A late Stanford rally, initiated with 30 seconds to go, was capped off by Conrad Ukropina’s 45 yard field goal, earning Stanford a 38-36 win over the crestfallen Irish, seeing the Cardinal snatch victory from the nearly clenched jaws of a defeat by the Irish. Yes, if it seemed like November 20, 1993, and if you had flashbacks of David Gordon kicking the game winner for Boston College, you were not alone. Group therapy works best for losses like this.
AN ODD FIRST QUARTER
Stanford took the opening kickoff and matriculated the ball down the field for a 7-0 lead. It lasted 12 seconds as C.J. Sanders scored Notre Dame’s third special teams touchdown of the year, and his second, on an electrifying return aided by a great block by Josh Adams. Note that Adams’ first play of the game was a block.
Stanford then took the ensuing kickoff and marched in for another TD. The score was Stanford 14-Notre Dame 7 before the Irish had run a play from scrimmage.
NOTRE DAME’S OFFENSE
The Irish offense had its most efficient, dominant game of the season, but for the red zone inefficiency, since UMASS.
The Irish averaged nearly 9 yards PER PLAY, and that is calculated without Sanders’ kick return.
DEFENSE-CHOICES-RISK AND REWARD
Stanford’s offense had been potent all year, and in the soft Pac-XII the Cardinal had easily established McCaffrey’s dominance from the line of scrimmage as a fulcrum for the rest of the offense. Notre Dame could have chosen death by a thousand cuts and allowed McCaffrey to gash them to death, but chose rather to limit McCaffrey and make Hogan beat them. On the efficient frontier of college football defense, you get no increased reward without a commensurate increase in risk. And the Irish chose, not recklessly or unwisely, to make Hogan beat them in the air with Cajuste and Hooper. The Irish selected the reward of slowing down McCaffrey, but the risk was exacted by Hogan, Hooper, and Cajuste.
Devin Butler was often matched up with Cajuste, and he was always overmatched. Cajuste was the difference. It was not merely the catches and yards, but it was when he made them and the down on which he made them.
The Irish front seven did limit McCaffrey to fewer than 100 yards rushing, though that was of little consolation. When Kelly arrived both of our lines were getting beat up, absolutely abused, by Harbaugh’s Stanford lines? That was then and this is now. That deficit has been closed and reversed and will not come back under Kelly.
JOSH ADAMS – and Folston and Prosise.
Once again, Adams will not have a good Notre Dame career he will have a GREAT Notre Dame career. He just got here in June, and will have a full Winter and Spring working with Denson. Folston is crafty inside, he is the best at turning a 3 yard run into a 7 yard run and moving the chains. Prosise has elite speed, but is more comfortable outside than between tackles. And C.J. has probably spent more time working on his pass receiving than any other running back in college football. Adams has everything, great vision, size (and he’ll never be this small or weak again after bulking up with Longo), speed (though Prosise would win a footrace) and early acuity for blocking. Spring will be interesting.
YEAR’S BIGGEST SURPRISE
Deshone Kizer’s ability to run the ball. The Springtime cliché was that Zaire was the runner, Kizer the passer. Well, don’t you know, Zaire could pass and Kizer was a shockingly good runner, more crafty than explosive. Just don’t sleep on Brandon Wimbush. Kelly, Sanford and Denbrock must honor their code, which is to have an open competiton at quarterback. Kizer will get points for being a successful starter, but the battle will rage. The toughest question for Spring is whether the contest at running back or quarterback will be the most thrilling, unless both are pointed out by the battle for playing time at wide receiver, with Brown and Carlisle departing, or the four way battle at tight end or the battle between Mustipher and Hoge to replace Nick Martin.
FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR
- JOSH ADAMS – by acclamation
- JERRY TILLERY – hit a wall in early November, but might have had his best game on the Farm, discounting the critical face mask penalty.
- JUSTIN YOON – there is not greater indicator of greatness than to be taken for granted. He may not be automatic, but we all think he’s automatic.
TRAIL OF TEARS – 2015
- Prentice McKinney not admitted, winds up at Oklahoma
- Tony Alford leaves for Ohio State
- Kerry Cooks leaves for Oklahoma
- Matt Hegarty leaves for Oregon
- Everett Golson leaves for Florida State (note: three of these guys left for Final Four participants in 2014, the others for a Final Four participant in 2015)
- Bo Wallace released from LOI, signs with Arizona State
- Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, the two who, along with Wallace were the designated passrushers for Notre Dame, leave
- Greg Bryant suspended, then departs
- Jarron Jones, the runstopping yin to Sheldon Day’s yang, out for the year
- Shaun Crawford, the poor man’s Honey Badger and starting nickel, out for the year
- Ishaq Williams not cleared to play.
