Moments that mattered: What to make of Notre Dame's senior day win against Boston College
SOUTH BEND — The contrast between the first game at Notre Dame Stadium this season and Saturday afternoon's snowy finale couldn't be more different.
Three months ago the Irish saw their national championship hopes evaporate with an upset home loss to Marshall that sent them to 0-2.
On Saturday, Notre Dame — up to No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings and winners of five straight, sent its seniors out in style with a 44-0 victory over Boston College in frigid temperatures and a second-half blizzard.
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"We spent a lot of time last night as a team talking about what an opportunity we get to perform one more time as this team at Notre Dame Stadium," head coach Marcus Freeman said. "It's a special place and our performance hasn't always reflected that. I wanted to make sure we finished this season in this last opportunity that way."
Notre Dame accomplished that and then some, in the driver's seat from the opening kick. It was the best performance of the year.
The Irish put in a complete performance
Saturday was a complete 60-minute performance for the Irish. There were no mental lapses or second-half letdowns in Notre Dame's first shutout win since last year's Senior Day against Georgia Tech.
By halftime the Irish led 37-0 and had outgaining Boston College 336-81. Running back Audric Estime would add a second-half touchdown run and the defense allowed just another 92 yards. And more importantly, zero points.
"This was a challenge today," Freeman said about his team staying focused in the second half, a common nemesis this year. "(I said to them) 'listen, let's go out in the second half and truly continue to pull as hard as we can and go as hard as we can.' I think they really did. The ability to hold that team to zero points was huge."
It was quite the contrast from last week in Baltimore when Navy scored all 19 second-half points and reduced a 22-point Notre Dame halftime lead down to three.
Notre Dame started and finished against Boston College. Four of the Eagles' seven first half drives ended in turnovers. Only three drives all afternoon crossed into ND territory. The Irish, meanwhile scored on their first eight possessions and never let Boston College catch its breath.
That's an important development heading to Los Angeles over Thanksgiving weekend to battle a No. 6 USC team still in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot. It's also a needed mindset going into next season.
"Every week we want to improve," said running back Logan Diggs, who led all rushers with 122 yards on 15 carries. "We want to fix what we didn't do well last week. Today we went out there and we did it. And going into this week, we've got to do the same thing. The job's never finished until the season's done. But I felt like today we all played as one."
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Statistically, Notre Dame's 281 rushing yards against Boston College isn't its best performance this season. That was 287 yards in a win at North Carolina.
But Saturday's ground-and-pound game through the snow was as impressive and dominant the Irish have looked.
Notre Dame's 7.4 yards per carry was its most in any game since last season's home matchup against the Tar Heels.
"We had to run the ball," Freeman said. "I don't care what they were playing defensively. I don't care if they brought everybody they had, similar to Navy. I said we're going to have to find a way to run the ball."
Diggs checked that box on the first play from scrimmage, bursting up the middle for 51 yards to flip the field and would later score the game's first TD on a 1-yard run. Estime added 71 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns and Chris Tyree ran for 50 yards and a score on six carries.
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Notre Dame's first touchdown drive was all Diggs, running the ball all five plays.
The second half was led by Estime and Tyree, who scored the Irish's final three touchdowns.
It was the first time this season each of Notre Dame's three-headed backfield attack found the end zone in the same game.
In the past five weeks, Notre Dame has rushed for more than 200 yards four times, excluding last week against Navy when heavy emphasis was placed on exploiting the porous Midshipman secondary.
It is clear the running backs have found chemistry within their rotation.
"We were challenged early in the week that this was going to be a game where we were going to run the ball," offensive lineman Joe Alt said. "Being able to go up there and play as a unit and run the ball like we did ... it's just so much fun."
Isaiah Foskey didn't get the big prize, but he leaves as the sack champion
When Isaiah Foskey announced his return for the 2022 season back January, he did it with dreams of winning a national championship. That ended Week 2 against Marshall.
It isn't the ultimate prize, but in his final game at Notre Dame Stadium Foskey became the program's all-time sack leader when he brought down Boston College's Emmett Morehead for an 11-yard loss on the final play of the first half.
"It is huge when you think about the elite pass rushers we've had in the history of Notre Dame football," Freeman said.
Foskey, now with 25-career sacks, surpassed former Notre Dame great Justin Tuck (24.5). His next sack, if it comes next week at USC or in Notre Dame's bowl game, will put him at double figures for the season.
The California native also recovered a first-half fumble forced by fellow senior Howard Cross III.
"He didn't win a championship this year," Freeman said, "but what he did for this program, to me, will be the reason why we do win a national championship in the future.
"I'm glad he got a personal achievement, but what he did for this program, it's going to be really impactful."