CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The pregame story lines for Boston College seemed too good to be true.
The Eagles had a chance to beat Notre Dame a week after the Irish beat a No. 1 team like it famously did back in 1993. With former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec leading the Boston College offense, the Eagles had the perfect revenge plot ready too.
But those story lines were indeed too good to be true. That’s because the No. 2 Irish were clearly better than this Boston College team even in a sloppy performance, and Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book was the one writing the story Saturday in an empty Alumni Stadium.
Book accounted for four touchdowns — three passing and one rushing — and took control of the narrative in a 45-31 Irish victory. He’s playing his best football as Notre Dame (8-0, 7-0 ACC) starts to line up a potential run into the College Football Playoff.
“When your quarterback is playing at a high level, it gives you a great chance to be a championship-caliber football team,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.
Whatever clicked for Book the past two weeks has dismissed any talk of regression in his third season as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. And on Saturday, Book’s development trumped any discussion of what could have been for Jurkovec with the Irish.
Book finished 20-of-27 passing for 283 yards and three touchdowns. He was also Notre Dame’s top gainer on the ground with 10 carries for 85 yards and one touchdown and no sacks.
“He does what he does really good,” said BC head coach Jeff Hafley. “He’s a great college quarterback. He runs around, he scrambles and when that happens, you can’t cover for that long.”
Book’s passing efficiency rating of 198.8 against Boston College (5-4, 4-4) set a new career high against a Power Five opponent — surpassing his 183.5 rating against Stanford in 2018.
“I wouldn’t say anything crazy changed,” Book said. “I’m just who I am every day. I just knew there was more for me. I knew I could take another step, watching film and just everything a little extra. It’s the small details.”
The job becomes a bit easier for Book when wide receiver Ben Skowronek plays like he did Saturday. Skowronek caught his first touchdowns since his breakout performance against Pittsburgh three weeks ago. He returned to the end zone three times in the first half against Boston College.
Skowronek outplayed BC cornerback Brandon Sebastian on a fade for a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter. Skowronek outran Sebastian on his 13-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to aid a scrambling Book. His seven-yard touchdown later in the quarter required a leap to keep it away from safety Deon Jones.
When Notre Dame’s first red-zone trip ended with a field goal in the first drive, Skowronek made a point to tell the coaching staff he could be the touchdown solution.
“He has great size and length, and we like the matchups we get with him certainly in the red zone, as you could tell,” Kelly said. “But he also plays with a swagger and he wants the ball. He reminded us when we settled for a field goal that he had a great matchup, and that’s why we immediately came back to him the next time we got in the red zone.”
After settling for a 23-yard Jonathan Doerer field goal on the opening drive, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on its next six trips to the red zone. Junior running back C’Bo Flemister, who finished with 10 carries for 53 yards, powered his way through touchdown runs of two yards and one yard. Then Book ran for a six-yard touchdown to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 45-23 early in the fourth quarter.
The only thing that could seemingly stop the Notre Dame offense was itself. Freshman running back Chris Tyree fumbled a handoff exchange from Book in the first quarter. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams fumbled at the end of an 11-yard yard reception in the second quarter. Skowronek fumbled in the third quarter following a catch too. The Irish never punted.
Jurkovec couldn’t take advantage of the Irish miscues. After Tyree’s fumble, the Eagles lost six yards before settling for a 41-yard field goal by Aaron Boumerhi. A snap mishap by Boston College was recovered by Irish defensive end Daelin Hayes on the drive following Williams’ fumble. Immediately following Skowronek’s fumble, Jurkovec threw an interception to linebacker Jack Kiser.
Jurkovec made a handful of nice plays with his legs and right arm, but it wasn’t nearly enough to lift the overmatched Eagles. He finished 18-of-40 passing for 272 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and rushed seven times for 34 yards. Jurkovec threw for more yards against Notre Dame than anyone else this season outside of Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei (439).
“I wanted it badly,” Jurkovec said of playing his former team. “It was a game circled on the schedule. To be able to play against all the former guys, all my former teammates, it was a special game. So it was very disappointing to lose it.”
Jurkovec, who picked Boston College as his transfer destination in January, was sacked only once, but he was pressured often and hit plenty by the Irish defense. That included a roughing the passer penalty by freshman defensive tackle Rylie Mills, who saw extended action with backup defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola sidelined for a few weeks following a knee injury suffered against Clemson.
The game was chippy throughout with the two teams combining for four unsportsmanlike penalties — three of which went against Notre Dame’s Skowronek, Hayes and Flemister. But any tension fizzled away postgame as several Irish players found Jurkovec to talk to him and take pictures with him.
“What I took away from it is that I have lasting friendships at Notre Dame,” Jurkovec said. “So that’s really nice, and I’m going to appreciate that in the future.”
Hafley shared after the game that Jurkovec played through pain from a separated shoulder that occurred late in the loss to Clemson two weeks ago. Jurkovec said he had to change up his throwing motion a bit.
“Just a little bit of pain and kind of hard with the accuracy, I guess,” Jurkovec said of the injury. “It made it a little bit tougher to throw.”
Jurkovec couldn’t take full advantage of a Notre Dame defense that Kelly said looked a little tired after the previous double-overtime victory against Clemson. The Irish are off next week and will return to action on Friday, Nov. 27 at North Carolina (6-2, 6-2 ACC).
“This bye week is coming at a good time for us, to get some guys back and healthy, but really pleased with the victory as we go into the bye week,” said Kelly, who moved into a tie for second with Lou Holtz with 100 career wins at Notre Dame — a total that ignores the NCAA’s vacated wins ruling for 2012 and 2013.
The Irish emerged from Boston College without any major injuries to key players, Kelly said, but Williams (shoulder), Flemister (leg) and right tackle Robert Hainsey (ankle) didn’t finish the game for the Irish. Kelly said Williams and Hainsey were taken out as precautions, and Flemister’s injury didn’t appear serious.
Notre Dame’s defense will be tested again when the Irish head to North Carolina. The Tar Heels are averaging 43.1 points, 233.5 rushing yards and 329.8 passing yards per game, but their defense allows 30.8 points and 413.6 total yards per game.
The bye week will give defensive coordinator Clark Lea extra time to devise a plan against North Carolina. Notre Dame can forget about Jurkovec and turn its attention to UNC quarterback Sam Howell.
The Irish defense will be under less pressure to come through if Book continues to play the way he has the last two weeks. Notre Dame scored at least 45 points in consecutive games for the first time since 1996.
On Saturday, Book moved into third in program history for career passing yards (7,936) and career pass completions (635). But how Book performs in the next two months will overshadow his climb in Notre Dame’s record books.
“I’m just elevating at the right time,” Book said. “It’s a whole bunch of things. It’s chemistry, offense, everything. It’s just happening at the right time right now.
“I feel good about it. I feel confident. I couldn’t do any of it without everybody on the offense, so it’s definitely them, too.”