South Bend, Ind. — On a day scripted for the Notre Dame football team to play to and play for its seniors, something even better unfolded Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium for the 18th-ranked Irish.
Their legacy came alive.
In freshman cornerback Benjamin Morrison’s school record-tying three interceptions. In sophomore running back Logan Diggs’ 122 rushing yards among ND’s 281 as a team. In junior Xavier Watts filling in for an injured Brandon Joseph at safety and looking the part every step of the way. Among other risers, surgers and first-timers.
In the notion that 25 seniors introduced before the game finally appear to be leaving behind something special, built on their shoulders.
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To interpret Notre Dame’s 44-0 waxing of Boston College on Saturday as a sort of watershed moment for first-year head coach Marcus Freeman would be a slap in the face to the jagged and disjointed nature of this Irish team’s growth curve this season.
But to minimize its significance would probably put you on the wrong side of history.
In a game that started in a deep freeze — with wind chills in the teens — and ended in a snow globe, Notre Dame’s ninth win in a row in the BC series, 28th successive regular-season win over ACC competition, and 19th straight November triumph at the very least is a template of the standard Freeman could only envision and talk about during an 0-2 September start.
Now it’s real and tangible, heading into another litmus test — next Saturday night at USC (10-1). And senior Isaiah Foskey, who broke Justin Tuck’s 18-year old career sacks record with his 25th on Saturday, personifies the journey that got the Irish to this point.
“He didn’t come back just to break the record,” Freeman said of Foskey deferring the NFL dream for a year. “He came back to win a national championship. And you know what? He didn’t win a championship this year.
“But what he did for this program and what those seniors did for this program to me will be the reason why we do win a national championship in an upcoming future (season).
“I told those guys last night in our last meeting, senior meeting, ‘Thank you,’ because they built the foundation. They really have built the foundation of what is to come. I’m glad he got a personal achievement, but what he did for this program in terms of those seniors, it’s going to be really impactful.”
The impact was everywhere to see Saturday — offense, defense and special teams, though for the first time in six games the Irish didn’t block a punt.
Part of that was the defense’s fault, forcing five turnovers and foiling a fourth-down conversion attempt.
In fact, against, admittedly, a limited offense, the Irish defense shined the brightest and also put the ND offense in enough favorable positions that Notre Dame next weekend at USC will have a chance to become the first Irish team ever to score 35 points or move in six consecutive games.
On Saturday, they became only the second (joining the 1943 national champs) to do so five times in a row. And they had it in the bag before halftime (37).
The 173 total yards Boston College (3-8) labored for on offense were the third-fewest allowed by an ND defense since 2010, behind only 162 to Pitt in 2020 and 163 to Texas in the 2015 season opener.
BC senior wide receiver Zay Flowers, the most prolific wide receiver in Boston College history and 10th nationally in receptions this season, was a relative non-factor Saturday with three benign catches for 46 yards on seven targets.
And redshirt freshman QB Emmett Morehead, starting in place of the injured former ND quarterback Phil Jurkovec for the third week in a row, looked nothing like the player who put up a combined 660 passing yards and seven TDs — an all-time high by an Eagles QB in his first two career starts — in a near upset of Duke and an actual upset of a ranked NC State team.
Against the Irish he was 9-of-22 for 117 yards and the three picks by Morrison.
“I didn’t play defense growing up, like, in elementary school really,” Morrison said. “I was a running back. So, yeah, just one (in high school). So, this is all new to me, but it’s a blessing.”
And all the above with defensive coordinator Al Golden rotating deep reserves into the game liberally. Freshman linebacker Jaylen Sneed tied season leading tackler JD Bertrand for the team lead Saturday with five. Junior nose guard Aidan Keanaaina collected three tackles in his first playing time since tearing an ACL in March.
Freshman linebacker Junior Tuihalamaka matched Keanaaina’s tackle total. Sophomore defensive lineman Jason Onye recorded two tackles in his first game action this season, as did senior defensive end Osita Ekwonu in his first snaps on defense
Two other freshmen, end Joshua Burnham and rover Nolan Ziegler, garnered their first tackles as well.
All playing follow the leaders.
“We’ve got a resilient group of leaders,” Freeman said of what he learned about his team this season that he didn’t know about them going into it. “This university attracts resilient people. If you’re not a resilient person, you’re not going to make it here. And that’s something that I’ve learned in my short time here.
“This place weeds non-resilient people out, this university,. And it even happens in the football program. If you’re not a resilient, tough-minded person, at some point, it won’t be the place for you.”
Freeman came to that realization after reading a sermon called “The Bumpy Road” that someone sent to him after a loss. And it helped him process the early-season turbulence.
“It kind of just hit me and said, ‘OK, the pastor was talking about the bumpy road to better.’” Freeman said. “And, really, what it was was for us to look at ourselves as a program and say, ‘OK, we’re on this bumpy road, but this bumpy road is life. The bumpy road to better is life.’
“And it’s also a reflection of this season. It’s also a reflection of a game. You know, the ability to handle the ups and downs is, to me, what makes a person, what makes a team, what makes a life.
“And so I use it over and over. Just in academics you can be on a bumpy road. In the course of a game, you can be on a bumpy road. But it’s how you respond, to me, that really dictates the future.”
And more than ever it appears Notre Dame has one under Freeman. Perhaps not turbulence-free when it comes to its upcoming encounter with USC and its bowl game, but with the knowledge they’ll be able to handle whatever comes and push ahead.
The past two weeks, first shakily then undoubtedly, the Irish did what ascending programs do. They built on the 35-14 ambush of Clemson on Nov. 5 instead of letting it stand as an outlier.
“Every week we want to improve,” Diggs said. “We want to fix what we didn’t do well last week. I felt like 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.”
NOTRE DAME 44, BOSTON COLLEGE 0: Full Box Score
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