SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Knowing the environment he was taking his team into at Notre Dame Stadium, Boston College coach Steve Addazio made a point all week to drill in the need for a “warrior mentality.”
The test was maintaining that mind-set for four quarters, but the Eagles could only sustain it for a half before being overwhelmed.
BC went into halftime down, 16-7, but a combination of offensive ineffectiveness and mental miscues snowballed.
Notre Dame took advantage for 17 third-quarter points and won, 40-7.
“It was a shame because it was a hell of a game, going through the first half and into the second half,” Addazio said. “But that’s why you play two halves, and obviously we didn’t play a very good third quarter.”
With the game still very much within their reach, the Eagles went three and out on their first two drives of the second half.
A fumble by quarterback Dennis Grosel short-circuited the third drive, and set up a six-play, 40-yard Notre Dame scoring drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ian Book to Cole Kmet that made it 26-7. BC’s fourth drive of the quarter stalled after just five plays. Notre Dame took over at its 39, and receiver Braden Lenzy broke loose for a 61-yard touchdown run that pushed the lead to 33-7.
“I don’t think it was an energy letdown,” Addazio said. “I think it was an execution letdown. We didn’t execute well in the third quarter. We made too many mistakes. We had some missed throws, some missed reads, some dropped balls, and a turnover. You can’t do that. That’s not really who we’ve been, but that happened in the third quarter.”
Running back AJ Dillon hung the third-quarter let-down on the offense. The Eagles mustered just 191 total yards for the game, and BC’s most reliable weapon was held to a season-low 56 yards on 14 carries. Grosel completed just 9 of 20 passes, running for 45 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“I think the defense played out of their minds,” Dillon said. “As far as the third quarter, we’ve just got to play better on offense. It’s not on anybody specifically. We’ve just got to play better.
“That warrior mentality was something we harped on a lot, and I feel like, for the most part, we had that mind-set, we just had to execute.”
Notre Dame piled up 501 yards. Book threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns on 26 of 40 passing, and added another 66 yards on 12 carries. Receiver Chase Claypool caught seven passes for 60 yards and a score. His bookend, Chris Finke, caught another seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, and Kmet turned his seven catches into 78 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Book had too many plays where he got outside of the pocket, and I was worried about that,” Addazio said.
“We lost containment too many times and we missed some tackles on him. I would say, honestly, that I wished we could’ve tightened that up a little bit because I thought we played well against the run, and I thought we did a good job on the back end. But I thought the quarterback hurt us a little bit by staying alive with his legs.”
If the Holy War once represented football folklore, a storied rivalry between the Football Bowl Subdivision’s only two Catholic schools, its revival on Saturday only showed how wide the gap between the programs has become. The Irish have won seven straight head-to-head, and 16 of 25 overall.
For the Irish, the win was a celebration, with seniors filing out of their tunnel for their final home game and students throwing marshmallows in their customary mock snowball fight. But it felt like a formality in a season that will go down as disappointing even though 10 wins seem certain for the Fighting Irish.
The Eagles would kill for a 10-win season. Instead, they fell to 5-6, losing their 15th of 16 matchups against ranked opponents going back to 2014.
Their hopes for returning to a bowl game hinge on one last opportunity, their season-finale at Pittsburgh next week.
All the Eagles could do was turn the page as quickly as possible.
“It’s a one week, one-game-at-a-time deal,” Addazio said. “We prepared our tails off for this one, and I thought we played with great energy. I’m very disappointed in our third period right now.
“Now we’re going to do the same thing and go do it again at Pittsburgh. That’s what it is.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.