Notre Dame Sets Stage for Stanford Showdown

Notre Dame Football
Photo: Charles LeClaire // USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to talk Stanford. It’s understandable why someone might feel such a move a tad presumptuous – after all, Notre Dame still has two contests remaining before making the long trek to Palo Alto, and head coach Brian Kelly would be the first person to admonish any effort to look beyond the next game. But realistically, Notre Dame will be playing for a playoff berth when kicking off against the Stanford Cardinal in just a few short weeks.

Wake Forest is 3-6 and boasts one of the most anemic offenses in the nation, ranking No. 116 in scoring offense and averaging only 19 points per game. And the Demon Deacons’ few victories have been far from impressive, blowing past FCS opponent, Elon, and notching narrow victories over Army and Boston College, Notre Dame’s final opponent prior to Stanford.

Yes, Notre Dame fans can point to the infamous 1993 loss to the Boston College Eagles that cost Notre Dame a national championship (heck, that was the first game I ever attended at Notre Dame Stadium), but this isn’t the Tom Coughlin Eagles of years past. Boston College has lost six straight games and has been decimated by injuries, particularly at the quarterback position. The Eagles have trotted out four different starters at quarterback this season, and the result has been offensive production even worse than Wake Forest’s. The Eagles have the No. 118 scoring offense in the country and are averaging a lowly 17 points per game. But the biggest reason it’s okay to peek forward toward Stanford comes courtesy of Notre Dame itself.

One of the biggest issues for Kelly’s team this season has been the inability to focus and come out strong, but debuting at No. 5 in the first edition of this year’s College Football Playoff rankings seems to have done the trick. Notre Dame has always struggled against the Pittsburgh Panthers, and despite Brian Kelly’s 3-1 record against Pitt heading into this past weekend, the Irish had never beaten the Panthers by more than six points in the Kelly era. Even in 2012 when Notre Dame finished with a perfect regular season record and appeared in the BCS National Championship, Kelly’s squad had to score 14 late points in the fourth quarter before squeaking out a three-point win in triple overtime.

Notre Dame’s 3-play, 75-yard opening drive against Pitt that culminated in a 47-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Will Fuller was more than shaking off a tendency to start slow – it was a signal the team knows what’s at stake and isn’t willing to let another opportunity slip through its fingers, a message Kelly drilled home after a last-second loss to No. 1 Clemson earlier this season. After Fuller crossed the goal line, Notre Dame never looked back, and the Irish answered some season-defining questions along the way.

Many fans had become concerned with star running back C.J. Prosise’s workload and wondered why true freshman Josh Adams had not been seen more in a supplemental role (my personal theory for the lack of touches involves lack of ball security or ineffective pass protection in practice). Whatever the reasoning, Notre Dame was left with little choice when Prosise left in the first quarter, not to return.

Despite one botched handoff, Adams proved capable of being a trustworthy reliever for Prosise moving forward. The Pennsylvania native displayed good vision and cutback ability en route to a 20 carry, 147 yard performance, an average of over seven yards per carry against a stingy Pitt defense. Adams even proved valuable in pass protection, handling several blitzes well and allowing quarterback DeShone Kizer time to make plays.

Kizer has also made a leap in status from Malik Zaire’s replacement to a dangerously efficient starting quarterback. Kizer completed over 73-percent of his passing attempts for over 260 yards and 5 touchdown passes, chipping in another with his feet. Kizer systematically dismantled Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi’s defense, something very few quarterbacks can claim after Narduzzi’s dominant run as defensive coordinator at Michigan State. And Kizer is only a redshirt freshman.

Notre Dame still has areas to clean up. The miscommunication between safety Max Redfield and cornerback KeiVarae Russell – which led to a late 51-yard touchdown pass to Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd – was an ugly sight. And Notre Dame still needs to learn to unleash its killer instinct. Backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush will have plenty of opportunities to see the field over the next two weeks, and his fumble that led to another late Pittsburgh touchdown cost Notre Dame in the style department. But the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will see the Irish dominated Pitt in a way it hasn’t for many years, including 2012 when Notre Dame would eventually move on to the BCS National Championship.

Three games may remain on Notre Dame’s schedule, but make no mistake – this season ends with a playoff showdown in Palo Alto.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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  1. ’93 BC was my first visit as well…. what a stellar game… and what a heart-breaking ending. who was the LB that dropped the int on the last series? he lived on the floor that i stayed on that w/end, and the guys from zahm felt terrible for him.

    got to say though, that everyone rallied for the dance that evening.

  2. Notre Dame will have 7 extra days to prepare for there first playoff game. Thats if they make it and dont have to face a Big 12 team. I guess it may even out after all. I feel much better about things now.