- Tarean Folston out for the year
- Malik Zaire, out for the year
- Durham Smythe, out for the year
- Drue Tranquill out for the year
- Avery Sebastian out for the year
- James Onwualu out for the year
- KeiVarae Russell out for the year
The measure of a man is not the riches he inherits but the adversities he overcomes. For Team 127 it is not a saga of riches inherited but a heroic, albeit gritty tale of adversities overcome.
When Our Lady du lac dipped this team in the St. Joseph River, she held it by the heel and that heel is the secondary. This is a weakness, potentially, of the team going forward. Luke and Redfield return, and Russell should, though he may not. Butler is Butler. Tranquill, Sebastian and Crawford come off tough injuries. Nick Watkins has progressed more slowly than expected. Coleman, Mykelti Williams and Ashton White are the first freshmen under Lyght. Don’t be shocked if the Irish pull a Cody Riggs or Avery Sebastian and bring in a fifth year transfer secondary player. And of the wealth in the frosh recruiting class in the secondary, some may be called on to play. It remains a concern.
Romeo Okwara, Corey Robinson, Steve Elmer, Elijah Shumate, James Onwualu, Andrew Trumbetti, Grant Blankenship and Drue Tranquill all played as frosh, from necessity rather than unbridled readiness. That is changing, and next year, the only frosh who will play, other than in the secondary, are the ones fully ready, the potential three-and-outs.
SEASON IN REVIEW
Texas – Total dominance on each side of the ball. Notre Dame 38-Bevo 3
Virginia – the classic sandwich game. Mike London’s Cavaliers always produce one epic effort in Charlottesvile and they spent it on the Irish. Zaire went out. But Notre Dame had the will and Will Fuller had Kizer’s and Notre Dames’ back. 34-27, 2-0.
Georgia Tech – The rollercoaster turned upward. Bob Elliott was the Baron Von Clausewitz of Paul Johnson’s destruction, perhaps permanently. The Irish stopped the unstoppable, 30-22, 3-0.
UMASS – a romp, a laugher. Brandon Wimbush flashed his explosiveness and his dazzling potential. Irish showed their depth and future promise. 62-28, 4-0.
Clemson – well-rested Clemson, having not played in 16 days, used a monsoon and some sharp early playcalling to put the Irish into a deep hole. But the gritty, and rain-soaked, Irish clawed back and came within a two point conversion of sending the game to overtime. Clemson 24-Notre Dame 22. Clemson is the top ranked team in the country. That night was the closest they came to defeat.
Navy – The Georgia Tech template worked and the Irish won comfortably for the first time since Croake Park in Dublin. Fare thee well, Ensign Keenan Reynolds. Now go sit next to David Robinson and wear Notre Dame gear. Notre Dame 41-Navy 24, Irish 5-1.
USC – jolted awake by Sarkisian’s besotted firing, they came out firing on all cylinders. But this Trojan horse is truly hollow. They live on the deeds of the three superstars, Adoree, Juju and S’ua (it’s an LA thing, first names only, just like “Kaitlin”). A roster in pooor physical shape with little player development. Equanimeous St. Brown had a sweet punt block. Irish by 10, 41-31, Irish 6-1.
Temple, on Halloween in Philly, Temple hosted the Irish in the biggest game in Temple athletic history. Matt Rhule will soon follow Justin Fuente up coaching mountain, but the Irish prevailed 24-20, moving to 7-1
Pitt – Panthers brought out the legends: Ditka, Dorsett, Fralic, Marino, Covert, but the Irish offense was in high gear, controlling the game. Two late TDS by Pitt, one on the Wimbush giveaway made the final score a lying 42-30. Irish 8-1
Wake – senior day snoozefest, Irish let Wake hang around. ND 28-Wake7, Irish unbeaten at home 9-1
BC – red zone turnover night by the Irish in Fenway. Issue was never in doubt, Irish offense mashing the vaunted BC defense. Notre Dame 19-BC 16, 10-1
Stanford – the year’s most efficient offensive display, but for the red zone woes. Irish slowed down McCaffrey, but the steep price exacted was Devin Cajuste. Conrad Ukropina joins Joe Perkowski, Joe Azzaro, Scott Hempel and David Gordon in ND’s plaekicking house of horrors, for one reason or another.
Stanford 38-Notre Dame 36.
Notre Dame finished 10-2. The two losses were by two points each, one to the ACC Atlantic Division champions and one to the PAC XII North champions.
THEN AND NOW.
The two losses hurt, especially yesterday’s. But a year ago we played USC in the Coliseum on Thanksgiving Weekend. That was not a pretty sight. Much has happened in the last year. The future is bright. You are free to embrace it or reject it. But those who stay will be champions. If you want your team to play like champions today and tomorrow, then start acting like one.
THANK YOU TEAM 127!