Two Massachusetts teams taught Notre Dame more about itself than the Irish probably want to accept on the third weekend of the college football season.
Boston College was one. Notre Dame had trouble before pulling away for a 49-20 victory on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The Irish (2-1) led the Eagles (1-2) only 14-10 at halftime and 14-13 in the third quarter.
The other team was the University of Massachusetts. Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Temple is less impressive after the hapless Minutemen (0-3) took the Owls (2-1) to the final moments before falling 29-21 Friday night in Philadelphia.
In other words, we still don’t know if Notre Dame can be anything more than a team that avoids a second-straight losing season after last year’s 4-8 record.
It is true Notre Dame’s final numbers of 515 yards rushing and 611 total yards look dominating, but the big totals didn’t accumulate until after Boston College had trimmed Notre Dame’s lead to 14-13 with 11:25 left in the third period. At halftime, Notre Dame had 271 total yards to Boston College’s 228. The Eagles’ three second-half turnovers contributed to Notre Dame’s 35-point outburst.
Notre Dame redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush broke off some Lamar Jackson-esque running in the second half but overall he was one-dimensional. Louisville’s Jackson won the Heisman Trophy by also hitting key passes.
Wimbush ran 21 times for 207 yards and four touchdowns. That’s a school rushing record for a quarterback. He scored on runs of 2 and 1 yards in the first half and 3 and 65 in the second half.
But throwing the ball, the 6-foot-1, 228-pounder was only 11-of-24 for 96 yards without a touchdown and one interception on a tipped ball. He missed receivers when the game was close in the first half.
The passing game wasn’t helped by a lack of timing with veteran wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who broke off some routes. St. Brown was supposed to be the Irish’s big-play threat, but he caught one ball for three yards. A week ago in the 20-19 loss at home to Georgia, he caught two for 16.
Tight end Alize Mack was the leading receiver with five catches for 43 yards.
On Wimbush’s intercepted pass, the Irish were lucky Boston College coach Steve Addazio played it conservatively. The ball was returned just inside Notre Dame’s 40-yard line moments before intermission, but Addazio let the clock run out rather than take a shot at the end zone or setting up a field goal.
The Irish might not have scored in the first half without Josh Adams’ breakaway runs on delayed handoffs. The scores weren’t the result of sustained drives with third-down completed passes.
Adams broke off a 46-yard gallop that Wimbush finished with a 2-yard score for a 7-3 lead with 6:28 left in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he was free on a 64-yard run that Wimbush concluded with a 1-yard dive to erase a 10-7 deficit with 1:57 left in the first half.
Adams carried 18 times for 229 yards without a score. His 65-yard first-quarter run pushed him passed the 2,000-yard career milestone.
Notre Dame’s defense still has to improve to put together a winning streak that will drive the Irish up the Top 25 ladder.
Boston College was without four of its top six offensive linemen due to injuries, but the Eagles totaled 399 yards. Jon Hillman ran 22 times for 122 yards. The Eagles averaged 4.1 yards rushing with 43 carries for 181 yards. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anthony Brown was 24-of-41 for 215 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
This wasn’t a make-or-break game for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. It was only a break game. An upset loss could have broken his future in South Bend barring a nine-game winning streak from here on out. A make game isn’t beating a team picked in the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Kelly is still on the hot seat.
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