Sept. 13, 2017
By John Heisler
Maybe Rick Mirer, Reggie Brooks, Bryant Young and the rest of the Irish didn’t realize what they did in 1992.
In a relatively unheralded series that had included three Irish wins — in Foxboro in the first game of Dan Devine’s Notre Dame career, over Doug Flutie by a point in the 1983 Liberty Bowl and in 1987 at Notre Dame Stadium — Notre Dame’s ’92 match-up with Boston College on paper looked like the most even of the games between the two programs.
Boston College came in 7-0-1 (a tie with West Virginia) and ranked ninth in the country. The Irish were 6-1-1 (a home loss to Stanford and a tie with sixth-ranked Michigan) and rated eighth. This was an early November showdown at Notre Dame Stadium that had major bowl implications.
But the drama swirled down the drain almost immediately.
Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in the first 11 minutes and on its first five possessions overall. At halftime the Irish led 37-0 and had allowed only 11 net yards. Boston College’s lone score came on its final possession of the game. Notre Dame finished with a 576-176 edge in yards and limited the Eagles to one third-down conversion in 13 attempts.
Brooks ran for 174 yards that day and scored twice and Mirer threw three TD passes.
The final score was Notre Dame 54, Boston College 7. The Irish went on to win their final seven games, the last of those a dominating 28-3 Cotton Bowl win over unbeaten and fourth-rated Texas A&M. The Eagles ended up 8-3-1 (and ranked 21st in the final AP poll) after a loss to Tennessee in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
Even Irish coach Lou Holtz, seldom one to praise his own team to any degree, found little about which to complain that day: “This is one of the few times I can come up here and say that our team was outstanding in a number of areas. We had good concentration and we were on an emotional high.”
Interestingly enough, that 1992 contest, one-sided as it was, seemingly jumpstarted what became an emotional rivalry. The two teams met 13 straight years from 1992 through 2004 and Boston College won seven of those — including four games the Eagles won in which they defeated a higher-rated Notre Dame team (1993, 1994, 2002 and 2004). Three of those four games came in Notre Dame Stadium, and one came when Notre Dame was unbeaten in 1993 (a week after the big Irish win versus top-rated Florida State).
In a series of streaks, Boston College won six consecutive meetings from 2001 through 2008 — then Notre Dame won the most recent five games for its longest win streak in the rivalry.
The two teams have split eight games at Alumni Stadium — with Notre Dame’s successes on the road against the Eagles coming in 1996 (the 17th-ranked Irish won 48-21), 1998 (the 13th-ranked Irish won 31-26), 2010 (31-13) and 2012 (a 21-6 victory by the fourth-rated and unbeaten Irish).
Based on Notre Dame’s relationship with Atlantic Coast Conference programs, the Irish and Eagles next meet in 2019 and 2022 in South Bend, 2025 in Boston, 2028 in South Bend, 2030 and 2033 in Boston and 2035 in South Bend.
The game is a bit of a throwback for Boston College coach Steve Addazio who was Notre Dame’s offensive line and special teams coach from 1999 through 2001 under Bob Davie. In addition, Eagle running back coach Brian White was a Notre Dame graduate assistant coach in 1988 and 1989. White played quarterback at Harvard and his father Don was a Notre Dame quarterback from 1957-59.
And so Irish coach Brian Kelly understands full well what this game means in Boston — and he will ensure his players (and a handful of staffers who may be new to the rivalry) appreciate what’s at stake, in addition to the Irish interest in re-establishing their footing following the narrow loss to Georgia.
“We know what kind of game it’s going to be against Boston College,” says Kelly. “Coach Addazio will have his team ready to play. We’re going to have to play extremely well. We want to get our guys refocused on the process of winning football games. They’re excited. They’re going to get prepared to play a very good football team that plays Notre Dame tough.
“Each and every team that we play is going to play their very best. We watched film against Appalachian State to prepare for Georgia, and we shouldn’t have watched it because the team we saw was a different team. Georgia played extremely well against us. So it was a great learning experience in terms of knowing how well teams will play against us. Boston College will be no exception to that. They’ll play extremely well.”
After a solid opener against Temple, Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush dealt with far more challenging situations against Georgia. From Kelly’s standpoint, it’s all part of Wimbush’s learning curve in his first season as a regular:
“For him it’s about game recognition, what he sees in the game, then trusting the teaching. You have your teaching, and you go through it during the week, then it happens in the game. Just trust what you see and go with it. Don’t be indecisive. Be decisive, trust it and go with it.
“I think that’s probably the biggest learning curve for all young quarterbacks. At times they think a little bit too much instead of just trusting it and going with it. Just trust your teaching.
“I think he learned a lot from that game. I think it will be a springboard for him. When he went through it (the Georgia game) this week, he’ll be better for it next week.”
Notre Dame’s head coach is confident the traits he and his staff imbued in this 2017 Irish squad will continue to show.
“I really like the way our team is put together,” he says. “I don’t think much about last year. I think about how our team played Saturday. So my vision and my eyes are on how that team showed grit and toughness, didn’t back off.
“We needed to make another play, no question. But our defense gave us three shots with 8:30 and less to go in the game to win it. We needed to make a play.
“We had plenty of opportunities to score enough points to win the game. We would have liked a couple plays back here and there, maybe executed better here and there. But we look at it as an ‘all’ thing. In other words, we needed to coach a little bit better, make a couple more plays. We walk away as a group, players and coaches alike, that maybe one more good play call, maybe one more good play, and I think we win the game.”
And an Irish defense that against Georgia forced the Bulldogs into 10 possessions that produced nine or fewer yards bodes well for the future:
“Our players believe in what we’re doing defensively,” says Kelly. “They have got great confidence in the players around them, that they’re going to do their job. So when you have that dynamic going forward, it certainly is going to allow you to continue to grow as a defense.”
For those newcomers to the Notre Dame-Boston College series, there’s a learning curve. But Kelly hopes the overarching goal rings through, too.
“This is really for the younger players to understand the Boston College-Notre Dame rivalry, two Catholic institutions. But more importantly, we don’t want to talk about it any more than that. It’s really about developing a mindset in your program that this is about dominating your opponent regardless of who it is.
“It’s okay to know the history and how they’re going to play you, who Boston College is, the respect that you have for them, how they play Notre Dame, and how everybody plays that way against us. But really this is about having a mindset going into this football game.
“I think from my conversations with the players, what I have seen in front of me, they’re more closer to the mindset than they are needing the pep talk to be leery of a fired-up Boston College.”