Notre Dame Implodes in Crushing Loss to Stanford

Three solid quarters against the Stanford Cardinal wasn’t enough to get the job done for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish as they finished up with a 9-3 regular season mark after their 38-20 loss. Falling victim to turnovers and not managing to collect any on defense was just one of the issues involved in the defeat.

The loss continued a frustrating stretch for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly when it comes to defeating ranked teams away from South Bend. The Irish mark in that category over the past six seasons now stands at 1-9.

Below are some key factors in helping explain why Notre Dame went down to defeat:

Meltdown in Palo Alto

The Irish held a 20-17 lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter, but then watched their hopes of victory collapse in just over a six-minute span. Stanford drove 70 yards in seven plays to retake the lead, which was followed by a Brandon Wimbush interception on the first play of the subsequent series.

The Cardinal needed just three plays to add seven more points to their side of the scoreboard and take a 31-20 lead. What followed was the final nail in the coffin when C.J. Sanders fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Stanford needed just four plays to go 18 yards to boost the Notre Dame deficit to 18 points with just over 10 minutes remaining.

The Scourge of Penalties

Getting flagged for penalties usually offers a strong hint that a loss is coming. The Irish found that out the hard way, committing eight penalties for 81 yards, with many of those miscues resulting in points for the Cardinal.

The first of these came after Notre Dame had struck first for a 7-0 lead. Stanford’s next series had seemingly stalled out, but Shaun Crawford was flagged for pass interference. On the very next play, the Cardinal knotted the score on a touchdown pass. On Stanford’s next scoring drive, an Irish penalty became moot when the free play became another touchdown.

The Irish also potentially cost themselves eight points because of blunders. After picking up four first downs and having 2nd-and-10 at the Cardinal 21, Alex Bars was called for a false start. In the third quarter, a drive starting at the Stanford 19 immediately stalled after an illegal shift and a false start by Mike McGlinchey. Instead of two touchdowns, all the Irish had to show for their effort was a pair of field goals.

Blips on the Radar

During the first half, Notre Dame outgained Stanford 198-170 in total yardage, through the Irish number is somewhat misleading. That’s because 83 of those yards came from a single play on a scoring toss from Wimbush to Kevin Stepherson. Also, their first field goal was the byproduct of a 15-play, 69-yard drive.

Other than that, Notre Dame wasn’t able to do much else, gaining 46 yards on the other 20 plays. Yet even after the futility of a trio of three-and-outs, with the closing drive before intermission gaining just eight yards, they headed into halftime trailing by just four points at 14-10.

On the opening play of the second half, Wimbush connected with Equanimeous St. Brown on a 75-yard touchdown pass. In between that play and the 90 yards gained on 24 time-consuming plays after the Irish trailed 38-20, they gained just 27 yards on 14 plays.

Advantage Love

In the buildup to this clash, there was plenty of discussion about the Heisman-caliber running backs on each side. Josh Adams was facing off against Stanford’s Bryce Love, who had already gained over 1,700 yards this season, with Adams seeking to get his flailing campaign back on track.

That didn’t happen because Adams was held to just 49 yards on 20 carries, with his longest run of the night a meager seven-yard gain. Love was held in check during the first half, with Irish defenders keying on him and holding him to 31 yards. Love broke off a 31-yard run soon after play resumed and closed with 125 yards on 20 carries.

Adams’ November production has imploded his Heisman chances. During the first eight games, he gained 1,169 yards on 132 carries, an average of 8.9 yards per carry. Over the final four games of the regular season, those numbers dropped to 217 yards on 59 carries, which translates to just 3.7 yards per carry.

Next Up

Despite the upheaval that took place over the weekend, with both Alabama and Miami falling from the ranks of the undefeated, the loss by the Irish eliminates any shred of hope they had at being one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Those defeats had offered the most optimistic Notre Dame fans a tiny lifeline that was subsequently cut after four quarters against Stanford.

While the regular season again ends on a down note, the good news he Irish are headed back to playing in a bowl game. More importantly, that contest should have a lot more prestige than the likes of appearances in bowls such as the Pinstripe and Music City matchups, where previous Kelly teams have closed out their campaigns.

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  1. I am sure there was a similar post, but the author of the article states we will be in bowl with more prestige than pinstripe or music city. I am a little confused by this since we are more than likely Orlando bound. That would put us in the Camping World Bowl or at best the Citrus Bowl. Citrus Bowl isn’t a bad bowl, but a Big Ten team will have to be in the Orange Bowl for that to happen. I wouldn’t think prestige is the word for the camping world bowl when compared to music city, pinstripe or sun bowls. I know, I know, it is a small step above them but….c’mon, a lot more prestige?

  2. I had to get up early on Sunday morning and so I went to bed after the 3rd quarter.

    Lucky me.

    I awoke at about 3 a.m. to answer nature’s call and checked this site and found the bad news – I was NOT surprised.

    It’s easy to blame Kelly but – where were the leaders ON THE FIELD?

  3. The “Play Calling” was a disgrace!!! It has been for most of this year. On 3rd and 9 when they needed a 1st down, somebody, either Kelly or Long, called a “QB Draw” HUH??? WHAT??? With a an offensive brain trust like that, ND will NEVER win another NC. We keep starting the year with Freshman QB’s who have NO GAME experience of any significance!!! The results are predictable against a good team. Wimbush should be told ” Throw the ball away when there’s no play there or get on the bench!!!! DeShone Kizer was the same way. He’s still doing it at Cleveland. Holtz would NEVER put up with that!

  4. Todd Lyght is a horrible assistant coach. He can’t recruit and can’t teach his DBs to turn their heads and play the ball in the air.

  5. They need a quarterback that can come thru in the clutch. That’s not Wimbusch. He is the opposite .
    At Miami. he was as disaster. At Stanford the same. All those penalties – that’s on the coaches – shows a lack of discipline . TThe offense has gotten stale. No injection of novelty as the season went on. As a result the opposition just went to school on ND’s offenses and shut it down. Same with the defense.
    Lastly, think Notre Dame as got a bad case of socialistic blues – overly enthusiastic effort to go recruit minorities . Nothing against them – but they need some smarts on that team. Ok to get those minorities – but make damm sure they have the IQ to go with a winning team. Stanford is a brainy team and it showed !!

  6. Running QBs are overrated. Especially when said QBs are incapable of doing even the absolute bare minimum passing-wise.


  8. So just get this over with. You already did field turf, jumbotron, crossroads, and even helmet logos….so put the names on the jerseys, and drive the last nail in the coffin of every last glimmer of tradition that ND ever had.

    Because playing football with a commitment to excellence left the building a long time ago.

  9. I’ll still be a fan. I’ll still root for ND to win week to week. But I won’t be fooled by another strong start anymore. They go 8-0 to start next year I won’t buy in to the hype again. I’ll still expect them to collapse at some point. It’ll be up to them to prove me wrong from now on. Lose 1 game or less next season, then I’ll believe.

    But as The Who song says I “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

  10. Brandon Wimbush is no better today than he was in September. As a poster said back then, an inaccurate passer will never change. It’s time to give the job to Ian Book (though he is not ready), or a newcomer. Wimbush can still be used in a wildcat formation, or a single wing with a jumbo unbalanced line from time to time. He’s too talented to keep off the field entirely. But he will never be the surgical passer we need to progress.

    We need to win the Citrus or Gator Bowl…both are played New Year’s weekend. They are not quite a NY 6 Bowl, but this year they will be close, definitely upper tier, because of the TV scheduling ramifications of New Years Eve being a Sunday.

    We finished 9-3 as I predicted in August…but after the USC/NC State wins, I thought we’d do better. Instead we have a November collapse, and an enduring road game problem – and no chance to win a NY 6 Bowl.

    9-3 was my floor…my lowest acceptable performance…but only with a Gator or Citrus Bowl WIN…making us 10-3. To me it is just good enough to give this new coaching staff another year and feel good about it. But we’ve lost Damian and Southside too – Southside’s floor was 10-2…we didn’t make it for him, unfortunately.

    As I’ve said before, 9-4 does not make it for me. That would be 1979…Dan Devine’s worst year: it should not be the new standard for “success” and if it happens I think Coach Kelly should start to consider his options…9-4 would not be real progress, just a rerun of 2014 (in so many ways).

    In the fall of 1976 (my senior year) we accepted a Gator Bowl bid to play Penn State. It was controversial at the time – the first time we ever played in a bowl that was not one of the (then) Big Four bowls. We beat Penn State, and the following year (1977) we won a unanimous National Championship with an 11-1 record. That’s something for Positive Pete to write about though…right now I have doubts that Coach Kelly can get the team “up” for the Citrus or Gator Bowl after this November collapse…I hope I’m dead wrong.

