Rakes Report #156: Gonna walk around and drink some more (The Boston College Review)

~optional musical accompaniment~

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1) Everything was set up for this to be a stressful contest for the Irish. A big hangover game after defeating the No. 1 team in the country (remember that? Pretty cool), going on the road against a squad that defines itself by what it does to spoil the seasons of superior programs. The underdog was wearing their special uniforms and the broadcast team had old clips of a decades-old game with no bearing on this one AND plenty of quarterback vengeance narrative that would have made a tight fourth quarter insufferable. Despite some fumbles that made it feel like it could have been one of those days, things were never really competitive in the second half, an early fourth down stop by MTA ensuring the margin never dipped below two scores. Seven wins in a row against Boston College, a nation’s best 14 victories in a row overall, 8-0 this season, 19-2 the last two seasons and 32-3 since the start of 2018. The train keeps rolling.

2) The offense averaged 7.6 yards per play despite resting Kyren Williams for most of the second half and not really targeting the tight ends, the 45 points and zero punts a result of another stellar game from Ian Book, continued improvement from his senior wide receivers and hard running from the reserve tailbacks. Book was sensational for the second straight week, a total master of his craft as he hit shots downfield from the pocket, extended plays with his legs* and averaged over 8 yards per carry on the ground. Shoutouts to Ben Skowronek, Javon McKinley and Avery Davis, whose rapports with Book continue to improve, almost as if a passing game that lost its top three receivers from the previous season and then had a pandemic-shortened offseason might need time to find itself. It was also nice to see a little bit of Lawrence Keys sprinkled in, and if Braden Lenzy is indeed able to return after the bye week, you could potentially really gets things cooking. Also appreciated going for it on fourth and short at the Eagles 40 late in the first half, handing it off to Chris Tyree in motion.

* One thing that we can’t appreciate enough is how good Book is on the designed quarterback runs. He’s helped by the great blocking, obviously, but he’s so decisive and it’s a real weapon, particularly when he’s trucking defenders as he did on the first touchdown drive of the game. Also loved the awesome pump fake on the final touchdown of the game and how he reversed field to find Skowronek on a broken play in the second quarter.

The tight ends weren’t featured in the passing game but they did damage blocking again, including one formation where Michael Mayer was in the backfieldd next to Book in shotgun. (Tommy Tremble did his normal laying of the wood.) C’Borius Flemister was injured late but Brian Kelly said after the game he didn’t expect it to be serious, which is big if true because it certainly seemed serious after the junior had trucked Eagles with such disdain the whole afternoon, including on a great catch and run. Chris Tyree also showed off the jets a couple time, but overall it was a workman-like 278 rushing yards, with Davis having the longest run of the day (29) and no tailback exceeding 5.3 yards per carry. Just casually going on the road and dominating – a lot of fun. Also, as far as red zone efficiency watch, Notre Dame kicked a field goal on its first trip, scored touchdowns on its next six, then kneeled out the game at the threshold again. Tommy Rees, folks - not even sure what to say at this point.

(One note on red zone numbers: Notre Dame has now finished four games — Louisville, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Boston College — with the game clock expiring as the offense idled inside the opponent’s 20. They also failed on a half-hearted goal-to-go attempt with two minutes left in the Florida State game. From the final three possessions of Clemson through the garbage time kneeling in Chestnut Hill the Irish went nine for ten on converting red zone trips into touchdowns.)

3) The reason my nerves were pretty steady prior to the game was that I had a tough time believing that Clark Lea wouldn’t be able to corral a one-dimensional offense, and after the Eagles’ productive first drive that’s basically what he did. For the second straight week Notre Dame completely bottled up their opponent’s running game, with Book matching Boston College’s 85 yards on the ground all by himself.  That put all the pressure on Phil Jurkovec. and he responded as he had played most of the season, mixing in some beautiful deep balls and gutsy extensions of plays with poor throws and turnovers. The defensive backs made some really nice break-ups on balls down the field and by defensive backs I guess I also include the rover since Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah ran step for step with the Eagle’s top receiver (Zay Flowers, who was held to four touches for 20 yards on the day) and casually backhanded a pass breakup. Also impressive that after the first fumble of the game, with the Irish already down 7-3, the defense responded by pushing the Eagles back six yards and holding them to a field goal.

