The FIGHTING IRISH validated their nickname in a tense 17-14 win over Stanford. Everett “Two Minute Drill” Golson floated a sweet 23 yard pass to the steadfast Ben Koyack to give the Irish a 17-14 lead with 1:01 left in the fourth stanza. The game ended appropriately when an Irish blitz pressured Kevin Hogan to get rid of the ball wildly, resulting in an intentional grounding penalty triggering a clock runoff which, at last, expired time.
Stanford was, to use the (former Stanford Head Coach) Dennis Greenism, who we thought they were. They are a two time defending Pac-12 champion and are the ONLY school to appear in BCS bowls the last four years. It was a heroic win for the 5-0 Irish. It was neither pretty nor esthetically pleasing. If you seek that, then watch ballet or gaze at Monet. This win was about blood and guts, the primal struggle for survival first, then conquest. FIGHTING IRISH!
The game began with the Irish establishing their defensive prowess, creating so much consternation in the Stanford offense, that the Cardinal were goaded into three motion penalties in the first quarter. Kelly showed his faith in the Notre Dame defense by going for it on fourth down at the Stanford 38 on Notre Dame’s first offensive possession of the game. This announced to Stanford that they were going to have to deal with, and overcome, the Irish defense if they wanted to win.
But Golson continued his turnover fest, which began against Syracuse, with two turnovers in the game’s first 17 minutes. Golson’s first turnover was a fumble at the Irish 10, the second an interception at the Stanford 2 on a marvelously athletically play by Jordan Richards when the Irish had 3rd and 5 at the Cardinal six. The first turnover handed Stanford an easy touchdown when Hogan took it in from the 10 when Schmidt overshot his mark and Shumate could not close fast enough. The second turnover, the interception, robbed the Irish of a chance to go up anywhere from 10-7 to 14-7.
TRENCHES, RUSHING YARDS, AND A FIVE YEAR LOOK
Five years ago, on September 25, 2010, Stanford came into Notre Dame Stadium, bullied the Irish, never trailed, outgained the Irish on the ground by a daunting 166-44, sacked the Irish thrice but allowed none in a 37-14 win, a margin approximately commensurate with the difference in performance. But Kelly, Longo and the rest went to work. Yesterday, the Irish outgained Stanford in rushing yards by 127-49, in total offense by 370-205. generated 4 sackes to Stanford’s two and committed just 1 penalty for 10 yards against Stanford’s 9 for 66. Simply, the script has been flipped. Did Golson have a 33 yard run and Prosise a 26 yarder? Absolutely. Guess what, we’re counting those rushing yards. But the longest Stanford run was only 11 yards, by Remound Wright, followed by Hogan’s 10 yard TD scamper.
The Irish defense may have been the best unit on the field. Going in, there were three priorities:
(1) Don’t let the Stanford OL establish control and wear you down
(2) Don’t let Ty Montgomery beat you
(3) Be selective but effective in rattling Kevin Hogan and hit him hard as many times as possible.
Eight times it was three and out for Stanford. EIGHT times in 15 possessions. The Fighting Irish defense, simply, pitched a trifecta.
NOTRE DAME’S IMPROVED OFFENSIVE LINE
The line is much improved from the Michigan and Purdue effort. Some will demur, but as Ron White often says “You can’t fix Stupid!” Once John Harbaugh lent Vic Fangio to brother Jim at Stanford, the Cardinal defense became sophisticated, tricky and very NFL-like, as in Baltimore Ravens-like. The Irish OL was up to the task, allowing the runners to surpass Stanford’s rushing yards average and triple their passing yardage allowed number, which was 74 yards per game entering the contest.
In rain, we “discount” chunk plays to 15 or more yards. Notre Dame’s offense generated 11 chunk plays, 3 runs, 8 passes.
PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS-RESPONDING TO ADVERSITY
This is a willful, resilient Notre Dame football team. We all get caught up in numbers, stars, hyperdeflated 40 times and SPARQ scores, but the will to win, mental toughness, is the sine qua non. We could go 85 deep in talking about how tough these FIGHTING IRISH were yesterday, but we will mention just a few examples:
(1) Everett Golson. After handing Stanford its first touchdown, and handing them a turnover in the Red Zone, Golson stayed the course, and calmly marched the Irish 65 yards in 9 plays, preserving all three time outs for the pass to Koyack at 1:01. Golson had the famous three first half two minute drill TDS in the first three wins, and might have had one against Syracuse but for the bumfuzzled clocking fumble. He is one tough kid, belying the bland, wide-eyed stare. Look at his feats, not his eyes.