  3. Actually, it is just a 2 game home & home.
    The games originally scheduled for 2019 and 2020 as part of the four game deal recently got cancelled.

  4. You two are some funny guys. Much appreciated. And I thought it was just a 2 game. Good. Gives Texasses time to rebuild. Although I do like their helmet logo, H.C., Ricky Willuams and of coarse EARL CAMBELL. Thanks.

  5. Don’t get cheap on me Dotson….

    This year’s game was agreed on and scheduled back in 2010 as part of a 4 game home & home series.

    That was 5 years ago or roughly 1,825 days.

  6. Keeping the Faith,

    Here’s the exact break down.
    As you can see, November is especially brutal.

    10/3 Away vs Clemson. Clemson’s last game before ND is played on Thurs. 9/17, 15 days. ND practice Time: 5 days
    10/17 Home vs USC. USC’s last game before ND is played is Thurs10/8. 8 days. ND Practice time: 6 days
    11/7 Away vs Pitt. Pitt’s last game before ND is played on Thurs, 10/28, 8 days. ND practice time: 5 days
    11/14 Home vs Wake Forest. Wake’s last game before ND is played on Fri.10/30. 14 days. ND practice time: 6 days
    11/21 Home (Neutral site) vs BC. Boston College’s last game before ND is played on 11/7. 13 days, ND practice time 5 days,
    11/28 Away vs Stanford. Stanford’s last game before their ND game(11/28), is played on Sat. 11/21. 6 days (ND loses 2 days for holiday & Travel)) ND practice time 3 days.

  7. Yep. These bye weeks and extra prep days have been cited by fans. Not so much by talking heads. ND takes it in stride. Situation normal. #4 and I believe it’s deserved and earned. SOS, W/l, ranking of opponents. CFBSC gave ND the green light. Suggesting it is “Yours for the Taking”.. 3 top Defenses to play. B.C. was #1. WF.& Stanford in the 30’s. Stanford top 10. That’ SOS is good enough.Need help? Yes but that will happen.. So it comes down to a boxing match. Hit and don’t be hit. BK, score. BVG dont get score upon.
    Makes me appreciate the ND program and happy for those that are part of it. Thanks.

  8. jeff, I actually like that. There are 130 teams in D-1 this year. I reject the effeminate, insipid FBS nomenclature. 129 play football. This is Notre Dame football. So far this year Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Navy and Temple have played their “circled” game against the Irish. That’s five. It’s not enough. Let them rest for 17 days, let them bring out covert and Ditka, let it be their biggest game, their only sellout since the last time we were there.

    THAT is Notre Dame football.

    I would not want their tradition.
    I would not want their legacy.
    I would not want their low expectation, and its embedded soft tyranny.

    I want accountability, a big bullseye on the Irish backs. And a certain brashness, loud like Rockne’s, intense with a curled lip and fedora like Leahy smoldering with eyes burning bright like Ara Raoul.

    Give me that, all its roses, all its thorns. Let the rest wallow in equality, mediocrity and the cesspools of ESPN and the Internet. I got the only campus where I can go rub Rockne’s head at the Rock and kiss Leahy’s feet on the east side of the stadium. I can not speak for you, jeff, but I’ll dance with the one what brung me, let the devil take the hindmost.

  9. How is it that just about every team Notre Dame plays this year has extra days to prepare for the game. Clearly a disadvantage for ND imo. I think Clemson had like 17 days or was it weeks to get prepared for ND. Wonder if the committee takes that into consideration when determining where ND stands in the playoff picture.

  10. I agree with Shaz. It would be nice to see some lesser seen Seniors get a chance to go out on the field. I still remember Zbikowski several years ago on his Senior Day getting a chance to take a snap at QB, a position he played in high school, and how excited he was to get a go.

    It would be nice if the game was open enough that BK could do the same, taking some Seniors who have been converted to other positions take a snap at their original or high school positions.

    Also, don’t get too upset at Scott. We’re all just fans here, at the end of the day, so we’re allowed to look ahead. You can bet BK, his staff, and the team are all focused on Wake Forest this week. One thing BK has been big on is making sure the team never looks ahead of the next game. They know there is nothing Wake Forest and BC would love more than to upset ND’s chances at getting into the playoff. That’s all they have to play for at this point so in a sense every game is a bowl game for them. Esp. BC, with our rivalry, would love nothing more than to be the team that killed ND’s playoff hopes. Other teams always seem to bring their A-game to ND, no matter their record.

  11. I think what’s being missed… is Saturday is Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.

    Forget what Wake did against other teams, or that they last played on Friday Oct. 30th and will have had a full 14 days to rest and get ready.

    This ND team is too close, too committed, and too talented to let an outstanding group of seniors exit ND stadium for the last time without a win.

