For the first time since the season opener, the Boston College offense was humming. The defense was decking receivers and pressuring the pocket. Even the special teams were perfect, drilling a pair of field goals and knocking kickoffs out of the back of the end zone with ease. And with 18 seconds left in the second quarter, Lukas Denis captured an Equanimeous St. Brown tip and returned it to Notre Dame territory. The interception gave the Eagles a chance to make a statement score before the half.
Then, everything came grinding to a halt.
Instead of taking a shot, Steve Addazio opted to run the ball up the middle and allow the clock to wind down. His conservative decision to not take a shot before halftime was met by boos from the stands, and even harsher judgement online.
After the game, Addazio explained his rationale without prompting from reporters. He said that, because of what he perceived as a botched snap on the play previous, he didn’t want to risk a strip-sack fumble. And he wanted to protect the psyche of Anthony Brown, his redshirt freshman quarterback, against what he said was the low chance of converting on a Hail Mary.
“You play the percentages, and that’s what we did,” Addazio said. “That was our whole mindset there. It’s really not that complicated, agree or disagree. That’s why there’s many flavors of ice cream.”
But, in defense of the Eagles’ fifth-year head coach, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway against the Fighting Irish.
Freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush and the Irish waltzed their way to a 49-20 victory on Saturday afternoon behind a pair of momentum-shifting touchdown runs in the third quarter. Each time, the scoring play was set up by a huge gain on the ground, and each time, Harold Landry & Co. couldn’t stop the big play—often because the All-American wasn’t on the field in the first place.
The Eagles (1-2) looked nothing like the team that was second in the country against the run in 2015. Without Connor Strachan, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury, Wimbush and running back Josh Adams both torched BC’s run defense and eclipsed 200 yards rushing each, as Notre Dame (2-1) posted its highest rushing totals ever under head coach Brian Kelly.
“We got out of our gaps, and we didn’t tackle well at the second level,” Addazio said. “There was a couple times the safety should have fit the runs in there, and we missed tackles.”
For BC, the result is even more frustrating considering the first-half effort. Behind improved offensive line play, Jonathan Hilliman hit gaps and broke tackles en route to 122 rushing yards, his highest total since the Pinstripe Bowl in 2014.
Brown outdueled his freshman counterpart through the air, nearly besting his totals from the Wake Forest loss with 110 yards and a touchdown in the opening 30 minutes alone. His scoring strike, a 22-yard dart over the middle to Charlie Callinan, gave the Eagles a 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Filled to the brim with 44,500 bodies, Alumni Stadium was alive and rocking in a sellout that actually felt like one.
But before halftime, the Irish pieced together a seven play, 92-yard drive that gave them a 14-10 lead they would never give back. Denis’s pick threatened that halftime lead, but the drive didn’t last.
The third quarter started strong for BC, with a fumble recovery and field goal to make it a one-point game. Then, things took a permanent turn for the worse. Holes began to open up on the defensive line, and Notre Dame’s backfield capitalized for massive gains. First, Wimbush kept the ball for a 46-yard run that set up a short touchdown for Tony Jones. Then, after Brown threw an interception on the next drive, Adams busted out a 36-yard run and Wimbush aired out a 33-yard pass to return to the red zone. There, Wimbush kept it for a 3-yard touchdown run, his third of a school-record four rushing touchdowns against the Eagles.
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame added to its lead as fans emptied out of Alumni. Wimbush showed off his athleticism on an electric 65-yard touchdown run that should’ve been stopped for a loss by Landry. The senior star was absent on many of the Irish’s big plays and, oddly, on several red zone situations.
The 49-20 final was not indicative of the tight first half, but the ugly second half made fans quickly forget about the opening half hour. BC has been outscored 48-13 in the second half over the past two weeks against Wake and Notre Dame.
Perhaps the decision to let the clock run down was the right one, a calculated call to safeguard the psyche of his young signal caller. Or maybe, had he run a couple more plays and used his remaining timeouts, the Eagles could have attempted a field goal with their improved special-teams unit before halftime.
That’s why there’s different flavors of ice cream. But some taste sweeter than others.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor