Notre Dame wrapped up a perfect September with a damn near perfect performance over #7 Stanford on Saturday night. The Irish snapped a three game losing streak to the Cardinal with a resounding 38-17 victory behind new starting quarterback Ian Book to improve to 5-0 on the season. All three phases of the game were clicking for Notre Dame as they sent Stanford home with their first loss of the season.
This one was a fun one, so lets crack open the post game 6-pack.
1. Ian Book is the real deal
The narrative last week regarding Ian Book was that everyone should exercise caution because he put up big numbers against a really bad Wake Forest defense. Well, now Book has put on a show against the 7th ranked Stanford Cardinal. The numbers – which are impressive – don’t even do Book enough justice in this one. Book was 24 of 33 for 278 yards with 4 TDs and no turnovers.
Book made plays with his arm and his legs. The stat sheet will say he ran for 47 yards, but he did so much more with his legs than just pick up some yards. His second touchdown pass of the game came on a play when he scrambled around and found Chase Claypool open in the back of the endzone.
The difference that Ian Book has made with this offense is really remarkable. He’s getting the tight end involved more in the offense and he’s making the timing throws that Brandon Wimbush struggled with. Miles Boykin is a major beneficiary of Book’s efficiency. Boykin hauled in 11 of Book’s completions for 144 yards and one of the four touchdowns.
Facing a Bud Foster Virginia Tech defense on the road next week is another huge test for Book, but he showed tonight that last week wasn’t a fluke and it wasn’t just because Wake Forest’s defense is bad. Ian Book raised the ceiling of this season for Notre Dame and he is only going to get better.
2. The Notre Dame pass rush came ALIVE
In the first half the Notre Dame pass rush was non existent and KJ Costello started to get into a groove. He led the Cardinal on back to back touchdown drives in the first half and at one point was looking very comfortable in the pocket. That all changed in the second half.
Notre Dame’s pass rush started to get home and hit Costello. Notre Dame made him feel uncomfortable in the pocket and ended up sacking him a total of five times after Costello was sacked just five times all season before tonight.
The pressure resulted in the first career interception for Tevon Coney and nearly created a couple other turnovers. One interception was negated by a pass interference penalty, another feel through the finger tips of Drue Tranquill, and a Costello fumble off a Jerry Tillery sack bounced right to a Stanford offensive linemen.
All season long Notre Dame has been excellent at generating pressure but had not been closing the deal. They closed the deal in the second half against Stanford and it sent Stanford home on the short end of the kind of beating that Notre Dame was due to give Stanford for years.
3. Jerry Tillery deserves his own section
I purposely didn’t mention Jerry Tillery much in the previous point because after that performance, he deserved his own section. Tillery tied a Notre Dame record with 4 sacks in a single game tonight with one of the most dominating performances from any Notre Dame defensive linemen in a long, long time.
Simply put, Jerry Tillery played like a man possessed tonight. After the Irish went up 38-17, Tillery put the nail in Stanford’s coffin with two of his four sacks on the next drive.
Tillery came into the game leading Notre Dame in sacks to begin with now he has 7.0 through the first five games and has the Notre Dame single season record as a reasonable possibility.
4. The return of Dexter Williams couldn’t have come at a better time
On his first rushing attempt of the season, Dexter Williams took an Ian Book handoff and ran 45 yards into the endzone for Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the evening. Thrust into a bigger role than anyone envisioned in his first game back from suspension thanks to the injury to Jafar Armstrong, Williams rose to the occasion. He ran the ball 21 times for 161 yards.
Williams’s workload increased even more in the second half when Notre Dame lost Tony Jones Jr in the 4th quarter. That left Notre Dame with just Williams and Avery Davis at running back other than the true frosh. Williams was ready to answer the call.
Even without playing a down to this point this year, Williams looked like he was in mid-season form. He also showed the explosiveness that Notre Dame has simply lacked in the running game this year. If Tony Jones Jr ends up missing substantial time, Williams will have a lot more performances like tonight over the final seven games of the year.
5. Notre Dame exorcised some 4th quarter demons
The 4th quarter was a nightmare for Notre Dame in their last three losses to Stanford and to a lesser extent this season in general. Notre Dame exorcised those demons tonight with a fourth quarter flurry that saw the Irish extend a 24-17 lead to 38-17 in the span of 14 seconds.
Ian Book connected with Miles Boykin for a 8 yard touchdown pass to extend Notre Dame’s lead to 31-17. Notre Dame converted two third downs on that drive including a 3rd and 9 early on with a 10 yard pass to Boykin that was originally ruled short of the line to gain. Replay showed that Boykin had the first though and the Irish continued to march down the field on their way to the endzone.
The next two plays ripped this one wide open. On Stanford’s first play after the Irish TD, Tevon Coney recorded the first interception of his career. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was never shown or explained, Notre Dame scored on the very next play anyway. Ian Book connected with Alize Mack for a 35 yard touchdown and just like that it was 38-17 and this one was all but over.
6. Stanford surrendered to Notre Dame
After Stanford’s recent success on Notre Dame and the way in which the Irish lost some of those games, there could not have been a much sweeter sight for the Irish then seeing Stanford surrender. After Notre Dame extended their lead to 21 and Jerry Tillery knocked Stanford back inside their own 10 yardline, the Cardinal faced a 3rd and 28. They called a simple handoff to wave the white flag.
Stanford, the team that never dies, that never gives up; gave up. The chances of converting a 3rd and 28 in that situation were remote to say the least. Stanford didn’t even try though. They basically said “no mas” at that point.
If it were almost any other team, it probably wouldn’t be as sweet for Notre Dame fans, but the fact that it was Stanford, made it pretty amazing.