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Football: Soaring Eagles

Chris Doyen | Monday, October 15, 2007

Notre Dame’s offense and special teams failed to move the ball against Boston College, costing the Irish the field position battle and, ultimately, the game.

The Irish defense held its own against one of the top teams in the country, but fifth-year quarterback Matt Ryan led the Eagles to four touchdowns – including three that began on the Irish 11-yard line, 41-yard line and 29-yard line – en route to a 27-14 victory.

Ryan finished 32-of-49 passing with two touchdowns and an interception, easily out-dueling the Irish quarterback duo of Jimmy Clausen and Evan Sharpley.

Clausen and Sharpley combined to complete only 18-of-49 passes (36.7 percent), and Clausen threw two interceptions, including a back-breaker on the first offensive play of the second half for the Irish. Clausen was so ineffective that Irish coach Charlie Weis benched him after he threw an interception to Eagles defensive back Tyronne Pruitt at the beginning of the second half.

“I told [Clausen] I’d give him the first drive of the second half to see what he had, and he came up and threw that early pick,” Weis said. “I just felt at that time a fresh Evan was the way to go. He gave us a spark and came out and made some plays.”

Notre Dame’s inability to generate a consistent offense pressured the Irish defense, which suffered as a result of Boston College’s short fields throughout the game.

The Irish defense allowed only one touchdown on an Eagles drive that began in Boston College territory, and that came on the first drive of the game. On the other possessions, the Irish defense forced five punts and three failed fourth down conversions, and it blocked a field goal.

The Eagles also threw one interception on a drive that started in their own territory. Ryan threw a pass that Irish linebacker Brian Smith picked off, taking it 25 yards for a touchdown – cutting Boston College’s lead to 20-14.

“Brian Smith is going to be a very, very good football player,” Weis said. “He’s on the rise, and that arrow is pointing straight up for him.”

After the touchdown, the Irish were flagged for an excessive celebration penalty that forced the Irish to kick off from their own 15-yard line.

“I don’t think the referees were too upset when the team that was on the field was partying,” Weis said. “It’s when the other guys came on the field and got involved in it. And I don’t blame the officials for calling it. We need to do a better job of controlling ourselves, and you know, that one falls on me.”

The penalty further hurt the Irish field position because the ensuing kickoff only went to the Eagles 38 – which was Weis’ intention. But Eagles fullback Brad Newman took the kick to the Irish 44.

“We sky-kicked it thinking we were going to kick it to their up back, which is who we kicked it to, and then we’d be able to get the ball on about the 40 yard line,” Weis said. “But now the kid catches the ball, makes a couple guys miss, gets an extra, whatever, 15, 20 yards, whatever he got. If he catches the ball we’re now on the minus-40, you would have considered it a successful play.”

Boston College took the short field and turned it into six points on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to wide receiver Kevin Challenger to go back up by two scores.

“It was huge to come back and score especially after you throw an interception and it goes for six. You want to come back out and keep fighting and we went down and did that,” Ryan said. “The guys stepped up and Kevin Challenger on that touchdown pass had phenomenal timing on his route and then made a guy miss and just did a great job.”

Special teams play also hurt the Irish in the field position battle when punter Geoff Price bent down to pick up a bad snap from long snapper J. J. Jansen and let his knee touch the ground, downing him at the Irish 42-yard line.

“That’s uncharacteristic of J.J. because I’d say he’s easily bull’s eyed when it comes to snapping,” Weis said.

The Irish did have some highlights in the loss, mostly coming in the third quarter.

Even though the Irish never had the field position advantage the Eagles had, Sharpley led Notre Dame on a seven-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that took only 59 seconds.

Sharpley was 4-of-7 on the drive for 64 yards. The Eagles defense helped the drive along with a roughing the passer penalty that turned a 3rd and 10 into a 1st down. Sharpley connected with Parris twice, including a 28-yard gain on third down and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Parris – who got more playing time as a result of the injury to David Grimes – was targeted more frequently with Sharpley in the game, but Parris warned against reading too much into that.

“When [Sharpley] was in, I was open,” Parris said. “A quarterback change doesn’t affect how everyone else plays. It’s not really a good or bad thing.”

Parris and Smith’s touchdowns brought the Irish within one score before the excessive celebration penalty.

Down two scores, the Irish appeared to convert a third down on Sharpley’s scramble and desparation pass to tight end John Carlson, but an official replay overturned the call, giving the Irish fourth-and-one on the Boston College 13. Weis called a play-action fake that worked well, and Sharpley found Parris open in the end zone again.

But the play was voided by a holding penalty on guard Michael Turkovich, and the Irish failed to convert the ensuing fourth down try.

Parris said the emotions after the play were very difficult.

“I went from the highest high to the lowest low,” Parris said. “It was the perfect play call, but that’s just an unfortunate event that happens sometimes.”

Sharpley said that even though the penalty is difficult, he still understands that things like that are part of the game.

“That’s football,” Sharpley said. “It’s disappointing when you have success and then it’s taken away from you. Those things happen, though.”

After the game, Sharpley said that he did not care about any personnel questions and that the team only had one thing on his mind.

“We want to win,” he said. “That’s all anybody wants this year. I think that’s the most frustrating part right now.”