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O’Boyle: Irish prevent ‘snowball’ against Eagles

| Saturday, September 16, 2017

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Notre Dame played terribly for huge stretches of Saturday’s game.

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, for all intents and purposes, cannot consistently pass the football. Most concerning, he can’t seem to hit his best wide receiver, junior Equanimeous St. Brown, even when he should.

The Irish defense gave up easy completions over the middle of the field to Eagles redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown — almost any completion Brown makes can be considered easy, on the grounds that he is not a good quarterback, but the drag routes the Irish gave up over the middle of the field were easy even for Brown. They let Eagles junior running back Jon Hilliman gut them for gain after gain. They let a notoriously poor offense gain 400 yards, the most Boston College has earned against a Power-5 school since it defeated USC more than three years ago.

A combination of offense, defense and special teams let the Eagles reach midfield or beyond 11 times. Nine of those were before the halfway mark of the third quarter.

But the Irish won.

And covered the spread.

By 15 points.

Against a Power-5 team.

The one that always plays them close.

In a true road game.

After a close loss.

Coming off a 4-8 season.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush reads the defense during Notre Dame's 49-20 victory over Boston College on Saturday. Wimbush had 207 rushing yards with four touchdowns and 96 passing yards.Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush reads the defense during Notre Dame’s 49-20 victory over Boston College on Saturday. Wimbush had 207 rushing yards with four touchdowns and 96 passing yards.

The best teams dominate their opponents from start to finish, and the Irish did not do that. But the best teams this year generally won at least 10 games last year.

And the Irish won four.

They did what good teams do: They took a game where they were struggling and turned it into a comprehensive victory. Better teams have done the same this year, most notably No. 8 Ohio State against Indiana and No. 4 USC against Western Michigan in Week 1.

This win doesn’t mean the Irish are on the level of Ohio State or USC, because of course it doesn’t, but it is something the Irish never could have done last year.

The Irish would have collapsed under the pressure of a close game.

The defense would have broken when Eagles crossed the halfway line again and again.

The offense would have panicked and got away from what they did well, instead of calming down and controlling the game.

Notre Dame would have lost to Boston College.

Boston College is a bad team, sure. One that you would expect Notre Dame to be able to mark on the schedule as a certain victory. But Michigan State last year went 3-9. Their only other FBS victory was against Rutgers. Texas was 5-7, with a loss to Kansas. Navy lost to five other group-of-five teams. Duke was a 4-8 team that had just lost to Wake Forest and Northwestern.

And the Eagles’ reputation for playing their best against Notre Dame didn’t come from nowhere.

After all, the Irish struggled early on.

With Notre Dame’s 1-7 record in one score games last year, and a win over Temple that was easy all the way before a one-point loss to Georgia, they needed something that didn’t go right within the first 33 seconds.

They needed to prove they could succeed in close games.

Playing Georgia close was impressive. It tells you the Irish have the talent of a top team.

So do the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 recruiting rankings.

So does any 2018 NFL mock draft.

But after the Georgia game, Brian Kelly was asked, “How do you stop this loss from snowballing?” And he didn’t take it well. Given Notre Dame’s recent record in close games, it was a fair question. For a moment, it looked like it may have snowballed.

Instead, the Irish looked at ease by the fourth quarter.

Pick at the flaws early in the game all you want. They were clear, and they needed work. But if you’re unsatisfied with 29-point road victory over a Power-5 rival, you’re forgetting that this was a 4-8 team last year. The Irish proved that they can beat the teams that they should, even when they struggle.

That’s a big deal.

Especially when you remember that they have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the better teams, and hope that luck or some extra motivation can give them an upset victory over a team like USC.

The Irish played badly out of the gate. They could have played badly all the way. They could have reminded everyone of the biggest question about 2016’s team.

But the Georgia loss didn’t snowball.

Next question.

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

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About Daniel O'Boyle

Daniel O'Boyle is a senior sports writer living in Alumni Hall, majoring in Political Science. He is currently on the Notre Dame Women's Basketball, Men's Tennis and Women's Soccer beats. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Daniel spends most of his free time attempting to keep up with second-flight English soccer and his beloved Reading FC. He believes Lonzo Ball is the greatest basketball player of all time.

Contact Daniel