Boston College tacked on a couple touchdowns late against some Irish defensive reserves to make the final score look closer than it actually was. They were saved from two Kyle Hamilton interceptions due to a bullshit penalty and Hamilton’s closing speed actually being too fast on a potential pick six. To give you an idea of how much the Irish rotated in this game, only two players had more than three tackles on the day: Shaun Crawford, who also chipped in a sweet sack, and Drew White. Only the one sack but seven tackles for loss on the day, including a pair from the ever-impressive Kurt Hinish who took the yinzer blood feud against his former teammate quite seriously. The defense wasn’t at its sharpest Saturday but it was still more than enough to lock in a victory.

4) Winning is Hard/Schadenfreude Round Up: With so many games canceled this is getting tougher to fill out but thankfully we have the Big Ten, where Michigan, Minnesota and Penn State are a combined 2-10, with the wins coming against Illinois’ COVID-ravaged roster and…oh, Minnesota, who isn’t very good. Michigan didn’t even show up against Wisconsin, setting a new mark for worst halftime deficit at the Big House and the Harbaugh Era is on life support. Minnesota also no-showed their game with Iowa, getting rocked at home by the Hawkeyes, and I guess it is time to have a serious discussion about P.J. Fleck and quarterback regression. (Please enjoy Kirk Ferentz’s postgame pettiness.) Penn State got jumped on early against Nebraska after some disastrous quarterback play and showed some heart in rallying back but they’re still the first top ten team to start 0-4 since 1984, so. (Thank you Nevada for allowing 2016 Notre Dame to avoid that ignominy.)

South Carolina fired Will Muschamp, who started the week painting D.J. Durkin as the real victim in a situation where a player died and ended it losing his third straight game by double digits. Notre Dame was close to locking up an ACC title game slot but Miami and North Carolina rallied against Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, respectively. (Justin Fuente is in trouble, maybe?) Louisville lost to Virginia and now sits at 2-6 on the season, a big disappointment after Scott Satterfield’s first year there. No. 19 SMU blew a 21-0 lead at Tulsa. No. 11 Oregon trailed at the half to Washington State before rallying. Stanford is 0-2. Florida State is 2-6 and had a bunch of players quit. USC had another last-second rally to get to 2-0 and the only reasonable takeaway is that Clay Helton should be extended.

5) The Jurkovec discourse has been so annoying and I’m glad we are now basically past it. Highly rated quarterback prospects transfer literally all the time in this sport but because so many Notre Dame fans have such weird pathologies about both Kelly and Book he became the personification of some alternate timeline that proved all their grievances true. This was egged on by a number of writers and pundits who would note breathlessly any time Jurkovec threw a pretty deep ball or averaged 5.6 yards per attempt against North Carolina only to remain oddly silent when the offense came crashing back to earth.

To be magnanimous, it’s possible 2021 and/or 2022 Jurkovec is better than what the Irish are fielding at the position during that time but the idea that the coaching staff was supposed to go to a veteran locker room and explain that they were replacing the guy who was 20-3 (now 28-3) with a reserve who was inconsistent in practice is just silly. (This conversation would have been even tougher after 2019 closed with a gutsy comeback against Virginia Tech and then five straight blowouts which jumpstarted the current winning streak.) Jurkovec is from the same neck of the woods as me and nothing would have made me happier than to see him excel at Notre Dame but he chose to leave, a bunch of talented guys chose to stay and now the Irish are 8-0 for the third time in the last nine seasons. Notre Dame moves into the bye week as one of the best teams in the country and we wish Jurkovec — although absolutely not the Eagles as a whole — our best.

Feels like the bye week is coming at the right time as the Irish finish up a four-week stretch that included three road trips and the biggest home game in the last 15 years, which just FYI they won in double overtime over the No. 1 team in the country. The depth and physicality of this Irish roster is really just something to behold and while both North Carolina and Wake Forest can put up points, if Notre Dame plays their best ball they’re going to get another go at Clemson and then potentially the other titans of the sport after that. With the increasingly dire situation across the country this ride could end at any time so I hope you are savoring every minute you get with this badass team.

6) Scheduling notes: I’ll probably do a cheeseburger round-up after the bye week and look ahead to what should be a tricky shootout with the Tar Heels on Black Friday, but I reserve the right to pass if there doesn’t seem to be a lot to discuss. Also: Christmas Giving this year is going to be in its normal slot (11 days after Thanksgiving and the Monday after when the conference championships usually are, so December 7) which will unfortunately fall while the Irish are still playing football but it’s either that or wait until way too close to the actual holiday so I’m going with the former. I think we can balance having a hearty respect for the Demon Deacons and also donating to the Center for the Homeless at the same time. Also again: Start thinking about your All-BK-at-ND nominations as this team appears to be fielding a number of promising candidates.

I think that’s it? Please stay safe and take care of yourself and each other. Go Irish.

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