Success over sentimentality
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - They hustled for overpriced tickets, huddled around TV sets, pushing aside the beloved Red Sox in prime time against the Yankees to catch a peek of one of their own trying to concoct a turning point.
Guys from Brian Kelly's past like Fred Glatz and George Verrastro, Dave Hazel and John Grady knew that this was much more than a homecoming for the Everett, Mass., native and first-year Notre Dame head football coach.
Sentimentality be damned. Kelly needed to show all the offseason promises, all the bold jabs at the previous regime, all the style points he had scored had some substance to it. He got all that and more in a 31-13 Notre Dame victory Saturday night against bitter rival Boston College.
"I'd like to say it's a great story," Kelly said of his first return to coach in his home state since a 65-36 waxing by his Grand Valley State team of Bentley in the Division II playoffs seven years ago. "A lot has been written about it, but my focus has truly been on getting a win for Notre Dame.
"I know the 100 or so people I got tickets for, they probably had a great day at the tailgate lot. But for me, it was really about getting this football team a win, We (italics)needed(unitalics) a win."
Armando Allen's two-yard slither into the end zone at the 4:39 mark of the third quarter capped perhaps ND's most impressive drive of the season, and its longest in terms of both plays (14) and time (4:44). It also gave the Irish a 31-13 command and prompted a large chunk of the frenzied Alumni Stadium crowd to spill out into the night long before the Irish celebrated their first October victory in four tries at BC.
The night wasn't without chronic flaws burping themselves up again. Two Irish fumbles set up BC field goals and Dayne Crist threw his fourth interception of the season
But Notre Dame (2-3) ran the ball against perhaps the best run defense they'll see this season. They smothered the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading active rusher, holding junior Montel Harris to 28 yards on 15 carries and Boston College (2-2) to a net five rushing yards.
That's the fewest rushing yards allowed by an ND defense since Rutgers ran for minus-6 against the Irish 14 seasons ago.
And they made BC's tag-team of inexperienced quarterbacks look like, well, inexperienced quarterbacks. Kelly even was able to work his own inexperience quarterback, freshman backup quarterback Tommy Rees, into the game without a crisis.
Crist, meanwhile, finished 24 of 44 for 203 yards and had a hand in three of ND's four touchdowns, throwing scoring passes to Kyle Rudolph and Theo Riddick and running one in himself.
Hesitant to run Crist in last week's bludgeoning by Stanford, Kelly called his QB's number six times -- one of the most important stats in the game by his measure.
He's got to be a spread quarterback or he can't be a quarterback here -- period," Kelly said. "He's all in. He's 100 percent in, had a great week of practice and preparation. And we've really begun the process of developing him as a spread quarterback.
"He's not there yet, but he's developing. He's showing signs and we're going to get better each and every week with him under those conditions."
Allen finished with 90 yards on 19 carries.
The Irish got a big boost in field position from freshman Bennett Jackson on kickoff returns, including a 43-yard return on the opening kickoff that set the stage for a 21-point first-quarter burst for the Irish offense.
BC lost freshman quarterback Chase Rettig early in the second quarter to an ankle injury in his collegiate debut. Sophomore Mike Marscovetra finished up and languished against the best defensive performance of the season by Notre Dame.
"He looked like the guy we thought he was," BC coach Frank Spaziani said of Rettig. "He did some good things, but made freshman mistakes."
Kelly was hounding his team about its mistakes deep into the fourth quarter, trying to make a point about what the big picture should look like moving forward.
"Toughness. Mental and physical toughness," Kelly said."We have to build it. That's our weakness right now. We're going to continue to work on it. Guys are coming, but our ability to stay focused, locked in for 76 plays is really what we're getting. That has to be created on a day-to-day basis. And it can't be left to, 'I'll get back to you later.'"
Staff writer Eric Hansen: email@example.com 574-235-6470