Notre Dame finished off their second half of the season surge on Saturday night with a dominating 45-14 beatdown of rival Stanford. The Cardinal never tested the Irish, and the only drama was how many style points the Irish could ultimately score. As such, there was obviously a lot to like.
Michael Mayer’s devastating block
Michael Mayer played like a player with a chip on his shoulder on Saturday night after the Mackey Award inexplicably left him off their list of finalists for the award. You’d have thought they’d want the best tight end in college football as a finalist for the award for the best tight end in college football, but alas, they did not. Some poor Stanford defenders ultimately paid the price.
This is a block that you’ll see a lot over the next year – specifically following next season when Mayer likely gets ready for the NFL Draft. In the clip, Brock Huard compared Mayer to George Kittle, which is about as good of a compliment as a tight end could be paid these days.
In addition to tearing out the souls of hapless Stanford defenders, Mayer also set the Notre Dame single-season receptions record for tight ends – and is 30 yards shy of breaking the receiving yards record. But yeah, not a Mackey Award finalist for some reason.
George Takacs getting his touchdown a week later.
Speaking of tight ends, on Senior Day, Notre Dame tried to reward senior TE George Takacs for years of work out of the spotlight with a touchdown, but Takacs was just short. So this weekend, the Irish dialed up another play for him, and this time, it worked.
It was Takacs’s first touchdown since his freshman season back in 2018 when he hauled one in against Wake Forest in Ian Book’s first start of the 2018 campaign. The reaction from Takacs’s teammates was just as good, if not better than the play itself. He earned that moment for years of doing the dirty worth without getting much glory—a great moment in a great season.
Chris Tyree looking like his old self
I’ve wondered out loud in my post-game columns about Chris Tyree since his turf toe injury against Virginia Tech, so it was wonderful to see him look like his old, speedy self on Saturday night. Tyree had just ten carries for 48 yards over the last three weeks after missing the USC game and not registering a carry against North Carolina. He only had five carries against Stanford, but they went for 44 yards – an 8.8 ypc average.
Notre Dame also dialed up a deep shot to him in the passing game that he and Jack Coan just couldn’t connect on. Tyree was wide open for what would have been a touchdown, but the ball sailed a bit too far. Tyree started the play in the backfield before motioning out wide and getting a favorable matchup. Using Tyree in that way would have been much more common this year had he been healthy in the second half of the season once the offensive line was solidified. We should see a lot more of that next year.
Tackling from the Notre Dame defensive backs
Stanford was content with short pass after short pass on Saturday night. That meant the Irish defensive backs needed to be sound in their tackling to prevent those short passes from turning into long gains. They were. Cam Hart had 4.0 tackles, including 2 TFL and Clarence Lewis had 3.0 tackles as the Irish kept everything in front of them. Lewis had a low-key big time play by forcing a 4th quarter fumble that led to Notre Dame’s final touchdown of the evening. It didn’t impact the outcome at all, but Stanford was driving and had they scored there to make it 38-21, the narrative around this game would have been MUCH different than the ultimate final score of 45-14.
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee completed 20 of 25 passes. Still, those 20 completions netted just 172 yards – and 49 of those came on one play where converted wide receiver turned safety Xavier Watts took a poor angle. By contrast, Jack Coan completed 26 passes for 345 yards.
Considering the issues we have seen at times in the tackling department from the secondary, it was great to see the defensive backs step up.
Seeing Stanford fall while Notre Dame rises
I’ll go a little more macro here, but remember not too long ago when some Notre Dame fans moaned about how Stanford was in a much better place than Notre Dame? That was just five years ago. Since then, Stanford has crashed back down to earth – perhaps lower than they were pre-Harbaugh – while the Irish are an ascending program with five straight 10-win seasons. While the Irish were putting a bow on their 31-point beatdown of Stanford for their 11th win of the season, Stanford was losing their ninth game.
Notre Dame is a program on the cusp of being one of the elites of the elites again while Stanford and their head coach David Shaw are left to ponder how – or if – they can rebuild their program into what it was a few years ago.
It won’t be easy for Stanford either. They used to be a power-run offense, but they can’t run the ball anymore and seemingly have no offensive identity. They used to be a disciplined team, but they had nine penalties for 64 yards on Saturday night. Notre Dame had 27 first downs to Stanford’s 11.
Everything that Stanford was at the height of their run has vanished while the Irish just won 11 games in what was supposed to be a transitional/rebuilding type season. Stanford has won 11 games TOTAL in the last three years. Granted, they only played six total games in 2020 because of the COVID-shortened season, but they still won a TOTAL of just seven games in their last two full seasons.
At the culmination of the abomination that was the 2016 season, Stanford had just finished their fifth 10-win season in six years under Shaw. They haven’t won 10 games in a season since. Notre Dame has now won three straight against Stanford with an average score of 42.7-18.3.