Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Starts Slow, Finishes Strong in Rout of Stanford

Fueled by 31 unanswered points, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed out their 2019 regular season with a 45-24 road victory over the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday. The win gives Brian Kelly and his staff their third consecutive double-digit win season and fourth in the past five years. In addition, the victory put an end to a frustrating five-game losing streak at Palo Alto, a stretch that dates back a decade.

The milestone of reaching double-digit territory in wins is a nice accomplishment for Notre Dame, though it won’t send them back to the College Football Playoff that they competed in last season. Still, taking back the upper hand against a team with nothing to lose like Stanford was a good way to close out a regular season that saw only one bad performance against Michigan.

Defensive Hiatus

One of the reasons that Notre Dame struggled during the first two quarters is that the Irish defense had trouble stopping the Cardinal, giving up 278 first-half yards. That’s in contrast to the 246 yards PER GAME they had been allowing in their last four contests, with this struggle coming against a team that ranked 109th in scoring.

Stanford held an 18-11 edge in first downs during the opening 30 minutes and held onto the ball for nearly twice as long as Notre Dame. The Cardinal maintained possession for 19:40 and the Irish for just 10-20, yet despite that disparity, it was Notre Dame that held a 21-17 advantage when halftime arrived.

Turning Point

The reason that Notre Dame took the lead into their locker room can be directly attributed to the spark provided by their special teams. A crucial blocked punt came with the Irish trailing by a score of 17-7 and less than five minutes left in the half. Notre Dame needed just three plays to slice their deficit to three points, with Tommy Tremble scoring on a six-yard grab from Book.

After Stanford’s ensuing drive stalled at midfield, a punt gave the Irish the ball at their 24 with just 1:41 left. Book needed only three plays, connecting with Cole Kmet on a 21-yard reception, followed by a pair to Chase Claypool to give Notre Dame their first lead. The scoring grab came spectacularly and continued a stellar senior season.

Clamping Down

Much like wins earlier this season against Louisville and Virginia, Notre Dame’s defense shook off their early problems and managed to find their niche to come away with a win. During the second half, Irish defenders only allowed Stanford 116 yards of offense, with 85 of those yards coming with the game in hand.

The three drives of the third quarter for the Cardinal were three-and-outs, with the next one gaining just 14 yards on seven plays. By the time that Stanford got the ball back, Notre Dame held a three-touchdown advantage. Yet the exclamation point came in the final minute when Adetokunbo Ogundeji stripped Cardinal quarterback Davis Mills of the ball in the end zone, and Khalid Kareem jumped on the loose ball for the final score of the contest.

Awakening the Run

There was no one dominant runner for Notre Dame, but more of a running-back-by-committee approach in which three players gained over 40 yards apiece. Of that trio, Braden Lenzy and Jafar Armstrong delivered the most bang for the much by averaging over 10 yards apiece on their collective seven carries.

Book did run with the ball eight times, gaining 29 yards. However, 26 of those yards came on a single play on fourth down in the third quarter, when a lack of receiving options sent the signal-caller scampering down to the Stanford three-yard-line. Two plays later, he connected on his second scoring toss to Claypool to boost the Notre Dame lead to 28-17.

Penalty Problem

In addition to the first half defensive woes, another negative aspect of the Notre Dame victory was the sloppiness that led to them getting flagged 11 times for 95 yards. Only one of those Irish penalties came during Stanford’s first-half scoring output, with 61 of those yards coming in the second half. Still, such a performance doesn’t offer the image of a finely-tuned machine that Brian Kelly and his staff hope to take into whatever bowl game they reach.

Next Up

That bowl game remains up in the air, with some still pointing toward a December 28 date in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando. Depending on what takes place concerning other teams and other possible factors, Notre Dame and their fan base will have to wait until December 8 to actually find out where they end up. Until that time, practicing patience is next on the schedule.

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  1. I don’t know where we’ll be going for the Bowl…I just hope with all my heart that it is not the Tangerine Bowl, which will be pitting some 4 loss team ranked somewhere between 30 and 35 against a “has been great” team with two losses and zero wins against anybody ranked anywhere in the top 25. Let the Tangerine Bowl pull its own stinky butts out of the usual ratings sewer that awaits any and all “Tangerine” Bowls.

    I think Notre Dame should consider voting against going to a Bowl this year, but if we must go, let’s make damn sure it’s against a team with fewer than 3 losses that is (at least) capable of beating us on a given day.

    The irony of the whole thing is that the non-playoff Bowls, in an effort to “protect” themselves against irrelevance by tying into second rate (or even third rate) conference losers, create the very thing they dread – irrelevance! Now that’s funny!

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. There is now new value in going to a “toilet bowl” and that is the opportunity to play some freshman who still have a game left before they lose their red shirt status. Since a game against the likes of UAB really
      doesn’t amount to much, I’d play every freshman I could against such an opponent, or some backup guys who you may be counting on for 2020.

