If you’re a Notre Dame football fan, Saturday night brought both some very, very good news and some so-so bad news. No doubt Irish eyes were smiling when Johnny “Football” Manziel and Texas A&M held on to defeat No. 1 Alabama, removing one undefeated impediment from Notre Dame’s path to the National Championship. But the bad news is that the plodding Irish earned few style points in their 21-6 defeat of Boston College, meaning someone would have to sack the Oregon Duck‘s “quack attack” for the Irish to have a title shot.
First, back to the good news. Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly, said he found out about the Crimson Tide loss when he saw a TV on his way out to the field for the pregame warmups. But a wide grin broke out on his face when he was asked if he told his team about the upset prior to the BC game.
“Oh, no,” Kelly said. “Absolutely not. Wouldn’t talk about Alabama.”
And, by and large, the team bought in to this strategy. “You can’t come out and worry about another team that lost. You have to be focused on the task at hand,” Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson said. “Wins don’t come easy. Boston College plays us hard every year.”
Indeed, Jackson (who led the Irish with eight tackles Saturday) really brings us back to the larger point. Notre Dame WON, and winning the bitter “Holy War” rivalry in an ultra hostile environment is never easy. As Chase Rettig, BC’s star QB, explained, “It’s Notre Dame. Everyone knows them when you’re growing up.”
“Everyone says play each game the same, but that doesn’t stand true when you’re playing Notre Dame,” Rettig added. “It’s an exciting game to get ready for, especially when playing at home [and] the stadium is packed. They don’t [necessarily] think it’s a rivalry, but we still have that sense.”
But now back to style points. It could be argued that Notre Dame dominated BC—in its own way—almost as much as Oregon dominated California. In fact, after scoring a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, Notre Dame had opened up a 21-3 lead, while at a similar point in the Oregon game, the Ducks had allowed the underdog California Bears to score a touchdown and pull within seven.
The problem with that logic is that the average Irish scoring drive was 13 plays and over six minutes long (including a 16-play, eight-and-a-half minute drive), about the same amount of time Oregon took to then score four unanswered touchdowns (with drives of two minutes, two minutes, one minute, and eight seconds) and put the game out of reach.
And as unfair as it may seem to Irish fans that the pollsters favor offense over defense, Saturday night showed that there is some method to this madness. Despite the Ducks’ less-than-dominant defense, their game was over by the fourth quarter, whereas the Notre Dame game wasn’t decided until Manti Te’o intercepted Rettig with five minutes to play.
So if you play ball control like Navy (or shall we say, like Navy if the Midshipmen had an All-American tight end) both you and your opponent have less margin for error. If the Irish had not fumbled the ball away on two scoring drives, perhaps they would have scored enough actual points to gain some style points too.
As it is, the Irish will have to both take care of business and pull for Stanford and Oregon State to upset Oregon (or for Baylor or Texas to beat Kansas State) if they want the tortoise to again overtake the hare—or the Leprechaun to pass the Duck, as the BCS case may be.