    By the way, we actually played pretty well for three quarters, certainly well enough to win, but the fourth quarter was dreadful…terrible execution and turnovers at the worst times. It was NOT a conditioning problem though…Coach Balis was not at fault for this in any way. The stinky field position we played from for the entire first half was overcome by our players who kept us in the game…and in the third quarter we took the lead…but 11 of 28 passing? That is not even close to being what we need. Not even close. It’s time for a change at quarterback. Book still makes me nervous, but with three weeks of major reps in practice, maybe his potential will get us through the bowl with a win.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. I’m not sold that Wimbush is really the problem. I see some mechanical issues that with good coaching could be corrected. He’ll never be an elite passer, true. But with his legs he could get away with being an above average passer and still be a good QB.

      I just see this as another in a long line of QB victims under BK. Every QB that comes up next is supposedly the one that was going to bring it all home. Almost every time they start off with promise then collapse. Would Book really do better? Or would he start the same way, with a lot of promise before becoming the next victim of the BK QB game. Then we’ll hear, oh, well Jurkovec is the true QB we need.

      1. Yes Damian, but in this case, BW did not start off with promise in the passing game. He started out by missing wide open receivers, often badly. He’s had 12 games of coaching, and there is no change. He is a phenomenal athlete who belongs on the field (at least some of the time) , but not as a passer in the spread, or even the “I”.

        Would Book be better…maybe not in the beginning, but eventually Ian Book could become that surgical passer who cuts other teams apart. He’s not inaccurate, he just makes rookie mistakes. So let’s start now…what’s the point in waiting?

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. BGC , you got me pegged wrong if you thought my wanting 10 wins had anything to do with Kelly and his coaching staff returning. I’ve stated numerous times the bar set for successful college football teams is 10/11 wins and to do it on a constant basis or even 2 years in a row would be a milestone for ND. Problerm with ND football program under Kelly is lack of a consistancy of double digit wins. It’s what keeps elite recruits away. ND needs to string at least 2 seasons in a row—be in contention for playoffs. Kelly has not done that. We can blame -players for the melt down — but bottom line is the head coach is the sole responsibility when it comes to winning. Always has been –always will be.

      1. Southside – it’s good to hear from you again! No sir, I only meant that we lost you and Damian in the sense that there now is no way either of you will be satisfied with this season…I never meant to imply anything about how you feel about the coaching at ND and I certainly did not mean to imply that Damian will start rooting for ND to lose like some of these other posters. Just meant that you two won’t be satisfied with this season…regardless of how the Citrus (or Gator) bowl turns out.

        One more loss and neither will I!

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. Yeah, for me from the outset I wanted a NY Day 6 Bowl win for me to consider things on the right track. Different people want different things but I lost my faith in BK after last years Duke debacle. That was when my eyes were finally opened on BK. 9-3 just isn’t enough for me.

        Now I am a realist too. I know the only way BK is not back next year is if he resigns. And that ain’t going to happen. I guess I can’t blame him. If he quits he would lost millions. I know I wouldn’t quit under that scenario. And no other school is going to buy him out. So we’re stuck with him for next year.

        I won’t root for ND to lose. I can’t cross that bridge. Some people can. I have myself under certain circumstances (my MY Giants for instance–I want McAdoo gone and I want a high draft pick). But it’s different with pro-teams. I can’t bring myself to root for ND to lose.

    1. If we go 9-4 they will be happy, just as you said George. AND THAT IS EXACTLY THE PROBLEM: DAN DEVINE’S WORST SEASON (7-4) BECOMES THE NEW STANDARD FOR SUCCESS. George, that’s only Notre Dame football for kids born after LOU left.

      Don’t let that happen. And one more thing – if Father Jenkins really is happy with 9-4, he is President of the wrong university.
      9-4 IS NOT excellent. It’s NOT great. It is moderately good for some universities.

      Are we to strive to be moderately good, George? Is that the vision of Father Jenkins for ND? To be “good”?

      1. Notre Dame football is simply not a priority for Jenkins. Didn’t I make that clear with my initial comment? But yes obviously I agree that’s the problem. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother to state as much.

      2. I have been saying this for years that the admin could care less about titles as long as the team gets 8-10 wins it will be happy. They can keep the football factory label off itself and keep donations still coming in. They disagree with Charlie Weis’ sign, because they think 9-3 is good enough.

