Mutka: Boston College continues to give ND fits
By John Mutka November 20, 2011 10:56PM
Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood, left, tries to avoid Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly as he rushes during the second half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Notre Dame defeated Boston College 16-14. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: December 22, 2011 8:16AM
SOUTH BEND — No offense, folks, but Boston College doesn’t have one.
When Notre Dame is the designated victim, being anemic doesn’t matter. Even in a bad year the Eagles treat the Domers like their worst enemy.
Saturday they departed from the House that Rockne Built, having scored fewer than 20 points for the ninth time in a 3-8 season.
Even though the sputtering included a quarterback who misfired on 10 consecutive passes, Notre Dame was forced to sweat for a two-point victory. Not that it registered on the national stage.
Any illusions of a major bowl bid were dismissed by an 0-2 start which reduced the Irish to bit players while you and I were still applying suntan lotion.
Even so, bringing the only two parochial Division I football teams in the country together for the 21st time could have been compelling TV. Unfortunately, it devolved into a yawner.
Makes you wonder why NBC continues to court an overhyped, underachieving program, doesn’t it? In spite of the contrived annual hoopla, the Irish haven’t been relevant since Lou Holtz abruptly bolted after the 1996 season.
Truthfully BC deserves some of the blame for tarnishing Notre Dame’s mythological appeal, which picked up steam under Frank Leahy, who coached the Eagles before achieving legendary status at Notre Dame.
Leahy’s statue is stationed at strategic intervals with Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Arah Parseghian, Holtz and Dan Devine, who guard the stadium like immobile Swiss guards at the Vatican.
Lisping Lou earned his permanent post by guiding the 1988 Irish to their last national championship, but Boston College cost him another in 1993 by snapping a 17-game winning streak on David Gordon’s last-second field goal.
It was the eighth time the Irish were deprived of an unbeaten season in their last game and the most memorable heartbreaker in the sacriligeously subtitled “Holy War,” which started in 1975.
Other BC spoilers included a 31-29 loss which made the Irish bowl-ineligible in 1999. Three years later they were ranked No.4 when the Eagles spoiled their unbeaten season with a 14-7 upset.
In 2003 Boston’s belated touchdown in a 24-23 loss hastened the demise of tightly wound Tyrone Willingham, who bounced from Sports Illustrated cover guy to a flop who eventually was exiled to obscurity in Washington.
Given time, Brian Kelly may restore Notre Dame to the pinnacle that subway alumni once took for granted, but the program is not yet perceived as an ideal destination for athletes who think history is something that happened last weekend. Kelly fits the image, but his enthusiasm over the pedestrian effort turned in against one of ND’s most persistent tormentors was puzzling.
Relieved, not overjoyed should have been the reaction of a team which managed just 16 points despite 417 yards of offense and only one turnover.
Lost in the shuffle was a milestone turned in by junior Cierre Wood, who became the 16th Irish running back to reach 1,000-yard status in a single season. He achieved it with workhorse numbers of 94 yards in 26 carries, 19 coming in the second half with Jonas Gray benched by a knee injury.
Beating Notre Dame should be no big deal — they’ve lost 29 times in the last five years — but quarterback Tommy Rees believes BC always rises to the occasion in a rivalry which awards Ireland and Leahy Memorial trophies to the winner.
“We knew we were going to get their best,” he said. “If they could beat Notre Dame that’s something they could hang their hat on ... there’s a little juice in a rivalry game.”
Dueling linebackers: Much of the pregame banter revolved around BC linebacker Luke Kuechly, a finalist for the Lombardi and Bronko Nagurski awards, and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.
Ranging far and wide, Kuechly lived up to the rave notices with a game-high 14 tackles (seven solos), the junior’s 33rd consecutive double-figure effort.
“He was definitely on his ‘A’ game,” said Rees after Kuechly broke the ACC record for tackles.
“I don’t try to set records,” countered Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles last year. “Records are cool, I guess, but we didn’t win.”
Coach Frank Spanziani, who hasn’t had much to cheer about, called Kuechly “the best player in the country. Week in and week out he shows up.”
Te’o, who is battling Kuechly for the same postseason honors, held up his end with at least 10 tackles for the 16th time.
Kelly expected defensive highlights to focus on the rival linebackers and he wasn’t disappointed.
“I knew Kuechly would be all over, he went sideline to sideline, and Manti played great,” he said. “It was just good college throwback, gritty, tough ... Good stuff.”
FOOTball: In November, conditions are often less than favorable at home for the Irish, who waved goodbye to 19 seniors with their sixth consecutive victory for the month.
Before Kelly’s arrival they had lost eight of their last nine in November.
Kicking and field position dominated the 16-14 victory with the parochial rivals combining for 17 punts. Notre Dame’s Ruffer was a difference-maker with three field goals despite blustery conditions.
“The wind was swirling the entire day,” said the senior kicker.
He adjusted by keeping it simple.
“Just aim down the middle and smoke it,” he said.
Notre Dame’s average starting field position on its 13 possessions was the 21-yard line. Seven drives started inside the 20.
“It’s not always up and down the field,” said Kelly. “Sometimes you’ve got to grind it out. It’s hard. Only one or two unbeaten teams left.”
That would be LSU and Houston. Latest to fall were Oklahoma State, Boise State and Stanford, Notre Dame’s season-ending opponent.