5 Things I Liked: Notre Dame vs. Stanford ’18

There have been a couple of these columns that have been fun to write this year, but none that has been more enjoyable than this one.  In fact, I considered renaming this column “5 Things I Loved” for these week because last night’s performance was one of the best of the Brian Kelly era.  Notre Dame won convincingly over a top 10 team for the first time under Kelly’s watch and propelled themselves firmly in the early season playoff conversation. There was so much to like, let’s just get into it.

Notre Dame flipping the script on Stanford

This game was almost a carbon copy of last year’s game in Palo Alto if you completely flip the teams.  Last year the game was close to start the 4th quarter and the Irish even lead by three.  Then Stanford unloaded a 21 point barrage in just over three minutes thanks in large part to two Irish turnovers – a Brandon Wimbush interception and then a CJ Sanders fumble on a kick return. Just like that, the Irish were down 18 and the game was over.

Fast forward to last night.  Notre Dame entered the 4th quarter with another one possession lead – this time seven points at 24-17.  After a missed 50 yard field goal by Justin Yoon kept the lead to seven, the Notre Dame defense delivered a huge three and out.  Ian Book then engineered a 10 play, 58 yard touchdown drive capped off with an eight yard scoring toss to Miles Boykin to push the lead to 14.

On Stanford’s very next play, Tevon Coney stepped up and recorded the first interception of his career.  The pick was a long time coming and something Coney has been looking forward to for a while.  Chip Long dialed up the perfect play in the the sudden change situation and Ian Book found a WIDE open Alize Mack for a 35 yard touchdown on the next play.  Just like that, the Irish lead was 21 points with just over eight minutes remaining.

A seven point lead ballooned to 21 in 14 second of game clock.

The game was essentially over.  On Stanford’s next drive Jerry Tillery pinned his ears back and sacked KJ Costello on first and second down.  On third down, David Shaw waved the white flag across the field to Brian Kelly with a running play and then a punt.

The return of Dexter Williams

Notre Dame had been missing the explosive running plays in their offense this year with Josh Adams in the NFL and Williams sidelined with a suspension.  Williams did not make Notre Dame fans wait long to see some explosion in the run game.  His very first carry of the season went for 45 yards as Williams took a handoff from Book, found a crease, and exploded through it leaving the Stanford defense in his dust on his way to the endzone.

With Jafar Armstrong sidelined already with an infection in his knee and then Tony Jones Jr going down with an ankle injury in the third quarter, Notre Dame leaned much more heavily on Williams than anyone could have anticipated in his first game back.  He ended up carrying the ball 20 times for 161 yards and scoring the first touchdown of the game.

With Dexter Williams in the backfield, Notre Dame has the big play element that it had been missing all season long and it was clear from his first carry that the Irish have that element back.  Depending on the health of Jones, Notre Dame could be leaning on Williams a lot the next few weeks since Kelly said that Armstrong probably won’t be back until after the bye week following last night’s victory.

Notre Dame’s half time adjustments

The first half of last night’s showdown between the Irish and Cardinal was pretty evenly matched.  Notre Dame held the lead at 21-14 but Stanford had been moving the ball at times and it felt like this one could be a seesaw affair in the second half.  Clark Lea decided it wouldn’t be with perhaps the best half time adjustments we’ve seen from a Notre Dame defense since… well since I can remember.

Lea got the Notre Dame defense going in the second half and the Irish held Stanford to just 31 yards in the entire damn second half.  Stanford ran a grand total of seven plays the entire 4th quarter.  Three of those seven plays ended with a sack and a fourth ended with the first career interception for Tevon Coney.  The other three plays netted just eight yards.  Seven plays, -13 yards, and 1 turnover.

The Notre Dame pass rush started to get home in the second half as well.  Notre Dame ended up sacking KJ Costello five times.  He had been sacked five times in the previous four games combined.  Jerry Tillery led the way with four sacks tying a Notre Dame record.  Last player to do so?  Victor Abiamiri against, you guessed it, Stanford in 2005.

That friends, is some serious coaching from Clark Lea.  And let’s not forget Mike Elston because his defensive line ATE Stanford alive in the second half.

