first half when Irish defensive end Trevor Laws blocked a Boston College field goal attempt. The Irish managed to get a couple of first downs before inevitably punting.

Then came a play so improbable and demoralizing, not even the most pessimistic Irish fan could fathom this happening. Irish punter Geoff Price put his knee on the ground to receive a low snap on the punt. The referees correctly ruled him down and Boston College took over on Notre Dame’s 42-yard line. I’ve never seen a play like this in 20 years of watching football, so I called my dad with 38 more years of football under his belt to see if he ever saw something like that. He said he did, though I doubt it, because he tends to forget things these days.

At this point, Notre Dame and Boston College were jockeying for field position. That play alone cost the Irish about 50 yards of field position. Naturally, Boston College scored in eight plays on the shortened field to go up 13-0

In another Irish mistake, Boston College linebacker Tony Pruitt intercepted Clausen to set up an 11-yard Eagles scoring drive.

Down 20-0, an upset seemed unlikely for the Irish, but Boston College wasn’t finished trying to give the game away. A roughing-the-passer penalty aided Notre Dame’s first scoring drive. A few plays later, Irish freshman Bryan Smith intercepted Eagles quarterback Matt Ryan and returned it for a touchdown to pull the Irish within a touchdown. The upset was within reach. Notre Dame could finally pay back Boston College for ruining its national title runs in 1993 and 2002. The fans knew it and the players knew it.

The Irish had all the momentum – but for only about ten seconds. Amid the delirium following the touchdown, a buzz-killing yellow flag appeared. The penalty was excessive celebration on the Irish and would be enforced on the kickoff. A play that seemed like a turning point for Notre Dame quickly turned into a turning point for Boston College.

“You know, that was really big. That penalty was really big there …,” Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski said. “I mean, that was big. That was real big for us.”

The Irish had the game in their grasp, but were too busy celebrating to notice it.

The Eagles took advantage of the fantastic field position Notre Dame gave them, again, and scored a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

Notre Dame’s last glimmer of hope came in the fourth quarter, when Evan Sharpley found receiver Robbie Parris in the end zone on a fourth-and-one play action pass, but a holding penalty on Notre Dame quickly ended the dream of a late Irish comeback.

Most of the key mistakes the Irish made against Boston College had nothing to do with the struggles Notre Dame has had this season. These were easily avoidable mistakes.

If there’s a better snap on the punt, maybe Boston College doesn’t score its second touchdown.

If Clausen looks off the defenders before his interception, maybe there is no pick.

If Notre Dame controlled its emotions following Smith’s touchdown, maybe the defense can hold Boston College on a longer field.

Given the way Boston College played Saturday, Notre Dame – even in a year when it started 1-5 – should have won this game. Boston College did not play like the No. 3 team in the country Saturday, but Notre Dame played like a 1-6 team. The Eagles tried to give the game away.

The Irish just didn’t want it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu.