Can Notre Dame Play 4 Quarters to Take out Stanford?

The fourth quarter has been a quarter of doom for Notre Dame when it comes to playing Stanford in recent years.  During their current three game losing streak to the Cardinal, the Irish have led in the 4th quarter in every game only to come up short each time.  Compounding matters for the Irish this weekend, is the fact that the 4th quarter has been unkind to them as a whole this year.  For Notre Dame to win this weekend that will have to change.

Brian Kelly addressed his team’s poor fourth quarter showings against Stanford head on at his weekly presser on Tuesday.  “You can talk about not winning the last three games, but what we need to do is play better for four quarters,” he said.

“If you’ve looked back on the three games, we had a lot to do with why we didn’t win the last two games,” Kelly said on Tuesday.  “There was 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter, and we were leading last year. We went into the second half with a 10-0 lead the year before, and as you know, in both instances, we turned the football over.”

In 2015 Notre Dame technically held the lead going into the fourth quarter, but it was short lived.  The Irish took a 29-28 lead into the final 15, but Stanford scored five seconds in the fourth to retake the lead.  Notre Dame responded though and scored what appeared to be a game winning touchdown with 30 seconds remaining.  Brian Vangorder’s defense couldn’t hold the lead for a mere thirty seconds though and a 45 yard field goal from Conrad Ukropina sent Notre Dame home unhappy.

A year later in South Bend, Notre Dame took a 10-0 lead into half time, but fell apart offensively in the second half prompting an ill advised temporary quarterback change from Kizer to Malik Zaire by Brian Kelly.  Notre Dame didn’t score a single point in the entire second half and Stanford scored the go ahead touchdown again in the 4th quarter adding to Notre Dame’s tailspin 2016 campaign.

Just last year Notre Dame entered Palo Alto with a New Year’s 6 Bowl game in their sights.  Once again they entered the 4th quarter with the a lead, this time just 20-17 but a lead none the less.  The Irish ran into a buzzsaw in that 4th quarter though with Stanford outscoring them 21-0 on their way to a 38-20 victory – their third in a row over Notre Dame.

Three games, three times Notre Dame held a fourth quarter lead over Stanford.  All losses.

While Stanford obviously has had a lot to do with Notre Dame’s 4th quarter woes, much of the pain has also been self inflicted. “This is much more about us taking care of the football and playing it for four quarters,” Kelly said Tuesday.  “We have a great deal of respect for Stanford and how they run their program, but we need to play for four quarters and play good football.”

Last year, right after Stanford took their first lead of the second half at 24-20, Brandon Wimbush threw an interception on the very first offensive play for Notre Dame on their ensuing drive.  Three plays later it was 31-20.  Then on the ensuing kickoff, CJ Sanders fumbled the ball with Stanford recovering.  Another four plays later and it was 38-20.

In just over 3:30, Stanford rattled off 21 points and the game was essentially over. Notre Dame did, however, add another interception just for good measure later in the fourth.

The fourth quarter hasn’t been an isolated problem for Notre Dame just against Stanford though.  The Irish struggled through the final stanza of each of their first three games of the season this year.  On the season Notre Dame has been outscored 31-13 in the 4th quarter.  This past weekend’s 4th quarter didn’t matter much, but in weeks 1-3 it certainly did as Notre Dame won single possession games each week.

The story in the 4th quarter in each of those first three games centered around an offense that stalled late in the game and couldn’t close out the opponent.  Notre Dame didn’t score at all against Michigan or Ball State in the 4th quarter and against Vanderbilt they managed a single touchdown with a failed two point conversion.  That is three close games where the Irish scored just 6 points.

That lack of offensive output should shed some light onto why Brian Kelly made a change at quarterback despite the Irish winning all three games.  Notre Dame scored just seven 4th quarter points last week in Ian Book‘s first start, but they also had already scored more than twice as many points through three quarters as they had all season.

For Notre Dame to finally take down Stanford for the first time since 2014 this weekend, Notre Dame has to play better in the fourth quarter.  This Stanford team does not give up until the final gun sounds.  Last week the Cardinal trailed Oregon 24-7 at halftime before outscoring the Ducks 31-7 in the second half and overtime to pull off the improbable comeback.  No matter what kind of lead Notre Dame may possibly build – if any – it won’t be safe until the clock reads 0:00.

“That’s a hallmark of Coach Shaw’s teams. They just keep playing. That’s what they did. They kept playing, they got a couple of things that went their way — and they fed on it,” Brian Kelly said Tuesday.  “Then when they had the chance to get back in the game, they took advantage of their opportunity, made some plays and were able to win the football game.

Notre Dame gave Stanford similar chances the last few years and the Cardinal took full advantage.  For Notre Dame to prevent that from happening again for a fourth year in a row, the Irish will need to protect the football and play four quarters of football.  They haven’t done that since 2014 when it was the Irish who pulled off a last second win on Everett Golson’s 4th down touchdown pass to Ben Koyack with a minute remaining.

Whoever is left standing after Saturday night will most likely be whoever wins the 4th quarter.  Hopefully for the Irish they are able to do that for the first time this year and for the first time against Stanford since 2014.

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