Notre Dame started slow again before ripping off 31 unanswered points en route to a 45-24 win over Stanford to finally give Brian Kelly his first win on the farm in his tenth year on the Notre Dame sidelines. Ian Book tossed another four touchdowns to put Notre Dame’s single-season record of 37 within reach in the bowl game (he finished the regular season with 33). Despite the 21 point win in a place that Notre Dame has struggled, it wasn’t exactly a pretty win for the Irish, but it was cathartic as the Irish flipped the script on Stanford.
Isaiah Foskey is going to be a bad, bad man
Notre Dame held Isaiah Foskey out of his fourth game until the end of the year to preserve a year of eligibility, but that might not matter three years from now, because Foskey has the looks of a future game wrecker – the kind of player who will be getting ready for the draft after his senior year, not preparing for a 5th year. It might be a stretch considering the true freshman didn’t play much this year, but he flashed against Stanford and offered a bright glimpse into the future.
With Notre Dame scuffling early on against Stanford, Foskey turned the game around with a huge blocked punt. Notre Dame was down 7-17 at the time and looking like a team that checked out. Foskey’s block set up Notre Dame at the one-yard line, and even if it did take a third-down conversion (after another false start), it got Notre Dame back in the game.
Next year’s defensive line is going to be just as good – maybe even better than this year’s. Ade Ogundeji should return for a 5th year. Daelin Hayes definitely returns for a 5th year. Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa both return on the inside. Then there’s Foskey, the Ademilola twins, Jacob Lacey, Ovie Oghoufo, and all of this year’s freshmen linemen. The future is very bright on the defensive line.
Brian Kelly is ultimately responsible for all the false starts
Speaking of those false starts, it is unacceptable for them to be this big of a problem this late into the season. Notre Dame was playing in front of the smallest crowd they’ve seen all year. Stanford Stadium was as quiet as a church at times on Saturday – there was no crowd noise to blame the false starts on. Notre Dame had another four false starts, though.
If this were an isolated incident, it wouldn’t be noteworthy, but this is a season-long problem, and it ultimately comes back to Brian Kelly. Whether the cause of the problem is Ian Book’s cadence, poor coaching of the offensive line, or some combination; this ultimately falls back on the head coach. False start epidemics should not be a problem for a team that returned its starting quarterback and four of its starting linemen from a year ago. Injuries have hit the offensive line, but the replacements are the ones contributing to the penalties.
Brian Kelly and his offensive staff need to do some serious self-scouting over the next month and get this fixed. A well-coached team does not continually commit this many false starts.
Braden Lenzy is going to be special
Back to the positive. Chris Finke‘s absence from the base offense was surprising since the 5th year senior was still Notre Dame’s primary punt returner. In his place, Notre Dame gave us a glimpse of how they will deploy Braden Lenzy in this offense. The speedster ran the ball four times for 48 yards and caught two passes for 48 yards. If Stanford Stadium’s turf offered some better traction, those numbers might have been even better.
Lenzy is fast. We all knew that. On Saturday, though, we saw him utilize more than just pure speed. On one of his jet sweeps, he needed to weave through defenders to avoid a minimal gain or loss of yards. A player who is just straight-line fast doesn’t make the play Lenzy does there.
Even with Notre Dame losing Chase Claypool – who had another two touchdowns Saturday – and Finke, there is an excellent chance the Notre Dame wide receiving corp is better in 2020. Lenzy has already shown he is a gamechanger. Kevin Austin should be back from suspension. Jordan Johnson could be a day one starter. Throw in Javon McKinley (who should be back for a 5th year), Lawrence Keys, incoming freshman Xavier Watts, and the rest of the young receivers who have been buried on the depth chart and Notre Dame will have some DUDES at receiver in 2020.
