CHESTNUT HILL – Each time they got in trouble, each time Notre Dame seemed on the brink of giving up the ball to a vastly inferior Boston College team, the Irish made it happen. They converted on third down. Or, rather, Everett Golson converted on third down.
Notre Dame started the game 10-for-10 on third down conversions, a demoralizing statistic for the BC defense. The offense simply wouldn’t let them on the field, resulting in long, draining drives, spurred on by Golson, as Notre Dame beat BC, 21-6, at Alumni Stadium.
“I’m really pleased with the quarterback play,” coach Brian Kelly said. “Everett Golson played the way he needs to play, especially in the red zone. I think we said that once he starts playing at the level that we need him in the red zone, we’ll start scoring touchdowns and not just field goals.”
Notre Dame was 3-for-3 on scores in the red zone, getting touchdowns on each trip.
Golson has seemingly been gaining confidence despite Kelly’s propensity for benching him for Tommy Rees, including in last week’s game against Pittsburgh. The redshirt freshman ran for five of those third-down conversions, passed for four more. That’s 9-of-10 with the honors on the other conversion going to running back Theo Riddick.
The first miss on third down came with 3:52 to go in the third quarter on an incomplete pass to Robby Toma, giving Notre Dame punter Ben Turk his first reason to get loose. But by that point, the Eagles were down by 18 points, and on their way to their eighth loss of the season.
“Did a nice job on third down,” Kelly said. “I thought, again, our quarterback play was really good. Picked up one of the best plays that I think he’s had when he ran it on third down, put his foot in the ground, went north and south and showed some real toughness.
“We were effective because our quarterback was effective today.”
The rushing by Golson is particularly notable. The quarterback started the season rushing for -11 yards on 21 carries in the first four games. He has 269 yards in his last five starts, on 58 attempts.
“I like to think that’s kind of what makes me, me,” Golson said, of the improvisational plays that he has been allowed and been able to make.
Heading into the game, Notre Dame – not known as an offensively-driven team – ranked 36th in the country in third-down conversion percentage, at 44.5, tied with East Carolina and UNLV. For the record, the other two unbeaten teams in the country, Kansas State and Oregon, ranked seventh and ninth, respectively.
After the game, Notre Dame moved its percentage to 47.9, finishing the evening 11-of-14 on third down. That would put them tied for No. 18 in the country in the statistic.
And it was mostly because Golson made it happen.
“You have to play good defense to win,” BC coach Frank Spaziani said. “And you certainly have to play good third-down defense. Some of it was our execution. Some of it was their execution. Some of it was their improvisation. We have to make some plays.”
The quarterback, overall, was 16-of-24 for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He rushed for 39 yards on 11 carries. There was no need to call for Rees – except for one play in the second quarter because Golson’s helmet had popped off – and no need to doubt Golson’s ability to produce win No. 10 for the Irish.
Even though Kelly had bemoaned the fact that he is constantly reminded that Golson is a freshman earlier in the week, the quarterback justified even more faith from his coach. He did what needed to be done and, after Alabama lost earlier in the day, moved his team one step closer to an undefeated season and a chance at a national title.
The biggest problems that Notre Dame had on offense had nothing to do with Golson. The Irish lost momentum first on a fumble by George Atkinson III in the second quarter, and again on a fumble by Theo Riddick in the fourth quarter, as Notre Dame tried to finish off the Eagles.
And in a game in which most everything went right for Notre Dame, other than the margin of the final score, there was little to be displeased about once the game had ended and the stands had emptied.
As Kelly said, “The only thing I’m not happy with was the turnovers. We’ve got to take better care of the football.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.