Sunday Drive Thru

Shembo recorded the first two sacks of his career

Notre Dame survived and advanced Saturday with an uneven, 31-13 victory in Chestnut Hill.

With 4:52 remaining in the first quarter of Saturday night's contest between Notre Dame and Boston College, Eagles punter Ryan Quigley – the nation's second best entering the contest – received a favorable role on an otherwise shanked offering.

The pigskin first bounced at the Eagles 47-yard line, just 27 yards away from its scrimmage launch point. The football settled at the Irish 28. Quigley's nationally impressive net average was bettered by the bounce and role.

Now that we've covered BC's catalogue of offensive highlights last night, we can proceed with the rest of the column.

No Chance

The Irish defense posted their best effort of the season, due in large part to the rudderless, impotent opponent before them.

They'll take it. We'll take it. Irish fans had suffered through two close losses and a shot to the chin over the last three weeks and at 1-3, all wins are sweet, especially an 18-point yawner over a previous foil.

The early-season 2010 version of Boston College stinks loud loud, at least offensively. Notre Dame remains inconsistent through five games, but it saved its season last night, as a 1-4 start would have released the alumni hounds just one month into the Brian Kelly era. At 2-3, Notre Dame is still alive, able to point toward the final leg of a brutal six-game stretch to begin the new era.

Check, Check, Check

The recipe for success for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's crew Saturday: stop the run; harass an inexperienced quarterback into poor reads/mistakes; get off the field.

Diaco's rush defense held Boston College's one-trick attack to an obscene five yards on 23 carries. His pass defense suffered one major breakdown (resulting in a touchdown) but sacked a pair of unprepared Eagles quarterbacks five times, picking them off twice while forcing 11 punts and limiting the home team to just four 3rd down conversions in 19 chances.

The Irish D was the best unit on the field last night – it excelled vs. what looked to be among the nation's worst. Still, the defense held an opponent scoreless in the second stanza for the first time since the 2009 season-opening shutout over Nevada.

Perhaps most impressive, Diaco's unit limited BC to 20 yards on 11 plays with just one field goal following Notre Dame's two first half turnovers. The still-learning ND offense tried its best to turn a laugher into a contest but the Irish D, led by sophomore inside linebackers Carlo Calabrese and Manti Te'o's 20 combined stops, would not break.

Calabrese totaled 3.5 of the team's 11 tackles-for-loss Saturday night, three of which occurred in an 8-play span to begin the second half, including a 7-yard sack to force an Eagles punt.

Also playing well in consecutive appearances with 2008 freshman-phenom Robert Blanton. After two pass breakups and another fine effort to negate a touchdown pass last Saturday, Blanton recorded the fifth interception of his career last night (the highest total on the roster); the result of a textbook effort in zone coverage followed by a leaping one-handed deflection and catch to end a 4th Quarter drive. Additionally, both of Blanton's tackles resulted in lost yardage including a blind-side sack at midfield to kill the Eagles' final first half scoring chance.

The new guy: In mid-August, Brian Kelly was asked where he liked freshman Prince Shembo: at inside or outside linebacker?

"I like him on the field," Kelly quipped.

Saturday night, Shembo made his presence felt from scrimmage for the first time, recording two second-half sacks from a reduced outside linebacker position that has proven erratic through the opening month.

Shembo appears to have cemented a role as a pass-rusher in Notre Dame's dime package and ranks as the first 2010 recruit to make a splash on the defensive side of scrimmage.

Check, Miles to Go, Sputter, Smile…

"Well we got off to a fast start I think that was key on the road against a team that obviously that has given us trouble," noted Brian Kelly post-game. "We talked about getting off to the fast start I think we had three touchdowns in our first four possessions which obviously gave us a lot of confidence early on."

Losers of seven of the last nine vs. the Eagles, the Irish hadn't won in Chestnut Hill since 1998. I thought last night's contest would provide one final blow to the Irish season that seemed spiraling out of control. But a blitzkrieg attack buried the home town annoyances in a 21-0 hole from which they had no chance to recover.

The game's opening drive ranked among the best of the season for the Irish and it was set up by the season's best kick return: a 43-yard burst by freshman Bennett Jackson – his first collegiate touch. The recently resurrected John Goodman secured a pass thrown behind him for a first down near midfield followed by the longest run of Armando Allen's career – a 30-yard gash a gash behind a huge hole over the right side. Finally, an untouched Dayne Crist scored on a sprint-option keeper over the same vacated right side: 4 plays, 50 yards, less than two minutes off the clock: 7-0 Irish.

Following an ineffective second possession, Kelly's offense produced touchdowns on consecutive drives: first traveling 59 yards in 9 plays and capped off with a Crist to Kyle Rudolph TD toss; the second covered 72 yards in seven plays and culminated in Theo Riddick's third career touchdown catch (and third in as many weeks).

With just under 2:20 remaining in the opening period, the Irish had run 24 plays totaling 193 yards and 21 points…BC had punted three times in 13 snaps.

Regression but reward: Notre Dame's next eight plays totaled four yards with two lost fumbles and the fortunate but flailing home town offense cut a commanding 21-point lead to 21-13 late in the second period. A David Ruffer field goal (that's 13 for 13 to start his career) gave the Irish an 11-point halftime edge and the Irish offense sealed the contest midway through the 3rd with a workmanlike 14-play, 76-yard drive that ended with Armando Allen's second rushing score of the season and the 31-13 final margin.

The march took 4:44 off the clock – the longest scoring drive of the season for the Irish both in terms of total plays and possession time.

Despite late-game struggles, Crist was pleased with the team's road effort

"It was huge. 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," he said. "It feels great. There is not better feeling than winning. Guys are happy, jumping around the locker room and it's a great team to share it with."

Kelly was less-than-enthusiastic about the 60-minute effort, especially from the erratic Jekyll and Hyde play of his first-year signal-caller.

"He has to be a spread quarterback or he can't be the quarterback here," Kelly said of Crist's peaks and valleys. "He's all in. He had a good week of practice and preparation this week. He's developing. He's showing signs."

Had the Irish played similarly last night but entered the contest at 3-1 with two fortunate victories, ND fans would lament the team's ranking rather than record after four games. Instead, an ugly 2-3 serves as a consolation prize after snapping a three-game skid.

Notre Dame should beat BC. They have better players, more depth, and are simply more fortunate at the quarterback position.

But other Irish teams have lost in similar situations vs. the upstart Eagles (and I thought this group would succumb Saturday). Two straight for the Irish over BC offers a reason to smile on a Sunday morning. A one-game winning streak heading into a winnable game vs. equally inconsistent Pittsburgh next Saturday in South Bend indicates official October resurgence could be a mere seven days away.

IrishEyes.com Recommended Stories