    I would love for ND to break the game open by half time… not so much as to impress the selection committee, or get the back-ups some playing time, or rest some starters, but to allow some of the lesser known seniors on the team to run onto that field, in front of friends and family, for at least a snap or two.

    That can do as much for a team as any last second or come from behind win.

  12. I find this article interesting and irritating at the same time. I would suggest to quit counting on chickens before they hatch. In other words, focus on the next game-Wake Forest. The time to be concerned with Stanford is when they are the next opponent. Take for granted an opponent and that opponent comes to bite you in the ass by beating you (Tulsa, Navy, S Florida come to mind in previous years under Kelly as some examples). A big win and complete game execution for good style points would be great. Focus on the Demon Deacons this week.

    Roll Irish!

  13. Subway Alum, there is no metric or scout in this country that would have Tyler matakevich or nick grigsby as a better “class” of player. J Smith is a first day draft pick and probably the most athletic linebacker in the country. The problem with the defense is Joe Schmidt, who consistently misses tackles and cannot cover in space, and the play of the safeties, in particular max redfield, who mentally checks out of games and makes dumb mistakes.

  14. The only time to think about Stanford game is after the BC game. If they look past their next two opponents, they’re going to get upset.

  15. The Irish will have only set the stage for Stanford AFTER they soundly defeat Wake Forest and BC.


  16. The defense was fine the first half when they were attacking. VanGorder changed the game plan
    in the second half and almost seemed like a semi prevent defense. They held them to 3 points in
    the first half. They have enough talent.

  17. Scott, nice article and not just because I agree with all that you said. But beyond miscommunication on defense, we don’t have the ‘dominant’ guy on defense like for example, Temple’s #8, or even Pitt’s #5. Jaylon is great but not yet in that same class of player. We also do not yet have that rush that would hurry the QB into errant passes. I still hold my breath on 3rd and longs. Without the rush we have to rely on DB’s who for the most part do not ‘play the ball in the air’. Maybe you can answer this, is it the system that they play under, is it lack of skill or are these guys unteachable?

  18. Not to early for fans and ND scouts. But it is for Coaches and especially players. ND defense still needs to raise it’s level of play, dominate and gel. Hopefully they can finish and peak as a unit. I still believe they have superior personnel. Credit the D-line for Pitt poor passing performance. QB missed open receivers hopefully do to the pressure applied. Pitt game defensive performance simply wont do to get ND into playoff. With one ranking released, seems CFPC will give weight to team defense. Rightfully so. Obviously winning out and help from other schools SOS & W/L records these final weeks. Liked O-line play, still thinking they fair better against larger, stout, and slower Defensive fronts. Makes me optimistic about B.C. and Stanford. Even though these are high ranked D’s. B.C. was #1. Stanford is traditionally larger but also faster. W.F. I have no idea of size and speed, only that they have a higher ranking team D, as was Temple and Pitt. Appreciated O-line performance and really thankfull Adams achieved behind it. Thank.

  19. I think what is being missed is, WF almost beat Louisville with a final score UL 20 – WF 19.

    That cannot be discounted. They also put points on FSU, NCST and UNC.

    I hope this team 127 doesn’t take WF as lightly as you have. ND needs to wipe out WF – Style points matter now.

    Go up by 28 to begin the game and then put in the fellows who need minutes in the second half.

    And it should be noted, while WF put up points on those teams, they only put up 3 on Boston College, while BC couldn’t score on WF.

    WF may not be all that good, but it appears they are not as bad as all that.

  20. I think the committee will see that the score was not as close as the scoreboard indicated. Esp. the last noted TD by Pitt was due to a fumble by our back-up QB. I really doubt that will factor in. We should beat Wake Forest and Boston College handily, but one thing I’ve learned as a ND fan is most teams do seem to bring their best games of the season against ND. There’s nothing those teams would love more than to ruin ND’s playoff chances (esp. nemesis BC). So BK and the Irish do have to make sure they come ready to do battle. And frankly, it would be in ND’s best interests to trounce both opponents. They will not help ND’s SOS at all, so the only thing ND can do to help its playoff chances is to beat the crap out of both teams.

    Then when they play Stanford, they’ll need to bring their best game. It will help immensely if Stanford wins out before that. If we do all that, we should have a good chance at a playoff spot, but we will still need 2 conferences to cannibalize each other out of it. I think our best hope would be the Big 10 and Pac-12 at this point. We need Clemson to win out to help our SOS as our only loss, so that puts in the ACC team. The SEC champ would never be excluded under the current atmosphere. The Big 12 could be another potential team left off, but odds are someone will be undefeated and an undefeated Big 12 team is just not going to be left out in favor of a 1 loss team.

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