5 Things I Liked in Notre Dame’s Season Finale Win Over Stanford

Notre Dame capped off the regular season on Saturday with a 21 beating of rival Stanford to snap a five-game losing streak on the farm.  The Irish started off slow, leaving Irish fans frustrated for the first 20 or so minutes but eventually pulled away from a beaten-down Stanford squad.   For the sake of this column, this was a perfect type of game – there was plenty to like despite there being more than enough to not like as well.  Let’s start with the five things I liked in Notre Dame’s 10th win of the season.

1. Finally beating David Shaw in his – very empty – house

This one is the most obvious, but it was about damn time Notre Dame beat Stanford and David Shaw in Palo Alto.  What made it even better was seeing how empty the stadium was because the Stanford “fans” didn’t show up for Stanford’s Senior Day in a little bit of rainy, cold weather.

It didn’t start as the prettiest of performances with a depleted Stanford squad jumping out to a 17-7 lead in the second quarter before Notre Dame’s offense woke up and its defense adjusted.  This time Notre Dame reeled off 31 unanswered points before Stanford added a late, meaningless touchdown.

This place was a house of horrors for Notre Dame over the last ten years.  The Irish had the game won in 2015 under Brian Vangorder’s defense couldn’t hold the Tree offense off for 37 seconds.  In 2017 the Irish took the lead into the 4th quarter only to give up 21 unanswered 4th quarter points before falling 38-20.

Beating a bad Stanford team on the road to end the season doesn’t make up for Notre Dame’s earlier season transgressions, but as Greg so eloquently put it on Sunday, our sense of disappointment is a sign of the progress the program has made.  It might not feel that way, but it is a good thing that a 10-2 regular season is once again seen as disappointing.

2. A successful screen pass go for a touchdown

Notre Dame has had some problems with the screen game this year.  For whatever reason, they’ve struggled to execute them when they should be a staple of the Irish offense given the personnel.  That is why seeing a nearly perfectly executed screen for the first Irish score of the game was encouraging.  Ian Book dropped back and lofted a perfect toss to Tony Jones Jr, who had a convoy of blockers in front of him.  I said it was nearly flawlessly executed because Jones needlessly ran into a blocker downfield for some reason.  Luckily it didn’t impact the play as Jones scored with ease.

It would have been nice to see the screen game a bigger part of the Notre Dame passing attack this year, but Chip Long shied away from them for most of the year – as he did with the wide receiver screen play that Notre Dame just never was able to pull off this year. With the backs Notre Dame has, this is a play Notre Dame should be able to use more effectively next year – especially with the addition of Chris Tyree.

3. Notre Dame’s crazy backdoor cover on a defensive touchdown

I am not a gambler and didn’t have any money on this game, but I loved how Notre Dame scored a garbage-time defensive touchdown to get a sneak backdoor cover. It looked like Stanford was going to cover the 17-18 point spread with their own garbage time touchdown, but Ade Ogundegi’s strip-sack that Khalid Kareem extended the lead back to 21 and Notre Dame got the cover.  Expect to see this on Scott Van Pelt’s bad beats this week because Kareem’s first career touchdown made a big difference to a lot of people who had money on this one.

For those of you that are the gambling type, that’s three straight covers for Notre Dame to end the season.  Notre Dame 8-4 against the spread this season.  The Irish failed to cover against Louisville, Michigan, Virginia Tech, and USC.

The play also highlighted the late-season emergence of Ade Ogundeji.  The senior defensive end with a 5th year available in 2020, has played very well over the last few weeks since the injury to Julian Okwara.  Assuming he returns, he could have a big year next year.

Notre Dame ended the game on back to back tackles by Isaiah Foskey, who turned the game around completely with a blocked punt in the first half. Foskey was playing for the 4th game of his freshman season and will be shut down for the bowl game to retain a year of eligibility, but if the staff is being honest with themselves, is that 5th year going to be needed with someone like Foskey?  He looks like someone more likely to leave after three years versus five.  He is going to be an animal.

4. Notre Dame using Braden Lenzy in creative ways

Notre Dame has been struggling to run the football since mid-October when Tony Jones Jr ripped off 176 yards against USC.  Since then, Ian Book has been Notre Dame’s most productive runner.  Credit Chip Long for manufacturing a rushing game using the likes of sophomore Braden Lenzy.  Notre Dame’s speedster ran the ball four times for 48 yards on Saturday and overall had at least one play of 40 or more yards in each of the last three games.

