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Poor field position doesn’t cost Irish

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, November 20, 2011

When Boston College senior punter Ryan Quigley pinned Notre Dame at its own five-yard line in the first quarter, it was an exceptional kick. When Quigley made the Irish start at their own three-yard line on his next punt, it was a trend. After Notre Dame started its fifth drive inside its own 10-yard line, it had become standard.

“The field position was difficult to manage, and the weather. The weather conditions were hard and blustery, so we had to manage,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “We knew what kind of game this was going to end up being, and it certainly turned out that way.”

Notre Dame, however, overcame the bad field position with strong defense in its 16-14 win over Boston College on Saturday.

In Notre Dame’s first 13 drives, not counting the last drive after Boston College’s onside kick, its average starting field position was at the 19-yard line. The three final Irish drives each set new game-high marks for starting field position — first at the 35-yard line, next at the 39-yard line and then, after the onside kick, at the Eagle 48-yard line.

“It was a battle all day,” senior linebacker Darius Fleming said. “Those are the games you like to play in. You like to play when you have to stay on your toes. You can’t go out there and slack off at all because it can cost you the game.”

Conversely, the Eagles started just two drives inside their own 20-yard line. On average, Boston College (3-8, 2-5 ACC) started at its 30-yard line.

“Those are situations we practice for every day,” Fleming said of the field position. “Those are things the defense is aware of and we’re prepared for those kinds of situations.”

The defense responded in a big way, holding the Eagles to 250 total yards of offense, with just 80 yards coming on the ground.

“Everybody was getting to the ball,” junior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “Everybody was trying to make a big play. Everybody was doing their assignment. That’s what makes good defense. Everybody is one-eleventh of the defense.”

Notre Dame (8-3) held Boston College sophomore quarterback Chase Rettig without a completion for 10 straight attempts during the second half.

“We missed a couple, they put some pressure on us and the combination of those, we got ourselves off rhythm,” Eagles coach Frank Spaziani said.

The Irish allowed two touchdown drives longer than 70 yards, but also forced the Eagles into six three-and-out series.

“We did a good job playing assignment football, stopping the run, keeping big plays off the stat sheet,” graduate student safety Harrison Smith said. “There were definitely plays we wanted back, especially on those two drives. Overall, we did a good job.”

Despite forcing nine Boston College punts, Notre Dame was unable to muster any punt return yards, registering six fair catches on the day.

Although the Irish racked up an impressive 417 total yards, they did not have a drive longer than 55 yards after opening the game with an 80-yard scoring drive.

“You can’t get frustrated, because we didn’t get ourselves out of that position,” sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees said. “If we would have moved the ball down the field then, you don’t leave it where they are punting and have a chance to put you inside the ten. Obviously it’s not the most ideal situation, but we could have done some things to help ourselves out.”

Notre Dame punted eight times on the day, including five in their seven second-half possessions.

Junior punter Ben Turk averaged 44 yards per punt, including a long of 55 yards.

“I think he did really well,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Turk. “As you know, the kind of game it was, I think he had eight punts, they had nine. College football has all these things, and it’s not always about up and down the field. Sometimes you got to block and tackle and grind it out and find a way to win. I just like the way our guys now understand how to win games.”