Five Things We Learned: Turnovers Doom Eagles Against Irish

October 24, 2009 - 5:38 pm
Notre Dame finally stopped the bleeding in the collegiate football Holy War against Boston College after a decade of dominance by the Eagles. The Fighting Irish created five turnovers en route to a 20-16 victory in South Bend, Indiana. In many ways, this was kind of a break out game for Boston College true freshman quarterback Dave Shinskie. He had fallen flat on his face in road games against Clemson and Virginia Tech and the rest of the offense fell with him. In terms of offensive output against Notre Dame Shinskie was a revelation -- 17-35 for 279 yards and a touchdown. That is about 277 yards more than he had on the road coming into the game. The problem for Shinskie though? He also threw three interceptions.  The freshman quarterback is probably not going to add Notre Dame senior strong safety Kyle McCarthy to his Christmas card list anytime soon as McCarthy picked Shinskie off twice in the second half. Brian Smith can kiss his spot off that list as well. With the Eagles trailing in the final minutes, Shinskie and company were finding a way to move the ball. Shinskie had just hit Rich Gunell for a 30 yard completion on fourth-and-17 to keep hope alive and McCarthy had just committed a pass interference penalty on Justin Jarvis to get the Eagles into Irish territory. It looked as though Boston College had a chance to march all the way down for the winning touchdown. That is when Shinskie blew it. On a broken play he rolled out to the right flat and threw the tried to force the ball through traffic. Instead, it landed right into the hands of Smith. Game. Set. Match. "We got flustered and made a play that we probably would like to have back," head coach Frank Spaziani told reporters. "Once again, we have a true freshman, I don't care how old Uncle Dave is, he is a true freshman. You've got 80,000 people on national TV with the game on the line, it's a tough task. We have to get to the point where we can make those plays but we just didn't do it today." Without the interceptions, Shinskie had a good game. He hit 10 throws of at least 20 yards, most of them to Gunnell. "Am I happy to have 10 'explosives' in the same game? Absolutely not," Irish head coach Charlie Weis said. But Shinskie was not the only Eagle responsible for giving the ball away. Montel Harris can lay claim to that dubious distinction as well. Harris had come into the game on a streak of 356 carries without losing a fumble. In this game he fumbled three and lost two. The worst of it came in the third quarter with Boston College looking to drive for a back-breaking touchdown with the score 16-13 Eagles. Harris was looking to punch the goal line when Irish safety Sergio Brown got his helmet on the ball, knocking it loose of Harris on the 2-yard line. The Irish recovered. That was probably the swing play of the game. If Harris had been able to break the plane then the Eagles would have taken a 23-13 lead and been able to play a more conservative game meaning that Shinskie would not have been in the position he was to throw those interceptions. So, the duo that are normally responsible for Eagles victories handed the game to the Irish. Sometimes that is just how things work out. Here are four other things we learned as the Irish won their first game against Boston College since 2000 ... RICH GUNNELL HAS BEEN WAITING FOR THIS You kind of had to feel bad for Gunnell this season. The senior co-captain would have loved to put up some monster numbers to help increase his draft status next spring but he has been cursed with a trio of freshman quarterbacks learning how to cope with life in big time college football. It is not that Gunnell has not been getting the ball. Entering the game he led the team with 22 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns through seven games. That would leave him short of matching the 49 catches he had last year or the 64 he had in 2007. Well, Gunnell finally got up to speed with Shinskie. His 10 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown nearly double his output for the season. "I am sure he would have liked to have a couple more. We need Richard to play well for us to do well," Spaziani said. Gunnell was instrumental in helping the Eagles move the chains. Through the middle of the game when it looked like Boston College was going to come out of Notre Dame with a seventh consecutive victory against the Irish, it was Gunnell and Shinskie leading the charge. Any time that the offense faced a third down, Gunnell would find a way to get open to keep the Eagles alive. THE DEFENSE HAS A SOFT UNDER BELLY Here is what Weis had to say about the Irish game plan heading into the game: "I told Jimmy [Clausen] that we are not throwing the ball down the field," Weis said. "How would you like to be quarterback who is a front line quarterback and everybody is tooting your horn and you say 'we are not throwing the ball down the field.' I said because they are going to play him deep and we are going to dump the ball off, that is what we are going to do. We are going to throw the ball to the flat, we are going to throw it short, that is what we are going to do." "I thought that [running back] Armando Allen would have been the leading receiver in the game. Our intent was to dump the ball to Armando . . . I wanted to wear Armando out," Weis said. Weis and his coaching staff obviously studied the film from Boston College's win last week against NC State where Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson really worked the underneath against the Eagles for good yardage. If there is a chink in the Eagles defensive armor it is definitely that they are susceptible to the short throw, almost by design. The cornerbacks normally do not play press coverage and the linebackers play more of a read-and-react coverage game as opposed to a hard coverage game. Clausen finished the game 26-39 for 246 yards with a great majority of those receptions on short-to-medium range routes. The evidence of attack the underneath is evident statistics. You would figure that a quarterback who completed 26 passes would have much more than 246 yards. The one long reception of the game, Golden Tate's game-winning 36-yard  touchdown, was a 10-yard corner route where sophomore cornerback Donnie Fletcher slipped after the catch and Tate raced to the end zone. The "give up the underneath" scheme has worked reasonably well for Boston College this season, even if opponents have been able to move the ball pretty well. But after the way Notre Dame exploited that aspect of the defense this afternoon the Eagles may want to step back and reassess the philosophy. STILL GOOD ON THE GOAL-LINE At the same time the defense gets tough when it is backed up in its own five yard line. For the third time this season the Eagles stuffed an opponent on the 1-yard line. With 11:27 left and the score 16-13 Notre Dame had marched down the field and was looking for the go-ahead touchdown. Weis decided to gamble and go for it on fourth down. The Irish staff chose an odd play though, choosing to go to the Wildcat (which the Irish call the Leprecat) with second string running back Robert Hughes taking the direct snap.  Hughes faked the handoff to running back Theo Riddick and tried to slip the line of scrimmage only to be met by a human rocket in the form of senior strong safety Marcellus Bowman. Hughes came up inches short. If not for Shinskie's interceptions and Tate's touchdown, the stand would be remembered as the play of the game. With the way that the game ended it will probably not be much of a discussion point in the breakdown this week. DELEON GAUSE AND RYAN QUIGLEY HAD GREAT PERFORMANCES Give a game ball to junior cornerback Gause. For the first time this year Gause was the primary kick returner and and on four returns Gause averaged 26.3 yards with a long of 39. That is more than six yards above the season average of 19.9 (good for 10th in the ACC). Perhaps the Eagles will employ him in that position more in the future if he is healthy. Gause was also instrumental in holding the Fighting Irish to a field goal at the 8:58 mark in the second quarter. Clausen was looking for Tate on the goal line near the pylon on second-and-7. Clausen rifled the ball to his star receiver but Gause, who had started the play covering John Goodman, stepped in front to nearly pick off the pass and break up the play. One play, covers two men, nearly picks off Clausen and helps keep the Fighting Irish out of the end zone. Not bad. Gause left the game late in the third quarter with an injury and was replaced by Fletcher. Would Tate have scored the winning touchdown if Gause was still in the game? For Quigley's part, he pinned the Irish deep in their own zone three times in the first quarter, landing punts 12, 7 and 8 yard lines. Quigley also had a great punt from his own end zone (after Boston College went three-and-out after the goal line stand) as he boomed a 53 yard kick past mid-field to put Notre Dame back further than they had hoped to start its next series.