    2. You’re exactly right. Swarbick will come out and say the program is headed in the right direction. Probably in those exact words. It’s been so long since ND has been elite they probably don’t no any better anymore.

      1. Swarbick and Jenkins will go all Harpo Marx without his horn and go mute, like they did during the frozen five fiasco. NBC $ will continue to flow in, and those stadium renovations are showy, so there’s that for them.

  11. While it’s true that the whole team fell apart in the 1st few minutes of the 4th quarter, I blame the defense. It looked like Brian Van Gorder came back to haunt the defense. The break but don’t bend defense, non-clutch, non-big play defense. Three times ND took the lead in the game. All three times, the defense gave up the lead in the veery next posession. ND ewas never allowed to possess the ball AND the lead at the same time. In my opinion, it was that kind of pressure placed upon the rest of the team by the defense that precipitated the overall meltdown.

    1. Mike, don’t blame the defense. They were on the field for too many plays because of ND penalties and turnovers.

  12. Kelly said a QB who has been in the program for three years is “developmental”. Totally unacceptable. I’m not a huge fan of calling for a guy to be fired. You’re talking about peoples families. But something just isn’t working. No matter what changes, the results stay the same. Apparently being average is the new norm.

    1. We had way too many tackles for losses, especially in the first half, to call that a BVG defense. Come on dude…BVG defenses gave up 500 ypg! Look at the stats again. However, we did not get any turnovers to flip field position, or create a sudden change situation…Stanford protected the ball and we had three turnovers…that’s why we lost.

      BGC ’77 ’82

    2. What’s “developmental” is the utter two-faced BS excuses Kelly comes up so he can keep cashing his paycheques.

  13. ND was one dropped pass away from going to OT vs. Navy. That’s the highlight of the last 3 games…..a nail biting win that could just as easily have turned into another crushing loss. To Navy.

    For the year, the highlight was a rare win against USC…who quite willingly and uncharacteristically gave that game away with a litany of mistakes. (Hey! That’s NDs thing, your posers!)

    You were told. But you blind putzes prefer denial… sound a strategy as any of Kelly’s.
    Enjoy your bowl game. Another competitive and entertaining example of excellence, I’m sure.

  14. Brian Kelly era needs to come to an end! He should be fired today. 8 years of mediocrity is enough to show he can’t turn the corner.

  15. In reality, just minutes before the meltdown, Stanford had just heard they were heading to the Pac10 conference game. I’m sure that was communicated to the team. You could see a significant change in their intensity. That said, Bryan Kelly showed again his inability to coach the team out of a hole. When the cameras were on him, he had a poor poor pitiful me look on his face. Rockne he is not. While this is a much improved season, it’t time for Bryan to go. Kelly showed his inability to make adjustments to save a game. This is just not in his DNA. When Wimbush was falling apart, he should have left the backup quarterback in to see if he could bring the team back. Basically, this was more a show of poor coaching than anything else

  16. Brian Kelly is just good enough that replacing him could backfire very badly. But it’s clear something needs to change. Less than 10 wins next year and both sides should agree to mutually part ways, I think.

  17. So very typical of BK coached teams. 3 weeks ago, just 3 freaking weeks ago we were talking about a potential playoff spot. Then 2 losses later we’re not even in a NY Day 6 bowl. 9-3. That’s what we’re back too. Excuse me if I don’t think that’s good enough. I think it says a lot about the program when some fans think this was a successful turnaround. We’re starting to get used to 9-3 being the best we can do. Unfortunately I’m starting to think that the real powers that be at ND may think that’s good enough too. BK will be back next year. I have no doubts about that.

    I know some fans are saying Wimbush and Adams may not really be that good. But is it really them? Or is it bad coaching? BK has left a long list of failed QB’s with tons of potential in his wake. EG and Zaire come to mind. These were 2 QBs that were going to turn it all around, they played BK’s preferred system and Zaire had a zone read ability, blah blah blah. They both flamed out under BK. Kizer was a good QB but he too was put in bad positions continually. Now Wimbush. I’m starting to think if you put Wimbush on a team with a Saban-like coach, maybe you’d see a much different QB.