(2) Hunter Smith-Wow! Two fumbled holds, nothing to fall back on, yet was true on the third, holding for Brindza’s 45 yarder to give the Irish a 10-7 lead.
(3) Matt Hegarty-overcame some rough early moments, and some skirmishes lost to David Parry to stay the course, and provide the key block on Golson’s 33 yard run. Matt got better as the game progressed.
(4) Ben Councell-passed over by Onwualu and Turner in the new scheme emphasizing quickness, Ben was out there with his bulk and will, not getting any tackles, but clogging up the Stanford running game. Great example by Ben, and his coaches, of waiting for your appropriate moment.
(5) Corey Robinson- shutout the first three quarters, then made four catches in the crucial fourth quarter. Just a sophomore.
(6) Brian Kelly, just as in that strange second half against USC last October, is resolute and willful. His leadership and toughness can not be overestimated.
WHAT DID WE LEARN ON SATURDAY?
That the Irish can beat a quality, pedigreed team, at least at home.
That mental toughness is an Irish asset
That this defense is not a liability, but a HUGE ASSET.
That, as with Devin Gardner against Michigan, with Terrell Hunt against Syracuse and with Ty Montgomery Saturday they will follow the Van Gorder rule: identify the opponent’s best player, and hit him hard, early and often. For the most part, at some time, the opponents’ offensive star will limp off the field, even if they eventually return. Jameis Winston: IGNORE THIS AT YOUR PERIL.
That the Irish have enough offense to overcome having left 13 points on the field, Golson’s interception at the Stanford 2 and the two botched field goal attempts. It is highly unlikely that the Irish will confront a defense this good again in the regular season.
WHAT HAVE WE NOT YET LEARNED?
We do not yet have any empirical evidence that the Irish will play well on the road. We will have some clue when clock strikes midnight in Leon County, Florida on October 18th.
Consider this: this is the time of the year when most teams suffer key injuries, ineligibility, arrests, crises. But we do not yet know what happens when, as if from above, from one five players return to a roster, some of whom were presumptive starters. What might an infusion of talent like that do for a pretty decent 5-0 football team?
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST CAROLINA?
NOTE: iT’S An ACC, Southern thing. North Carolina is “Carolina” and South Carolina is simply “South Carolina”.
(1) a good hit, no field team in the Tar Heels. They have scored 110 points in the last three games. However they have allowed 154 points, including 70 to the mighty Pirates of East Carolina. That’s 51.33 ponts per game allowed. Stanford they are not. Fedora better find a way to find some defense if he wants to survive in the ACC.
(2) a team that was, to plagiarize Nelson Algren, “on the make” as the season began. The traditional ACC powers are FSU, Miami, Clemson and Va Tech. North Carolina was in the next pack, about eight teams, but trying to separate themselves and join the top four. Carolina is somewhere between the 5th and 12th best program in the ACC. If they settle on a double digit number then Mr. Fedora may be pink slipped.
(3) The dreaded Sandwich game. You have to ask yourself, are you really thinking about Carolina, or are you still basking in the afterglow of the win over Stanford? Human behavior is not that tricky. If you’re doing it, then the team is doing it a little bit too. Saturday could be as ugly, as insipid, as unsatisfying and as yucky, as the Purdue game was. Human nature strikes again, and there is an allegedly important game in Tallahassee on the 18th.
(4) A mirror player for Joe Schmidt: Jeff Schoettmer, a former walkon. Schoettmer, is 6’1 235, now on scholarship for Carolina, and the Heels leading tackler.
(5) a great punt returner in Ryan Switzer, who returned four for scores in 2013.
(6) The last home game in October, Leaves will fall and adorn the campus, but we don’t return till Nov. 15th.
(7) Elijah Hood, good luck to him. 18 year olds still have freedom of choice, even to reject Notre Dame. For those who believe and are committed to personal freedom, then celebrate his.
5-0. Third time since 1993. You made us proud, Irish. Thank you!