      1. I wouldn’t Fitz. I’d tell the NCAA to fill its bowls with whoever they want to if they can’t manage get us into a good game (with 30 bowls to choose from!!!! no less!!!!amazing level of non-competence!!!!).

        Then I’d give our guys a week or two off and turn them over to Coach Balis and let the returning Captains and Seniors run their own 6 on 6 drills, or unit drills. Why not? I doubt we really need the money the bowl would bring us after subtracting costs for the cheerleaders and the band.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. You see, Fitz, it is the NCAA and the bowl’s OWN faults that the Tangerine Bowl is requiring at least one of its teams to be a FOUR LOSS team (and unranked). A match-up between BAMA at 10-2 ranked 9th and ND at 10-2 ranked 14th for the Tangerine would make perfect sense to a man like me, and probably you as well. But the “rules” don’t allow that. Therefore, the Orange Bowl changes its status to “Tangerina Bowl”, changes its product to nothing the fans or viewers care about at all; and in my mind, so do too many other bowls. They are subsidizing their years of not being playoff bowls with underserved spots for 4 time losers and silly ass matchups! As if that will make it all better rather than worse! More players are taking off their jerseys rather than play in these fiascos than took off their jerseys for Rudy (in real life, anyway).

        So, in closing Fitz, let’s not subsidize that INSANE reasoning with OUR good TV ratings. We could only save one bowl anyway. Let them stew in their own juices. We really don’t need them, and that’s what they hate most about Notre Dame. Always has been.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. Bruce:

      I feel your angst on the NCAA rule on bowl participation which could keep ND from playing in a bowl
      against a meaningful opponent. It sucks, but I’d still play even if it’s Middle Tenn St. for the reasons I
      cited. Besides that, if I’m not mistaken teams not playing in a bowl are restricted to weight training,
      conditioning,and watching game film. So, getting snubbed or not I’m going bowiing.

    3. BGC, I gotta go along with Fitz. Notre Dame should never turn down a bowl game. This act would put ND in a “we are better than the rest of college football ” — we refuse to play “losers” that are 8-4. Notre Dame is afraid (afraid being polite word) to play in bowl game for fear of losing to end season. Once this happens — ya think recruits won’t change their mind on attending ND ? Then there are the 85 players on roster who I gaurantee don’t see it your way. You want season to end now at 10-2 ? That’s not good enough. A bowl win finishing 11-2 –no matter what bowl or opponent is the ticket after sweep of November and heading into 2020. The stench of Michigan loss still lingers–a bowl win can help ease the pain . Besides , who knows what players will come forth –like Book/Boykin in win over LSU or players returning like Tranquill , Coney , Tillery.

      1. I’d gladly play any 8-4 team Southside, if we were 7-5, 8-4, or even 8-3. But we are 10-2. Mark my words, if we let the NCAA push us into this they will NEVER stop. It will never go away. On the other hand, if we stand up to them, firmly and fairly, they will bitch and moan and cry (as usual), and then NEVER try it again. There was a day, Southside, when NO NOTRE DAME TEAM at 10-2 would actually vote to go to a minor bowl against some 4 loss team. (Yes, our teams used to vote on going to bowls or not. And there were a few times where they voted NO. Minor bowls are for marginal years. All I’m demanding is the SAME treatment that EVERY OTHER 10-2 team from any MAJOR PROGRAM WOULD GET, and ARE getting. If that is too much for the NCAA to handle properly now – just WAIT ’till NEXT year and the year after that and the years after that! I say tell them thanks, but no thanks.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  2. The Irish are getting close, but still no cigar. It wasn’t too many years ago I opined that ND would never or could ever win a NC. I’ve change my tune based on what I’ve seen the past five years. It starts with
    ND recruiting much better and more athletic players. There is now quality depth which ND has not had since the Holtz years. The trend is up, and now a NC is a possibility.

  3. Congrats to a win and 10-2 season though as a fan I am not exactly feeling elation. Probably because the 2 losses are more glaring than 10 wins against less than stellar caliber opponents. Whatever bowl game ND ends up in, just BE READY TO PLAY, BE PREPARED as a team and win the game. Having another longgggg off season to ponder a season ending loss will suck.
    Go Blue and Gold

    1. Agree I like everyone else want Notredame to be great like Ohio State LSU Clemson Alabama.I dont want to accept the fact that they can’t be without lowering their standards. If they can’t what are we all doing then following Notredame. It hurts me more than someone under 40 years old because I’m 63 and grew up with Notredame winning 4 national championships and in the hunt for 4 more. I hope next year we see more of Lenzy Keys hopefully Austin Jordan Johnson Chris Tyree live up to their hype maybe Notredame can have a great offense. Also having great speed in the backfield and receiving core is huge. Look at the 2 big runs Lenzy made.The blocking wasn’t that good . He just burst through the gap and was off and just outran everybody.

      1. Pete,

        I’m 80 years old so my hurt outdoes your hurt?I believe after being doubting Thomas for a longtimethat ND is finally getting close to being elite. Like you suggest, maybe only few studs and fly boys,
        away, so tweek the standard …let’s get em and keep them eligible!

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