Notre Dame winning the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball

For the last few years it has been frustrating to watch Notre Dame – Stanford games and see Stanford win the battle at the line of scrimmage most of the time.  That simply did not happen last night.  Notre Dame’s offensive line gave Ian Book a clean pocket most of the night and they paved the way for the Irish to out rush Stanford 272 to 55.  By contrast, Dexter Williams picked up 45 yards by himself – on his first carry of the game (and season).

Even when Notre Dame lost its best offensive lineman – Alex Bars – the Irish offensive line kept Stanford out of the backfield and gave Book all the time he needed to slice and dice the Stanford defense as he tossed 4 touchdowns on 24 of 33 passing.

Defensively, Notre Dame wasn’t getting home in the first half.  Stanford was giving KJ Costello time to pass and he was finding his massive receivers.  That all changed in the second half when the Irish defense started generating a lot of pressure without having to send a lot of extra blitzers. Because they were getting pressure with just the front four, there wasn’t anywhere for Costello to go with the ball.

Tillery was the star of the night, but the entire defensive line stepped up and dominated Stanford in the second half.

Chip Long’s game plan and play calling

In some of my “5 Things I Didn’t Like” columns this year I’ve been critical of Chip Long’s play calling and game planning – specifically early in the season when it seemed he was calling games for who he hoped Brandon Wimbush could be instead of who he is.  I will gladly heap praise Long’s way for what he pulled off last night though because he called a monster of a ball game and it’s abundantly clear that Long can open up his entire offense with Ian Book running the show.

Chip Long had Stanford off balance almost from the start the of the game with the only blemish on a whale of a game being an early 4th down call that got Notre Dame stuffed near midfield. After that, Long could almost do no wrong as Ian Book moved the Irish up and down the field at times.

Notre Dame outgained Stanford 550 to 229.  The Irish ran for 272 and passed for 278 for near perfect balance.  Notre Dame ran the ball 55 times.  Stanford ran the ball for 55 yards.  Total. Notre Dame converted on more than 50% of their 3rd downs last night (9 of 17) and converted the second 4th down they attempted.

As Book gets more and more comfortable and the Irish get more and more receivers worked into their weekly gameplans, this offense has the chance to be very good.

So many Notre Dame players stepping up and having huge games on a big stage

There was so much to like last night and some many players stepped up big time that I’m devoting the 5th thing I liked to call out a number of players individually.

  • Asmar Bilal – Hands down this was the best game of Bilal’s career.  He was an animal out there last night and helped keep Stanford’s dangerous tight ends in check most of the night.  He also had a huge TFL of Bryce Love in the 3rd quarter to kill a Stanford drive.
  • Drue Tranquill – Tranquill apparently played most of last night with a broken hand.  That didn’t stop him from being all over the field and nearly coming down with a diving interception in the 3rd.  Now we know why he didn’t haul it in.  Huge game from the 5th year senior.
  • Chase Claypool – We’ve mentioned a few times this year that Claypool’s route running and blocking have been inconsistent but that was NOT the case last night.  Great blocking in the screen game and another monster special teams game.
  • Miles Boykin – He was quiet last week, but was anything but last night.  11 catches for 144 after having 9 coming into the game.
  • Khalid Kareem – He only got credited with one sack, but he was a huge reason the Notre Dame DL dominated the second half.  He battled through a few bumps and bruises throughout the game too.
  • Julian Love – Now the Notre Dame record holder for career pass breakups.  Had another big time game for the Irish.
  • Tyler Newsome – Punted 4 times and all 4 were 50 yards or more.  Two of the four were downed inside the 20 and a 3rd had the chance to be.  Had a rough start to the season, but has rebounded in a big way.
  • Jonathan Doerer – Kicked off 7 times with 5 touchbacks. Kept Bryce Love from impacting the game in the return game.  Had a brutal start to the year with a few kicks out of bounds, but is in a groove now.

I am going to have to get creative for the “5 Things I Didn’t Like” column this week, but don’t worry, I already have a few ideas.


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  1. What I liked the most was seeing Shaw lose that smirking grin he had in the first quarter. He was so sure of himself and his team.

  2. Yeah, good game all around. I’m hopeful that this is a sign of a turning point for the Irish. That’s not to say I won’t still keep a critical eye on them. I’m not jumping on any playoff bandwagon until the whistle sounds at the end of the USC game and we are 12-0 or 11-1. But if they keep playing like they are they will be in the mix. They just have to keep playing like they are now and not let any hype get the better of them. Don’t have a Miami situation this year. Don’t buy into the hype–it’s meaningless until the season is over and can crash down at any time.

    But this was the first complete game in a while. Offense, defense, even ST all did a great job. Sure, there are nitpicking things I could complain about. But I won’t. The final result is a pretty dominating win over a top 10 team. And if all we have is nitpicking, then it was a pretty good game. It was nice to see the defense take it to the next level. I thought from the beginning of the year the defense could be dominant, even elite. The ingredients are all there. Keep playing like they did, adjusting like they did and the skies the limit. And they finally dictated the plays instead of just reacting. They owned Stanford in the 2nd half. That was great to see. The main question going forward, esp. as the season wears on, is the conditioning program. We’ll find out come November if the conditioning program has prepared the players for 12 games.

    Go Irish!

  3. Five things I liked:

    5. Crowd noise was a factor in the House that Rockne built (and Swarbick remodeled)
    Stanford coach acknowledged it in his post-game presser . . .
    It was the loudest ND home game for every opponent’s possession I ever attended.
    And no fans complaining they wanted fans to”sit down” like I used to hear
    4. Book’s decision-making, and escapability, and- of course_ his accuracy
    3. total D’ dominance in the second half : Tillery – 4 sacks, Coney at least 3 PBU and first INT., so much for his “questionable pass coverage abilities”, Love, 33 PBUs and counting, Bilal,
    and BTW- ( a great game by Tranquil, but without his PI negating an INT. then dropping the pass later in the drive<-Stanford would have been shut-out in the second half
    2. Receivers going up and getting the pass, and the DBs and LBs contesting every pass . . .
    1. Dexter's first touch goes the distance."Welcome back, Dexter"; (Bryce who?)
    What an opening act to kick-start the long-awaited return for his senior season!
    It reminded me of Pennick's run vs. SC during the ’73 season that led to a national championship. Just sayin’

    And other than the injuries to '71 and '6 . . .
    Frank: I look forward to your creative writing re: five things you didn't like with this game.
    Good luck with that . . .

    And BTW, my haiku 9/26 in Brad Sullivan's article re: Key Matchups with Stanford proved quite prophetic from the Archangel

    No 4th quarter loss
    Dexter’s return will matter
    Irish win, Book it!

    . . .while her loyal sons go marching onward to victory . . .

      1. Agree: I went to Michigan and I’m going to Pitt and probably Florida State (especially if the weather is nasty)…but I couldn’t go to Stanford. Glad you were there representing us MTA!

        BGC ’77 ’82

  4. Resist as we might try the urge to get ahead of ourselves, the plain truth is that Notre Dame is likely to be the favorite in each of its remaining games. Four teams make the playoffs. Someone has to lose between Alabama and Georgia. Oklahoma was taken into OT by Army. Ohio State is a great team, but not invincible, as Penn State proved. The PAC 12 will form a circular firing squad. Forget about your concerns over strength of schedule; ND makes the playoffs if it takes care of business against teams it should beat. It is not on ND’s shoulders that Virginia Tech took ODU for granted, that Southern Cal cannot play defense all of a sudden, and so on. And don’t be surprised if Syracuse mounts the greatest challenge on the road to the Natty. Eric Dungey is every bit as good as Ian Book and the Irish will not take him lightly.

    1. Robert it is far far too early to be projecting 7 more wins. I’m very concerned with the loss of Bars. He was our best offensive player (from a grading perspective) and would have been a first round draft pick (who knows now). We can still go undefeated, but without Bars we WILL NOT be able to run against the defensive fronts of Alabama/ Clemson / Ohio State. It is an absolutely huge loss than might cost us a title shot.

      1. Pedro, ESPN had us favored to win every game preseason. They might turn out to have the best prediction of all! But you are right…it’s way too early to celebrate.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. I’m not so sure Clemson is a lock even if they win out. Their schedule is an embarrassment. They have and will play no one noteworthy. That has to mean something to the selection committee.

