The Notre Dame Fighting Irish needed to make a clear statement about their viability for a playoff berth and appeared to do it with a 45-14 win over the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday night. The victory was the Irish’s seventh in a row, giving them an 11-1 season mark that they’re hoping is good enough for a chance at a national championship.
From the opening drive, Notre Dame was in control of the contest, finishing with 509 yards of total offense. They stopped Stanford on a three-and-out to start the game and then marched 74 yards on five plays for the first of their six touchdowns. Through three quarters, the Irish defense allowed just 79 total yards before easing up with a 31-7 advantage.
Below are some key aspects of the Irish win.
Coan of Domination
Entering this matchup, Notre Dame quarterback Jack Coan was in a position to have a big night, given Stanford’s woeful passing defense. In the first half, he rarely was pressured, a situation that allowed him to complete 18 of 23 for 198 yards, including touchdown passes to both Braden Lenzy and George Takacs.
For the game, Coan was 26 of 35 for 345 yards, including those two touchdown tosses. That yardage marked his second-largest total of the season and offered some perfect symmetry for his strong performance thst helped start the 2021 campaign. While Coan usually had plenty of time to find an open man, he was sacked once in each half on the night and his lone interception toss helped set up Stanford’s first score. Tyler Buchner also saw some action and scored on a 33-yard run to make it 38-14.
Keeping the Lid Mostly Shut
During Nore Dame’s previous three games, the Irish defense had not allowed a touchdown, a streak that continued against Stanford during the first half of action. The Cardinal were completely shut down in their first five drives, collecting just 23 yards of total offense on 15 plays. Notre Dame’s thriving pass rush helped play a role, with twins Jayson and Justin Ademilola each collecting a sack.
That denial of the end zone came to an end when the Cardinal managed to break through twice for scores after the break. The first came after Coan’s interception on the opening series of the second half. The ball was returned to the Irish 13-yard-line. That was quickly converted with a touchdown run. While the blame for that score fell largely on the Irish offense, the same couldn’t be said for the latter tally. That came on a 49-yard scoring toss to Benjamin Yurosek on a crossing route in which he simply outran four Notre Dame defenders.
As has been the case all season long, Coan primarily relied on the receiving skills of tight end Michael Mayer and wide receiver Kevin Austin to bolster his numbers. The two receivers combined for 15 catches and both broke the century mark in yardage. Mayer’s nine catches amounted to 105 yards on the evening, while Austin made the most of his six catches, finishing with 125 yards.
There was likely some deja vu on Austin’s first grab, a 33-yard catch on the first Notre Dame play from scrimmage. Last week, it was a 38-yard Coan-to-Austin throw to start the rout of Georgia Tech. Lenzy and Lorenzo Styles also contributed four receptions apiece, joining three others who caught a pass from Coan.
Stanford entered the game with a 3-8 record, hoping to simply put an end to what’s been a forgettable season. During the game, there were clear signs exactly why the Cardinal have struggled in 2021. Mistakes and missed opportunities helped prevent them from keeping pace with the Irish.
Flagged nine times for 64 yards, Stanford was twice called for offsides on Notre Dame’s first scoring drive. What would have been the Cardinal’s first touchdown was called back by a penalty, while a Stanford fumble early in the second quarter led to three Irish points. Another fumble by the Cardinal led to Notre Dame’s final six-pointer.
Next Up for Notre Dame Football
Notre Dame is headed for the postseason, though exactly where they end up remains a mystery until next weekend. They narrowly missed taking a giant step forward to the college football playoff after Alabama came back and defeated Auburn in four overtimes on Saturday. The Irish could still make the field of four schools, but it will now require an upset in either the Big Ten, SEC or the American Athletic Conference title games. In the case of the SEC, it may require a Georgia blowout win over Alabama. Based on their past four games, Notre Dame is clicking at the right time, with a scoring differential of 162-23 over that span.