Righting the ship
Eric Prister | Monday, October 4, 2010
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The Irish got off to a much-needed fast start against the Eagles, scoring three times in their first four possessions. Notre Dame simply needed an early 21-point lead and a shut-down defensive performance to hold on for a convincing 31-13 victory Saturday night.
“Well, we got off to a fast start,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I thought that was key, obviously, on the road. We had three touchdowns on the first four possessions, and that gives us a lot of confidence early on. We’re just happy to get a victory at this point.”
Behind the arm and legs of junior quarterback Dayne Crist, the Irish moved the ball up and down the field in the first quarter. They capped off their first scoring drive with a seven-yard touchdown run by Crist, something Irish coach Brian Kelly has been looking for in his signal-caller.
“He’s got to be a spread quarterback or he can’t be the quarterback here,” Kelly said. “We’re running a spread offense, and there’s got to be a spread quarterback. He’s all in. He’s 100 percent in. He had a great week of practice, and we’re really just working on that process of developing him as a spread quarterback. He’s not there yet, but he’s developing. He’s showing signs, and I think we’re going to get better each and every week with him, but under those conditions.”
The Irish struck again two drives later, capping off a 59-yard yard scoring drive with a two-yard touchdown pass from Crist to junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, his only reception of the game.
“I think it was a step in the right direction,” Crist said. “We had to come out ready to play. The guys knew this was going to be a tough [Boston College] defense. We have a lot of respect for them and we knew we had to come out with a great intensity and we knew that they would match that. It was one of those situations where guys came ready to go, and I’m really proud of the offense.”
After the Notre Dame defense forced the Eagles into a third consecutive three-and-out, Crist and the Irish offense once again marched down the field, scoring on a touchdown pass to sophomore Theo Riddick from 20 yards out. Riddick finished the day as the leading Notre Dame receiver, catching nine passes for 69 yards and the score.
“We got back to some of our principles in the spread,” Kelly said. “We had our quarterback run for a touchdown, we were able to spread the field a little bit better, and you know, we’ve got to handle situations a little better. We’re just hot and cold right now. Theo Riddick caught the ball well. [Junior receiver] Michael Floyd continues to perform. Again, I thought we got off to a good start. They were confident in their ability. We just haven’t shown it on a consistent basis.”
Boston College showed signs of life near the end of the first quarter, as freshman quarterback Chase Rettig connected on a deep pass to freshman receiver Bobby Swigert, who took the catch-and-run into the end zone for a 58-yard score.
The Eagles then converted two of their next three drives into field goals, a 49-yarder and a 25-yarder off the foot of freshman kicker Nate Freese, to bring them within eight.
The Irish were able to score once more in the first half, on a 37-yard field goal by senior David Ruffer, which puts him at a perfect 13-for-13 in his career.
The Irish defense came out even stronger in the second half, keeping the Eagles scoreless for the final 30 minutes. Boston College managed only five total rushing yards in the game, while tallying 11 punts and converting four of 19 third down opportunities.
“Our defense played great against the run,” Kelly said. “We really focused on taking the run away, knowing that the quarterbacks would be coming in and out of the game, we really focused on the run and we ended up only giving up five yards of rushing. So, any time you go on the road, play good rush defense, get off to a good start — we’ve got a lot of work to do — but again, those things are the things you’re looking for when you go on the road.”
Sophomore linebackers Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese each recorded 10 tackles, leading the effort which limited Eagles running back Montel Harris to 28 yards on 15 carries. Junior Robert Blanton and senior Harrison Smith each added an interception for the Irish.
“[Calabrese] is playing very well,” Kelly said. “He’s been a compliment to our linebacking corps which is getting better and better each week.”
Crist finished the game 24-for-44 with 203 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Senior Armando Allen led the Irish rushing attack, carrying the ball 19 times for 90 yards and Notre Dame’s final score of the game.
Coming off of three straight losses, including two heartbreaking defeats at the hands of rivals Michigan and Michigan State, Kelly said the decisive victory resonated in the Irish locker room.
“Happy,” he said. “Happy, happy, happy. Everybody’s happy in Notre Dame land. Our boys wanted to win badly. They worked hard at it, and I’m happy that they got a win … We’re not there yet, but we’re going to keep working every day and continue to work on those things to get better.”
Crist said that happiness mainly stemmed from Notre Dame feeling it was closer to victory than the three losses indicated.
“It was huge,” the junior quarterback said. “Guys knew how close we were. We’ve told you this before, but guys weren’t down after those losses, because we know how this team can play. We know the potential this team has and where we can go. We’re just trying to be masters of our own destiny, take it one game at a time and do everything we can to get wins. It feels great; there is not a better feeling that winning.”
Kelly said that he was not completely satisfied, and that the area that Notre Dame needs to improve on most is their mentality during games.
“[It’s] toughness,” he said. “Mental and physical toughness. We have to do it. That’s our weakness right now. We’re going to continue to work on it, as it comes. Our ability to stay focused, locked in, for 76 plays, is really what we’re getting at. And that has to be created on a day-to-day basis. It can’t be left to ‘I’ll get to it later.’ It’s got to be tended to immediately, and our guys are understanding that, and we’ll continue to build it.”