It is almost impossible to see a freaky fast #25 taking jet sweeps for big gains without having flashbacks of Rocket Ismail, and while Lenzy might not be quite that fast, it does look like he is going to be a bigtime playmaker for this team moving forward.  He matched his 48 yards rushing with another 48 receiving on just two grabs.  He had the chance for another long touchdown, too, but he can Book were not quite on the same page.  Those six touches are the most of Lenzy’s career, besting his previous high of three.

Lenzy has made every Notre Dame fan forget about Michael Young transferring.  If anything, he has a lot of Notre Dame fans wondering why the Irish were not able to utilize Lenzy’s speed better in the first half of the year – specifically back in September in Athens when Notre Dame struggled to sustain offense, but Lenzy was unavailable due to a concussion.  You also have to wonder why Lenzy touched the ball one time in that disastrous loss to Michigan.

Hopefully Long continues to find ways to get Lenzy the ball in the bowl game and even more so next year

5. Flashes of the Jafar Armstrong we thought we’d have all year

It was brief, but for a moment, we got a glimpse of the Jafar Armstrong that we all expected to see in September on Saturday afternoon.  Since returning from injury, Armstrong has struggled to regain his explosiveness and has mostly been ineffective as a result.  Against Stanford, Armstrong ran the ball three times for 44 yards.  That might not seem like a cause to celebrate, but until Saturday, Armstrong’s season-high was 37 yards, and that took 19 carriers to accumulate.

Many thought that Armstrong could be a breakout candidate for the Irish in 2019 as a focal point of the offense.  For the first drive of the season, it looked like that would be the case with Armstrong touching the ball three times for 26 yards on the drive before getting injured.  He was never the same this season even after he was cleared to return for the USC game.

After the last two seasons, two things are clear concerning Armstrong: 1) when he’s healthy, he has a lot of talent 2) it’s a challenge to keep him healthy.  Kelly and Long need to find a role for him in 2020, though.  That role might not be as the feature back, but they need to find a way to both keep him healthy and utilize his skill set.

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  1. Lenzy’s rep coming out of high school was elite speed, great hands, indifferent route running holds him down. So far, the way that he has been used is exactly the way that a guy with that skill set would be used, especially if he finally got it through his head that if he doesn’t learn how to run his routes with college-level precision, he’s going to be limited to running a few jet sweeps here and there and punt returning. I get the feeling that next year is his year to break out.

    I share the concerns about false starts, as well as the run blocking. If Quinn can teach pass blocking — and I have no concerns about our pass blocking — then he can teach run blocking. I don’t expect him to be removed as OL coach next year, but I’m thinking he will be in 2021 if the line hasn’t gotten (much) more disciplined and shown better run blocking technique by then.

    I’m not so sure that Tyree will be an instant starter. He needs to put on about 20 pounds, and can’t enroll early. I do expect that there will be a lot of fans who think he ought to be in right away if our RB corps starts out underperforming to the extent it did this year, though.

  2. It starts up front. We must fix offensive line problems, especially the unacceptable false starts.Are you listening Jeff Quinn?Coach Kelly

    1. Agree Sean! It would be nice to get 9 balls in a row snapped without a false start. And yes, it starts with Coach Quinn, clearly. The real question is this: When does it end? I mean 4 or 5 false starts per game? I know we don’t pay our athletes for that (yet)…but why are we paying our coaches for that?

      BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Untreated bipolar has the highest of all suicide rates…thought to be around 15%…dwarfing even that of combat veterans. Untreated Schizophrenia is second, at about 9%. I actually think they’d be first, except the disease is so debilitating that a lot of schizophrenics can’t get it done!
      Yet we, the mentally ill, have little press on this issue, and aside from Tipper Gore and David Gilmour, next to no famous or wealthy advocates. Just a fact of life in the Great Society.

      BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Oh, and did I mention the ZERO screening for mental illness in Middle School and High School? That’s a nice touch.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      2. BGC , my brother a year younger than me was struck down with mental illness at age 16. It just came out of nowhere–he had no idea what was happening to him. He was in a catonic state, angry lashing out at my Dad and me — who were the only ones home at the time. We called ambulance –they put him in a strait jacket and took him to State Mental Hospital in Manteno , Illinois. A 16 yr old kid , star basketball/baseball player , popular , lots of friends—wind up im a mental instituition. Back then medication was trial by error(still is). Diagnosed with depression/schizophrenia , he went back to high school senior year — him and I played varsity baseball — beat cross town rival for the first time in our schools history. All the while he is on medication. But he would have relaspes off and on. Medication wasn’t working –he’d be too lethargic/groggy. He’d quit the medication –try another or just quit it altogether. Which led him back to depression. Long story here — he still the same with up and down bouts to this day. He did manage to get a degree at Univ of Illinois. Both he and I attended Uof I together–even took classes together. He graduated—I dropped / got married. Hat’s off to him for getting a college degree while still going through bouts of depression. Well , he’s older now — today. He’s still the same. I prayed to God that he would maybe live a life free of mental ilness — in his older years. But , it ain’t to be even with the drugs he takes now.