Clark Lea adjusts again
At this point, we all know that Clark Lea is a master at in-game adjustments. We’ve seen it so many times over the last two years that it’s commonplace at this point. The opposing team comes out on fire, scores a bunch of points early, then Lea adjusts and shuts it down for the rest of the game. Stanford jumped out to 17 points early in the 2nd quarter. Seven straight punts followed.
It happened week one against Lousiville and to lesser extents against Virginia and Virginia Tech. It happened last year too – see USC and Pitt. It is concerning that a team with as little offensive firepower as Stanford can come out and be as successful as they were early. Still, it is encouraging to know that Notre Dame has a defensive coordinator who is so capable of in-game adjustments.
It wasn’t that long ago that Notre Dame had a stubborn defensive coordinator whose only answer when his defense was getting shredded was just to do more of what was already not working.
Three straight years of 10-wins is a big deal
Reaching the playoffs – and winning – is ultimately the goal for Notre Dame every year. That is just the way it is, and there is no avoiding it. So to that extent, the 2019 season was a disappointment. Losing two games, including one in embarrassing fashion, was not the best this team could have done this year. Michigan ended the year with three losses, and Georgia has looked vulnerable even though they are a win away from the playoffs.
All of that said, winning ten games again this year is a big deal. It’s a big deal because this is finally becoming the standard for Notre Dame again. It’s no longer the exception the way it was under the previous three coaching regimes at Notre Dame.
If Notre Dame wins its bowl game, this team will cap off a three year stretch with a 33-6 record off the heels of a 4-8 season in 2016. With the talent coming back in 2020, the Irish should extend its streak of 10 or more wins to four seasons next year. That’s the standard that has been put in place. We can debate all off-season whether or not Brian Kelly will ultimately win a national title here, but we cannot debate that the standard has been raised back to where it should be – ten or more wins being the norm, not the exception.
Notre Dame needs to get healthy in December
The Irish ended up playing this game with very little interior defensive line depth. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa ended up not suiting up after getting injured against Boston College and top reserve Jayson Ademilola missed another game with an ankle injury. Notre Dame was already without Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes, as well. On the offensive side of the ball, Notre Dame played without starters Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey again as well after both were lost for the year earlier this season.
If someone told you that Notre Dame would enter Stanford Stadium without Okwara, Hayes, Ademilola, Tagovailoa-Amosa, Hainsey, and Kraemer, would you have thought the Irish would win 45-24 and finish the year 10-2? If you just said yes, you are a liar.
Notre Dame won’t get Hainsey, Kraemer, Hayes, or Okwara back for the bowl game, but they should have Tagovailoa and Ademilola back. They will also have almost a month to get the offensive line in order. That unit has been much, much more impacted by the injuries. Notre Dame struggled in pass protection, and once again, there wasn’t much room for Notre Dame ball carriers anywhere but on the edges.
Kudos to Chip Long for manufacturing a running game when there was not much room to run the ball, but Jeff Quinn needs to find some answers in December. If Notre Dame is still unable to find a running game by the bowl game, Brian Kelly has to evaluate what he is getting from his offensive line coach this off-season.
Stanford should be embarrassed with that turnout
Notre Dame’s sellout streak ended this year, but the Irish still put 70,000+ in the stands for Boston College and Navy. Stanford’s fanbase left Stanford Stadium looking embarrassingly empty yesterday. The official attendance showed 37,391, but even that seems high. Yeah, they didn’t have much to play for yesterday, but come on, that was bad. When the telecast started, it looked like a shot from hours before kickoff – not moments before the game was starting.
I’m sure some will point to their record or the weather as reasons why the stadium was so empty, but can you imagine any recruit looking at a stadium that empty and thinking “yeah, that’s where I want to play”?
There was a time not that long ago that Stanford was an attractive alternative for academically focused elite recruits. Stanford had better weather, they were winning 10+ games a year, and they were beating Notre Dame head to head. The roles have finally reversed back in Notre Dame’s favor. Stanford is 22-17 the last three years compared to Notre Dame’s 33-6.