(UHND.com) – If anyone needs any proof of just how far the Notre Dame program has come in the 18 games of the Charlie Weis era, all they need to do is gauge the mood on the Notre Dame message boards after a 21 point victory. Two years ago, any victory was cause for celebration. This year, the 21 point win over Stanford on Saturday generated more criticism than praise – a sign of the heightened expectations around Notre Dame these days.
Notre Dame never trailed Stanford in their fifth win of the season after opening the game with a 17 play, 91 yard touchdown drive capped off by an eight yard pass to Jeff Samardzija from Brady Quinn. The Irish methodically marched down the field with a nice mix of run and pass, something the Irish have done much better the last two weeks.
After being helped out by a few costly drops by Stanford, the Irish were able to build a 14-3 lead after a 15 yard touchdown pass to Rhema McKnight at the end of the first half. Still, the Irish were up just 11 points on a winless Stanford team at home.
The second half would prove to be a little kinder to the Irish with Notre Dame scoring 17 points thanks to Darius Walker’s 32 yard touchdown, a 35 yard Carl Goia field goal, and Brady Quinn’s third touchdown pass of the game – this time to John Carlson. The 31 points the Irish scored, however, were not all that impressive coming against one of the weaker defenses on this year’s schedule.
It was clear that Notre Dame was determined to establish the running game again this week with a near 50/50 run-pass ratio. Notre Dame officially registered 39 runs and 38 pass attempts. The result was a season high 153 yards from Darius Walker who averaged 6.1 yards an attempt and recorded his second straight 100 yard performance.
More importantly for the Notre Dame rushing attack, Weis mixed in other backs earlier in the game and more frequently this week than he has all season. Freshman Munir Prince and James Aldridge combined to run the ball 10 times for 42 yards. Aldridge, making his debut, on Notre Dame’s final drive, ran the ball four times for 25 yards and gave Irish fans a glimpse of his potential by running over a few Stanford defenders.
Brady Quinn had a fairly “ho-hum” kind of game with 232 yards passing on 27 of 37 passing and three touchdowns. Solid numbers, but like last week, I was expecting Quinn to post some bigger numbers against the defense he was up against.
Defensively, the Irish gave up some plays, and for the second time this season got burned for a touchdown on the halfback/wide receiver pass when Stanford’s Anthony Kimble connected with Kelton Lynn for a 57 yard score in the third quarter. Both Notre Dame safeties bit heavily on the toss and Lynn ran free past the Irish secondary.
Despite the big play touchdown for Stanford, the Cardinal managed just 10 points marking the third time in six games this season the Notre Dame defense held an opponent under 20 points – something they did three times all of last season.
Playing without injured starters Ambrose Wooden, Tom Zbikowski, and Travis Thomas, the Irish defense held Stanford to just 226 yards of offense. Wooden has been slowed with injuries since the Michigan State game while Thomas rested his injured ribs for a second consecutive week. Zbikowski sat out this week after taking a helmet to helmet hit last week against Purdue on a punt return. The senior safety dressed for the game, but did not play.
The defense got pressure on Trent Edwards and registered five sacks led by Victor Abiamiri’s three giving the senior defensive end six and a half sacks in his last two games against Stanford.
The win moved the Irish to 5-1 heading into their bye week giving the Irish their best start to a season since going 6-0 in Tyrone Willingham’s first season. Next up for Notre Dame will by a home game against UCLA on October 21st.