      3. I’m sorry to hear that Southside, but it is a pretty typical story. The meds are what they are…they often have very bad side effects, and medical science can’t seem to predict which meds, or combinations of meds, will work for a given patient. It’s not so clear as an antibiotics regimen, unfortunately. Your brother sounds like a pretty strong man to me…he needs to keep working with good (hopefully) mental health prescribers. Look, it took them from 1974 to 2006 before they got the best possible combination of meds for me: they were pretty good from the start, but not complete: it can be nothing more than an educated guess. That must be why they call it the practice of medicine – they keep practicing on you until they get it right…(sorry, Southside, a bit of humor off the ward!).

        I took Stelazine for over three decades (with Cogentin) but no antidepressants (because they did not realize I was bipolar, not schizophrenic, until after the turn of the century. Then the Stelazine stopped working (they’d already discovered that I was not a candidate for the newer atypical antipsychotics because of massive weight gain). So they switched me to Haldol. Happily, like your brother, I was able to get through college (and I had a wonderful career…thanks to modern medicine and prayer). But thanks to Stelazine, I now have only 6% kidney function…and thanks to both Stelazine and Haldol, I have all sorts of strange muscular tremors…hands, feet and face…all irreversible, and I am impotent, also irreversible, due to ONE SINGLE careless prescriber (TRAZADONE – IF YOU ARE A MALE, DON’T TAKE IT!) All in all, it was an equitable trade…heck, a lot of “normal” people never find a satisfying career (and never get a degree from ND). It was probably the best I (and my army of doctors and doctoresses could do).

        Tell your brother this, Southside: “Disabilities make everything harder, but make nothing impossible”…keep the faith, stay the course…it’s worth it in the end.

        I know, it’s pretty non-football today, but sometimes there are other important things in life too! I’m sure the Atkinson family would agree.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  3. Frank, If Tony Jones and Jafar Armstrong both come back we could run some two back stuff with TJ as a fullback type (paired with either Jafar or Tyree) or Jafar as an out-of-the-backfield receiving threat paired with Tyree as a running back – straight up, or on an occasional draw (sending Jafar out would require Tyree to be able pass block, of course). I like split backs for this a bit more than the I-formation…but either way! I see depth, explosiveness and versatility coming…improvements that will make BK’s and Long’s offenses formidable.

    Also Frank (and Greg) you guys brought back some great memories of when I was a kid and two losses was a devastating disappointment! I had forgotten those feelings…’65 (despite a herculean effort against MSU) , ’67, ’68, ’71, 74, and ’80 (which started so great, but in the end we ran out of steam with our freshman QB, and then brilliantly traded Dan Devine for Garry Faust). It was like a funeral on campus the Monday after some of those losses…but looking back on it now, I realize the wonder of those years.

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. I remember the heartbreaks of 1964 the tie at Michigan State 1966 Mississippi 1977 and Bc 1993.1993 imo was the last team that had a real shot at a national championship. Notredame was as good as anybody that year.Looking at 2020 we can contend but a few things have to fall in place. Number 1 finish off the recruiting class strong. 2. Hopefully key starters are healthy and those starters with 5th year eligibility most all or most decide to come back.Third the offense needs to take it up a whole another level.Defense and special teams will be good to potentially great. Notredame has to add more speed Lenzy Tyree Kmet Tremble Austin Jordan Johnson Xavier Watts Keys etc have to big time explosive playmakers.Also running game needs a lot of work.Talent coaching scheme structure blocking techniques blocking principles all need to be seriously evaluated.

      1. True enough Pete, but first it would be nice to master snapping the ball without a penalty flag falling! As any Pop Warner Coach knows full well, you can teach all the schemes, zones, mesh/veer reads, etc. you can think of, and none of it means squat if we can’t snap the ball successfully. I mean really! Think about it.

        BGC ’77 ’82

    2. BGC , thank you for response. Getting back to Irish football — I agree that Jones/Armsrong/Tyree would be key to a solid running game and passing threats out of the backfield. Screen pasess should be worked on in off season. Hopefully these 3 running backs get the bulk of carries/playing time to establish a running game–get in flow of the game. Add in the speed that Pete mentions with Lenzy , Keys & Co. — Irish gotta a helluva an offense. Of course O-line plays a huge part too.

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