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Blizzard of turnovers, strong Notre Dame run game plow through Boston College

The folly of errors continues for Boston College as a backward pass turns into a fumble recovery for Marist Liufau. Audric Estime ultimately converts the opportunity into a touchdown.

The second half of Notre Dame’s rout of Boston College was always going to lack for intrigue, thanks to the No. 18 Irish (8-3) leading 37-0 at halftime. Blinding snow at least brought some entertainment in South Bend, as Notre Dame watched its step on the slippery turf, keeping the blowout in check at only 44-0.

The week of the 30th anniversary of the “Snow Bowl” win against Penn State, the Eagles (3-8) offered no such drama. Their defensive line collapsed against every Irish run in the first half, beginning with Logan Diggs’ 51-yard jaunt on the first snap from scrimmage. Their offensive line — a seasonlong weakness done in by injury and compounded this week by a unit-wide bout with the flu — gave up four sacks, including Notre Dame senior Isaiah Foskey’s 25th of his career, breaking Justin Tuck’s Irish record.

“What a win, what a way to go out this season at Notre Dame Stadium,” head coach Marcus Freeman said. “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. It’s a special place, and our performance hasn’t always reflected it that way. I wanted to make sure we finished this season and this last opportunity the right way.”

The only thing that could slow Notre Dame was the snow that covered the field in the third quarter, making visibility both on the broadcast and from the stands difficult, players noticeably chopping their steps to avoid slipping and sliding too far. The sixth snow game in Notre Dame Stadium history, the Irish are now 6-0 on those optically-delightful occasions.

Three different Notre Dame running backs found the end zone in the first half, with sophomore Audric Estimé adding a second in the third quarter, underscoring the Irish dominance in the rushing game. Notre Dame finished with 281 rushing yards, compared to Boston College’s 89 (sacks adjusted), a disparity that would have been starker if the Irish had not been understandably slowed by the snow.

“Everybody has to do their job,” Freeman said. “It’s a mentality. The ability to run for 100 and, shoot, I don’t know how many yards we had total rushing, how much? [281.] Ooof, that’s pretty good. The ability to rush for 281, that’s pretty good. They stepped up to the challenge.”

The Eagles’ sloppiness began long before snowfall led to players sliding five yards past where they were tackled. Four Boston College turnovers in the first half led to 20 Irish points. If not for a blown call by an official, Notre Dame’s defense would have outscored the Eagles on its own, with senior linebacker Marist Liufau picking up an incomplete backward screen pass, one broken up by senior cornerback Cam Hart, and running it 42 yards into the end zone. Instead, an official initially ruled that an incomplete forward pass, and the review could correct the play only to the point of recovery, by rule.

Liufau did not get to enjoy a Senior Day touchdown reminiscent of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s scoop-and-score tally a year ago in a 55-0 rout of Georgia Tech, but Estimé made the botched call moot with a trip to the end zone two minutes later.

Boston College ended up with five turnovers, a day dedicated to Notre Dame’s seniors also showcasing a freshman, cornerback Benjamin Morrison picking off Eagles quarterback Emmett Morehead three times. Morrison tied the Irish single-game record, a mark last reached by Harrison Smith in the 2010 Sun Bowl, also a snow-blessed contest. Morrison now has five interceptions in the last two games against teams running an offense other than the triple-option.

“The first one, I have to give all my credit to the defensive line,” Morrison said. “Without their pressure, that wouldn’t have come. ... I saw my opportunity, and I went to go get it.”

The combination of Morrison’s first interception and the subsequent drive summed up this lopsided result, even if Logan Diggs’ touchdown gave Notre Dame only a 10-point lead. Morrison picked off Morehead at the Eagles’ 20-yard line, and the Irish turned to Diggs five times on five snaps, the fifth of them reaching paydirt.

“It’s just a blessing,” Diggs said. “Coach having that much trust in you, that much faith in you, keep going back to you. The only thing you can do in that situation is keep on executing so they keep that trust.”

Notre Dame’s comfort in mid-20 degree temperatures and on a field with hardly any visible line markings fit with Irish head coach Marcus Freeman’s edict all week.

“No cold tough guys,” he said to ND on NBC sideline reporter Zora Stephenson before kickoff. “Dress warm. I don’t want to see guys shivering on the sidelines. Dress appropriately.”

Notre Dame did. There was neither bad weather nor bad clothing. Only a bad Boston College showing.

“It was cold, but it was doable,” Diggs said.

Logan Diggs: 15 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown.Estimé: 11 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns.Chris Tyree: 6 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown.Notre Dame as a team: 38 carries for 281 yards and four touchdowns.

The 281 yards was not a season-high for the Irish, falling seven yards short of the output at North Carolina, but Notre Dame’s ground game has found a distinct rhythm of late. Combining the showings at then-No. 16 Syracuse, against then-No. 4 Clemson and Saturday afternoon — so the last three Irish games not against Navy — Notre Dame has run for 790 yards in three games, averaging 5.6 yards per rush.

The Irish have only two seniors among offensive skill-position players, Braden Lenzy and former walk-on Matt Salerno. Barring a Randy Moss impression, Lenzy had no chance of topping his behind-the-defender’s back touchdown last week, but Salerno had never reached the end zone in his career.

That changed in Saturday’s first quarter.

“To get his first touchdown, I’m glad to hear that,” Freeman said. “He deserves it. He’s been a huge part of the success we’ve had. A guy that goes in just to block sometimes. We put him in to block, and he doesn’t bat an eye. A selfless individual.”

Liufau nearly had his Senior Day highlight. Foskey certainly got his, recording his record-breaking sack just before halftime.

Kicker Blake Grupe made 3-of-3 field goals on a day that was far from ideal for a placekicker. Offensive linemen Jarrett Patterson, Josh Lugg and Zeke Correll obviously led the way for the bountiful rushing attack.

Senior linebacker Jack Kiser forced a fumble. JD Bertrand led the way with five tackles. Defensive end Justin Ademilola logged half a sack.

South Bend received more than five inches of snow on Friday. Getting Notre Dame Stadium functional by early afternoon Saturday was no sure thing, and Freeman recognized as much.

“The snow, the guys that were working to clean it up,” he said in appreciation. “The students that were there that stayed in this weather condition. It was my toughest game in terms of weather conditions, playing or coaching. And so, the people who stayed, the fans, the students and the people that work here, they were unbelievable.”

First Quarter12:50 — Notre Dame field goal. Blake Grupe 26 yards. Notre Dame 3, Boston College 0. (6 plays, 67 yards, 2:10)10:05 — Notre Dame touchdown. Logan Diggs 1-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Boston College 0. (5 plays, 20 yards, 2:22)4:15 — Notre Dame touchdown. Matt Salerno 1-yard pass from Drew Pyne. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Boston College 0. (8 plays, 81 yards, 4:26)

Second Quarter14:07 — Notre Dame field goal. Grupe 41 yards. Notre Dame 20, Boston College 0. (10 plays, 57 yards, 3:37)8:27 — Notre Dame field goal. Grupe 46 yards. Notre Dame 23, Boston College 0. (7 plays, 15 yards, 3:22)3:04 — Notre Dame touchdown. Audric Estimé 7-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 30, Boston College 0. (4 plays, 42 yards, 2:04)1:14 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Tyree 12-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 37, Boston College 0. (4 plays, 49 yards, 0:56)

Third Quarter8:54 — Notre Dame touchdown. Estimé 6-yard rush. Grupe PAT good. Notre Dame 44, Boston College 0. (8 plays, 47 yards, 4:29)

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