  5. Does anyone else wonder why we’ve not seen more Dexter Williams over the past 4 years?? He gives this offense a juice that can’t be explained…I almost shed a tear of joy on his first carry.. Sooooo glad Bk has no choice but to play him because I’m sure he’d have found a way limit him… Sundays are so much better after big wins. Go Irish!

    1. I think he’s been our best back since he’s been at ND but never truly unleashed. I lost my mind when he scored that TD on his first carry and agree with you that it was really emotional to see him score. Im really glad for the kid and Kelly has no choice now but to feature him. And how about that blitz pickup on Weishars TD. Looks like he is now blocking like he should as well!

      I love Dex’s passion and emotion he plays with and will always be one of my favorite ND players of all time. I hope he stays healthy and has a fantastic season!

  6. How — in the name of the overlapping factors of rationality, the human sense of sight, and the basic measure of coached achievements —- did Brandon Wimbush ever get the starting QB job ahead of Ian Book?

    QB success cannot be all-wildcat, all the time. Jeez.

    1. It’s easy to forget how exceptional Wimbush looked about this time last season. We easily remember all the struggles that happened after the USC game. But remember USC. How dynamic this offense looked while we were crushing Troy. And remember how incredible BW looked against MSU? We beat a MSU team on the road that was ranked at the time and finished the season with 10 wins. We beat them 38-18 — and it wasn’t that close. BW completed 70% of his passes and added some great runs. His QB rating that night was actually higher than Book’s was last night against Stanford. So, . . c’mon. There was plenty of reason that BW “ever got the starting job” over Book. When BW played well last season, he looked better than Book did against UNC or LSU. That said, something obviously went wrong with Wimbush. He wasn’t the same player after Miami. I think it is two things: it got in his head, and secondly Kelly and Long continued to try to make BW something he isn’t. Book is an old-school Kelly QB — like the kid he coached at CMU and Tony Pike, although Book doesn’t quite have Pike’s arm and is more athletic than Pike. I’m hopeful that Book will continue this trajectory. I’m holding my breath, though . . . another reminder: after ND beat USC and NC State, we all convinced ourselves that ND was a playoff team. Then the wheels came off. A season isn’t defined by one big win over Stanford. I guess I’m just saying, pump the brakes a little.

      1. Excellent perspective. Trees didn’t look very good against Oregon last week either. They could end up 7-5 it seems to me. Tough road game next week after a big home win. Let’s see what happens.

      2. With Wimbush, this was a team that couldn’t score 25 points, and was pulling wins out solely on the basis of stout defense. They were headed fro minimum 3 losses, likely 4.
        With Book, they can score points. The defense doesn’t need to be absolutely lights out all the time just to have a shot at a win.

        They are not playoff calibre, but they no longer look like blatant imposters waiting to be exposed.

    2. BW is a better athlete with a higher ceiling. Book is a more accurate passer who makes the players around him better. Chip Long’s offensive scheme is awesome with Book at the healm. I think the ND coaches saw the raw talent of BW and thought they could coach him up. BW’s performance against a solid and well-coached MSU last season is an indication of the kind of player he could be. Similarly in the Michigan game he proved very difficult to defend. The Michigan defense is top 10 and BW gave them fits. Book’s consistency is what Chip Long’s offense needs in order to run on all cylinders. Book is certainly the answer. But, my goodness, the possibilities if BW had the accuracy of Book!

    3. Best thing I liked all last week and game day was that you were gone. Knew you’d be back, dusted off and back for more.

    4. How in the name of overlapping factors of rationality the human sense of stupidity, and the basic knowledge of football do you come back with an opinion on this site!! You told us to fire KELLY and hire MR FROST who went to Nebraska , then you told us about what a great coach Willie Taggert is and how we missed the boat on hiring him!! YOU ARE A DOPE!! Keep the KELLY bashing commin dope were now #6 now!! And by the looks of it we already have a MUCH better coach than those 2 frauds!! And least we forget you also ripped KELLY for hiring LEA as D-COORDINATOR, GOOD JOB GENIUS!!

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