    It’s over for me. I’m done believing in BK. I’ll root for the Irish in games, I can’t bring myself to root for them to lose. But I won’t believe until they finish a freaking season anymore. Win all their games next year, then I’ll believe. Hell, the basketball team has more chance at a NC these days. Maybe BK should spend some time with Mike Brey to see how he gets his team ready to play big games.

    1. You were “talking about a playoff spot ” because you look at W’s. That’s it. “A win is a win…shut up and be happy!”.

      This a very poorly led team lacking many basic fundamentals and a reasonably capable QB.
      The selection committee is justifiably relieved.

  18. Note to Fourhorsemen selectors: This week should be titled Four Jackesses of the week, obviously Wimbush, Sanders, Adams for their stellar inept performances. But, the best by far was BK Himself. There He was admonishing the O line when He should have been clueing them in on a special tackle eligible play, or is He saving that for the bowl game.

  19. Kelly needs to figure out why his teams don’t improve as the season progresses. Not a single position group has been better in November than they were in September (arguably Wimbush–but its marginal at best). Most units are performing worse. It isn’t because of injuries, lack of depth, or poor conditioning. It’s something the coaching staff is/isn’t doing.

    I don’t want to overlook the turnaround from last season. 9-3 isn’t a bad year. But falling off the rails in November is disappointing. The Irish went from trending upwards to spinning their wheels.

    1. Cant really blame Kelly for this one. He didnt tell Wimbush to throw a pick. He didnt tell them to fumble. This team has no motivation since Miami loss. Sad that BK had to go over to his senior linemen and give them motivation. 9-3 is better than 4-8 but not good enough for ND. Time to join a conference, quit scheduling 6 or 7 teams in the top 25 then maybe ND will have a shot at a title.

      1. They didn’t need motivation . . .they needed an unpredictable play calling strategy. Like an end-around from your Heisman candidate, or a flag pattern to your tight end lined up inside your other TE on two consecutive plays after the ND TO that led to a quick TD. Play calling and strategy is vital to success when you are competing against a top 25 team.

  20. Should be happy with 9-3 after last year but just hard to watch this team play no leadership and that starts with the coach can’t make any adjustments and really don’t understand the offense do they not watch film against the spead of Georgia and Miami we try to run outside which i thought anyone who watched football knows you have to go right at them then against Navy and Stanford two teams that we have a spead advantage against we run straight at them coaching is a huge problem and maybe it’s time to get someone in here that has a track record of winning big games I know Les Miles never really had great offenses but they won way more big games then they lost they fired him because they started only winning 9 games

    1. Why should we be happy with 9-3? We should still be outraged that ND, with a QB who is starting as a rookie in the NFL, went 4-8. If you keep lowering the bar, we’re going to have to slither snake-like to ever be a very good program again. When you self-destruct every November every year, “we have a problem,Houston.”
      I remember former LB Joe Schmidt telling the story about boarding a plane after his senior season carrying a ND duffle bag and a fellow passenger asked him if he went to ND. When he said he did, the passenger said, “hey, you guys got a good basketball program.” That’s where the ND football program is.

      1. I’m only happy with 9-3 if it becomes 10-3, Michael.
        9-4 sounds like a good year for Northwestern…not a good year for ND.

        But at 10-3, I would definitely give this new coaching staff a second year. We’d look silly not giving it to them!

        Say 10-3 five times, then say 9-4 five times. Amazing how different they sound (and look in print) even though there is only one win difference between them.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. MTA , Kelly has had chances to put ND back to winning ways. He has not. He cannot even get back to back double digit win seasons. He’s had his chances to turn around program and put Irish in right direction. He’s had his chances of beating top ten teams on the road. He has not. The “wait until next year” under Kelly regime has run it’s course—and perhaps overdue for sometime.

  21. Another disappointing end to a season. Kelly needs to reevaluate the quarter position. Just did not see any groth in Winbush.

    1. Agree – Wimbush not a top level QB – that was evident all year – Kelly has not shown the ability to make in game
      adjustments – Team looked flat again – need that aggression and close out mentality – not there – another fourth quarter

  22. Thanks for the update. I was out on Saturday night and following the score on my cell phone. When I headed home the Irish were up 20 to 17 and I thought – I have enough time to get home for the final minutes. Let’s see if the boys can hold on.

    I tuned in for the last few minutes and was absolutely stunned by the score. What happened? I just kept saying it again and again.

    Oh well, there is no doubt that this season was a major rebound from last year. Can we build on things next year? I hope so.

    Go Irish!!!!

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