Irish make their message heard
Pete Sampson Editor

Heed the Irish Pitt!

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – The message didn’t matter as much as its delivery.

Before Boston College’s first drive on Saturday night Manti Te’o sprinted toward the Eagles’ sideline, screaming in the general direction of freshman quarterback Chase Rettig. Notre Dame had already put Boston College down a touchdown via Dayne Crist’s scrambling rebirth. Te’o let Rettig know he wouldn’t be getting any closer.

“I just wanted to make sure all our guys were locked in and we didn’t let up,” Te’o said. “We didn’t. We held our ground.”

Boston College finished with just five yards rushing as Notre Dame’s defense turned in a revelatory performance. The Irish (2-3) pummeled the Eagles (2-2) and their quarterback mess into submission in a game that didn’t feel as close as the 31-13 final score.

The Irish forced nine three-and-outs, knocked Rettig out of the game in the second quarter and picked off replacement Mike Marscovetra twice. Notre Dame hasn’t held an opponent’s ground game to less ground in more than a decade, delivering on Brian Kelly’s stop-run game plan and perhaps turning the volume down on a few critics.

Half a day earlier and a full country away, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit compared Notre Dame’s defense to a slow high school production during the network’s Gameday circus. Notre Dame claimed the commentary didn’t resonate in the locker room, and after Saturday’s lockdown performance maybe it won’t be repeated.

“If we spend time listening to what people say in the media about us, we’d probably just have to crawl under a table,” said head coach Brian Kelly after his home state return. “We can’t handle the big picture stuff. We’re focused solely on what we can do every day to get better. That’s really the honest answer.”

There’s still a lot Notre Dame can do better, but in beating up Boston College the Irish showed exactly how good they can be when shifting into fifth gear. Notre Dame scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions, jumping out to a 21-0 lead before Boston College notched its first first down.

Crist took the read option off the do-not-call list on Notre Dame’s first possession, sprinting seven yards untouched into the end zone. Two drives later he hit Kyle Rudolph for a two-yard score off playaction, respected by the Eagles because of Armando Allen’s rushing production.

The senior tailback finished with 19 carries and 90 yards, including a career-long 30-yarder on the first series. The Eagles had allowed just three runs of 10-plus yards all season.

On the next possession Crist riffled a 20-yard touchdown to Theo Riddick, with the rout apparently on. The Irish hadn’t scored three touchdowns in a first quarter since the Michigan game two years ago. Boston College had allowed three touchdown drives of 50-plus yards all season, a mark Notre Dame doubled in that dominating first quarter.

“I feel that as an offense we took a major step in the right direction, especially with the way that we wanted to come out and start the game,” Crist said. “We talk about playing fast all the time and that’s a motto that we live by on offense. It was something we were able to achieve tonight.”

Notre Dame sputtered offensively for most of the game’s remainder. Two lost fumbles in the second quarter turned into two Boston College field goals, one of the few moments that the Eagles looked capable of applying game pressure to the Irish, trialing 24-13 at halftime.

Yet after that second field goal, gifted by an Allen fumble deep in Notre Dame territory, Boston College punted on its next seven possessions, a streak broke only by the interceptions of Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith in the fourth quarter. The Eagles finished with a respectable 270 yards total offense, but they never came within a Hail Mary of the goal line in the second half.

“This if the kind of performance that we knew we could do week in and week out,” Te’o said. “We just gotta keep working.”

Saturday night at Alumni Stadium was Notre Dame’s first payoff in more than a month after back-to-back-to-back losses, a run that test the team’s confidence even if they wouldn’t admit it. On Kelly’s laundry list of positives, that was one of the biggest. Despite mounting pressure to win now, Notre Dame didn’t play like a team affected.

The Irish took their foot off the gas after the first quarter offensively, but Kelly didn’t let his team apply the breaks without hearing about it. There might not have been a player on the Irish roster he didn’t berate for failing to do the little things right. From Crist to punter Ben Turk, who enjoyed a bounce back performance that included a 53-yard bomb, no one was spared.

The red-faced message?

“Mental and physical toughness,” Kelly said. “We have to build it. That’s our weakness right now. Guys are coming, but our mental and physical toughness, our ability to stay focused, locked in for 76 plays is really what we’re getting. That has to be created on a day-to-day basis.

“It can’t be left to I’ll get to you later. It’s got to be attended to immediately and our guys are understanding that.”

Not only was it message delivered for Notre Dame on Saturday night, it may have been message received too.