|Senior Jonas Gray lost for season to ACL injury
On a footballing weekend, with as many big time upsets in the past 20 years, the Irish relied on some conservative offense and gritty defense on senior day.
The upsets commenced on a cold crisp Thursday night with BCS number 2 ranked Oklahoma State losing to an unranked Iowa State in double OT 37-31. The upsets continued into Saturday with a further 2 of the top 5 BCS ranked schools falling in (4) Oregon, at home to USC 38-35 and Oklahoma (5) falling to Baylor 38-45.
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So with all these upsets swirling around in the college football world, it was little wonder that the Irish just about squeaked by versus their good friends from Boston College.
The game was marred with chippy 15 yard penalties early on, but once things settled down it drew the best of the chess game strategies from both coaches. Field position was at a premium, and an element in which Boston College won at the end of the day.
Boston College kept the game close by pinning Notre Dame deep in its own territory as the two teams traded punts. The Irish offense’s average starting spot was the 21-yard line, and that includes recovering an onside kick at midfield in the game’s final minutes. Six times in its first 10 possessions Notre Dame began at the 12 yard line or worse, including three straight times inside the 10 during the second quarter.
“Obviously, it's not the most ideal situation, but we could have done some things to help ourselves out,” said Irish quarterback Tommy Rees. “When you're down there and closer to the end zone you don't want to risk giving up a sack or throwing the ball down field when you don't have as much time, so things change.”
It was a fantastic defensive slog to watch and the Boston team should be very proud of their teams performance. The Irish entered the game a 24.5 point favorite, but were held in check, largely due to a standout game from Eagles All-American MLB, Luke Kuechly, who finished the game with 14 tackles, giving him 523 for his career--one shy of the Boston College record set by Steven Boyd from 1991-94.
“Winning is hard in college football,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You watch across the landscape, there is one team undefeated, maybe two. It’s hard to win … BC played good football, too. You’ve got to win some of these [16-14] games. I’ve been in a lot of them over 20 years, and to win a lot of games you’ve got to take a couple of these, and we’re excited about it.”
“It’s not always about up and down the field. Sometimes you’ve got to block and tackle and grind it out and find a way to win. I just like the way our guys now understand how to win games.
“In November, it’s hard to win unless you’ve got a great mental outlook, and our guys do, and they have overcome so many injuries late, and they keep battling. That’s satisfying as a football coach.”
The game came at a large cost to the Irish also. Jonas Gray continued his breakout year, rushing for 61 yards and extending his scoring streak to eight games with a 26-yard rumble on the opening drive. But he left with what appeared to be a serious knee injury in the third quarter, and results showed on Sunday that Gray has suffered a heartbreaking ACL tear on his left knee. The injury has all but finished Grays footballing career at Notre Dame and sets a long rehab road to recoup in time for the NFL Draft next April.
The end result on Saturdays close contest saw the Irish return to the BCS rankings this week at number 22. They will either progress or drop out of the rankings next week on the road to the number 6 team in the nation in Stanford.
From Around the locker room:
Michael Floyd Sr. Wide Receiver
On what today's win means for the team...
"We're a strong team. We came together as a team, and when there I things going wrong for us; somehow the defense picks us up. If the defense is going wrong somehow the offense picks them up, so as long as we are picking one another up, we will be fine."
On running back Jonas Gray's injury...
"It was heartbreaking for me (to see him get injured). He's a good friend of mine. It's just hard to see that happen to a senior on senior night and also see one of your best friends go down. He stayed strong, stayed positive, so we're all staying positive too."
Manti Te'o Jr. Linebacker
On the health of the team going into the game...
"There were a lot of guys sick coming into the game, but everybody knew the significance of this game - especially for the seniors. Everybody just tried to get after it the best they could."
On Jonas Gray's injury...
"It's the hardest thing. I would never wish that upon any player, let alone a senior and let alone a guy like Jonas who's put in so much work. He sacrifices so much for this team and he's one of the leaders on and off the field. But knowing Jonas, it's not going to stop him from making and impact on this team."
On what Jonas Gray said to the players in the locker room after the game...
"Just how thankful he was to play for Notre Dame and how special it was for him. Basically, he said it was never about him and always about this team and how happy and how lucky he felt to be a part of this team. That just goes to show what type of person he is."