Playing uninspired ball for much of the night ultimately cost the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a 16-14 loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday night. The shocking defeat ended the Irish’s three-game winning streak and mirrored the Irish’s earlier loss this season to Marshall. Like this debacle, the Irish fell at home despite entering the clash as double-digit favorites.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this crushing loss is that it came against a Cardinal team on a four-game skid that had lost in the final minute just last week. In those four defeats, Stanford had allowed an average of over 38 points per game, yet Notre Dame struggled for much of the evening to move the ball.
Below are some of the key aspects of the loss:
Hurting Their Own Cause
The Irish appeared to be poised to take their second lead with under seven minutes left in the game and trailing by two. However, Audric Estime’s aggressive approach to gaining every yard proved deadly as he fumbled the ball away in Stanford territory, allowing the Cardinal to eat up over four minutes of clock.
Yet, Notre Dame also delivered some self-inflicted wounds during the first half. The most crucial, as it turned out, was Mitchell Evans getting flagged on an illegal man downfield call, which ended up negating a tying touchdown by Michael Mayer. As a result of the blunder, the Irish ended up turning the ball over on downs. Then, late in the first half, Drew Pyne was strip-sacked by Cardinal edge rusher Stephen Herron which was converted into a Stanford field goal as the half ended.
Another Early Rut
One of the major issues that Notre Dame has dealt with this year is the team’s inability to get off to a fast start. In the first five games of 2022, the Irish had been held to just two field goals in the first quarter. That concern once again arose in this game, when Notre Dame was held scoreless for the entire first half.
Following a quick three-and-out to start the game for the Irish, the Cardinal picked up four first downs during their eight-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. Stanford focused a good deal of attention during the first two quarters on their passing game and ended the half with 11 first downs and a 10-0 advantage.
Diggs-ing Up Some Bright Spots
The lamentable performance by Notre Dame did see running back Logan Diggs match Estime’s 57 yards on the night to lead the Irish. Diggs also gave the Irish some momentum in the third quarter when he started off the first scoring drive with a 26-yard run. Then, on the fateful series that ended with Estime’s fumble, Diggs kept the series going on a clutch fourth-down play.
Also, for the second straight week, another receiving option may have emerged for Pyne in the form of freshman Tobias Merriweather. After Pyne overthrew Merriweather earlier in the game, the two hooked up for the first time on the opening play of the final, a 41-yard scoring toss that gave the Irish their first and only lead of the game.
Defense on the Defense
Even though Notre Dame’s inability to take advantage of Stanford’s porous defense was especially glaring, the Irish defense didn’t go unscathed in this defeat. The Cardinal outgained the Irish in yardage, 385-301, picking up 21 first downs and converting seven different third-down opportunities.
Stanford moved smoothly down the field on their first drive to take a quick 7-0 lead. They were able to exploit Notre Dame’s problems when it came to trying to bring down ball carriers. One final problem stemmed from the lack of a sustained pass rush against an injury-plagued front line for Stanford, with the Irish picking up just a single sack on the night.
Time Enough to Lose
Even though Stanford was held to a single touchdown, the Notre Dame defense ended the game with the Cardinal holding onto the ball for over 36 minutes. Whether having extra minutes would have aided the struggling Irish offense is open to debate but not getting stops when needed proved to be deadly.
Notre Dame remains at home to take on the UNLV Rebels in the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Entering their late game against Air Force on Saturday night, the Rebels had a 4-2 record and have shown that they can put points on the board. On two occasions, they’ve tallied over 50 points in a game. Conversely, there are plenty of holes in UNLV’s defense, which has yet to keep a team under 20 points this season.