In the biggest game so far of their 2018 football season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish offered a strong statement for moving up in the rankings by knocking off the Stanford Cardinal. The 38-17 victory keeps the Irish perfect with a 5-0 mark on the year, with this particular win especially sweet since it came against the seventh-ranked team in the nation.
Each side of the ball took turns in aiding the Irish cause, with the offense doing the work in the first half and the defense taking over after the break. In the final quarter, Notre Dame broke open what had been a one-touchdown game to turn the game into a comfortable win, breaking a frustrating three-game losing skid against the Cardinal.
Below are some of the key facets of the big win:
Williams is the Name
Having missed the first four games of the season, Irish fans might have been forgiven in forgetting the name of running back Dexter Williams. Quickly refreshing those memories, Williams broke free for a 45-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball and finished the first half with 99 yards on just nine carries.
Williams finished the battle with 161 yards on 21 carries, with his contributions helping a running game that was already missing an injured Jafar Armstrong. However, Tony Jones Jr. later went down late in the third quarter, which kept Williams in the game until the game was decided. The performance is a testament to the quality of the depth of the ground game that will be needed as the season gets into crunch time.
Tillery Means Trouble
Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery had already delivered some solid performances this season, making him a standout on the line. However, he managed to truly make his presence felt against Stanford by finishing with four sacks on the night and also forcing a fumble.
Tillery’s constant harassment helped shut down Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello, who at one point in the first half had completed a stretch of 11 completions in 12 attempts for 95 yards and a touchdown. When play resumed in the third quarter, Costello hit only four of his 10 throws for 44 yards.
Book Writes the Next Chapter
Making his second consecutive start, Ian Book picked up where he left off against Wake Forest and managed to pick apart Stanford’s defense in the process. He ended by completing 24 of 33 passes for 278 yards and hitting for four touchdowns. He also managed to avoid any interceptions.
Book was especially precise during the first two quarters by completing all but two of his 14 pass attempts. While Miles Boykin managed to be on the receiving end of nearly half of Book’s completions, Book wasn’t afraid to spread the ball around, with nine other receivers also grabbing a pass.
One of the most important facets of the Notre Dame defensive game plan was finding a way to keep a lid on Stanford’s Heisman-worthy running back Bryce Love. After four quarters, it was clear that the Irish succeeded by limiting him to just 73 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown.
Those numbers actually deserve a closer look since Love had 69 yards at the break and was held to just four following intermission before leaving with an ankle injury. Even those 69 yards have something of an asterisk attached, considering that 39 came on his scoring run. The remaining 30 came off of 12 carries, which breaks down to a modest 2.5 yards per carry.
Boykin He Play
Until Saturday night, Boykin had served as a very quiet threat in 2018, managing to grab just nine passes in four games for 167 yards. He emerged from that seemingly low profile by picking up 11 catches for 144 yards, doing most of that damage in the first half with eight grabs to his credit.
One of his second half catches gave the Irish a 14-point cushion, but it was his play throughout the contest that offered glimpses of what he can provide the Irish offense. With Book having firmly established himself behind center, the bond between Boykin and him could be something to watch.
It’s back on the road next week for the Irish, who travel to face the Virginia Tech Hokies for the first time ever in Blacksburg next Saturday. Kickoff for the contest will remain a mystery until Sunday, but one thing that’s certain is that Notre Dame will be out for revenge. That’s because in their only previous meeting two years ago, Tech sent the reeling Irish to a 34-31 defeat.
The Hokies enter this game with a 3-1 record after a 31-14 road win at Duke, with their only hiccup taking place in a 49-35 upset loss to Old Dominion. Having scored 62 points the week before in a blowout win, it’s clear that the Virginia Tech offense has the capability to erupt. Of course, facing a Top 10 team like Notre Dame may throw a wrench into that assessment.