Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See in Fenway?

Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame’s beat Boston College 19-16 to move to 10-1, before heading to Palo Alto for the titanic season finale against Stanford.

The green-clad Irish offense punched holes in the vaunted and top-ranked Boston college offense for 447_yards, but wasted multiple red zone opportunities, squandering a sure thing as if they were Bill Buckner in ’86.

Turnovers and Drops

Deshone Kizer and Will Fuller decided to have their season’s worst performance on the same evening. Kizer threw three horrific, undisciplined interceptions, two of them on knuckle-headed decisions in the shadow of BC’s goal post. Perhaps some day, unless Brandon Wimbush steals the job next Spring, Kizer will learn the value of throwing the ball away. But not last night.

Fuller had three drops, two of them with yawning expanses of fresh green sod in front of him.

Adams joined the party with a fumble inside the five yard line.

Prosise’s fumble was merely at the BC 32.

With Kizer’s misplay on an extra point, the Irish left between 10 and 29 points on the field, there for the taking.

Notre Dame’s Defense

The defense dominated the inept BC offense but did its part to add a fourth quarter lapse, evocative of the late gifts to Georgia Tech and Pitt.   The Irish D, which had bottled up BC through 3 quarters with just 121 yards, allowed 166 yards of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, 80 on a simple keeper by Jeff Smith.

Gilmore kept Isaac Rochell inside at tackle, but Isaac is less impactful there than he is coming from the Defensive End position. The Irish need Daniel Cage back. SOON.

Greer Martini and Jarrett Grace filled in solidly for James Onwualu and are now lathered to face Christian McCaffrey and Stanford.

It might have been Van Gorder’s greatest challenge to paint BC as an offensive threat. Quarterback John Fadule came in fresh off a 400 yard passing performance, FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON. Leading running back Tyler Rouse had gashed opposing defenses for 307 yards, a lower total than the 338 Deshone Kizer had accumulated. Leading BC receiver Thad “the Weapon” Smith had caught passes for 216 yards, a lower total than the 240 Amir Carlisle had achieved for the whole year.

So the Irish defense stacked against the run, blitzed on the many passing downs and had a jolly old time bullying the horrific Boston College offense. They just lost interest with 11 minutes left in the game, for the third time this year. Great teams finish. Good teams don’t.

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Notre Dame Special Teams

Now rated 20th in the Country, per the Phil Steele composite. Pryce Tracy, Scott Booker, Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome stand up and take bows! Now stop bowing and get to work on the Stanford Special Teams game plan.

Mike Denbrock coaches them up

Notre Dame promises player development. If every player on the roster progresses as much as Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle have, Notre Dame’s future will be bright. Sheldon Day and Romeo Okwara continue to demonstrate how seniors perform in the right player development culture.

127 Is an unusual team

To paraphrase Orwell, all Notre Dame teams are different, but some are more different than others.

When Team 127 tries to destroy a team and accumulate metro-sexual “style points,” the bane of the interweb and the fourth estate, the parasitic sports commentariat, they fail. Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia they are not.

But when the line is drawn in the dirt, and it is about winning and losing, as against Texas, Georgia Tech, even Clemson and USC they do pretty well. The next game is do or die, not about style points. And that is this team’s milieu.

While it may seem anomalous, the Irish played solid football from the neck down on Saturday, far better than against Wake. But they played their worst game from the neck up. Let’s hope they got it out of their system, albeit hope is not a strategy.

What will we see against Stanford?

  • A focused Stanford team, the best squad we will have played since Clemson. The loss to Oregon knocked Leland’s school out of the playoff but merely increased the risk level to Notre Dame. Stanford can not participate in the all too meager four team playoff, but can knock Notre Dame out of it. Out there among the majestic eucalyptus trees and stunning architecture, it’s the kind of thing that they live for, perfect for sipping pinot grigio and mocking Notre Dame.
  • A very iffy playing surface. Notre Dame will be ready this time. Ag schools always have fine playing surfaces, internet trade schools, not so much.
  • A 10 win Notre Dame team, Kelly’s second. There were only two in the interregnum between Holtz and Kelly. Lou had 5 ten win seasons.
  • An offense that is prolific, but uses Christian McCaffrey’s running as the fulcrum. McCaffrey has rushed for over 100 yards per game for 9 games in a row. Stopping McCaffrey’s willful running is the first defensive priority.
  • A dangerous quarterback in Kevin Hogan. He is dangerous for both teams. He had two mind-numbingly critical lost fumbles in the fourth quarter in the loss to the Ducks. He is weak at ball security.
  • A Stanford defensive that has lost the Harbaughites and is much more vulnerable than in the last several years. This game could come down to an offensive shootout and there are places to exploit the Stanford defense. Stanford is used to bullying its Pac-XII opponents in the trenches. Stanford will not have that advantage against Notre Dame, and it is arguable that of the four lines on the field, the Stanford DL is the weakest of the four.
  • An odd scheduling quirk, that, for once, favors the Irish. Stanford faced Oregon and cross-Bay rival Berkeley while the Irish toyed with ACC doormats Wake and BC. The Irish will be less exhausted physically and emotionally.
  • An opponent for which Onwualu’s absence does not hurt much. The bigger Grace and Martini are more suited to counter the McCaffrey runs.
  • Notre Dame’s offense must possess the football. If the Irish defense is on the field for more than 60 plays, the lack of depth in the front seven may prove fatal.
  • A West Coast November tilt that has not always been kind to Notre Dame. In ’64, ’68 and ’80 the Irish went West with an unbeaten record, and came up short.
  • A Notre Dame moment and a Stanford moment. This can be an unforgiving moment, but it is a rare thing for Notre Dame to control its own destiny on the final Saturday of the season. The leaders, and particularly the captains, need to step up. Defeat is simply not an option.
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And those leaders, those captains, just might invoke an anthem from Marshall Mathers, “I’m not Afraid”

“ I’m not afraid
To take a stand
Everybody
Come take my hand, come
We’ll take this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just letting you know that, you’re not alone
Holler if you feel like you’ve been down this same road”

This is a BIG GAME, lads, quit whining and buckle your chinstraps!!

GO IRISH!

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17 Comments

  1. ND effectively ended its playoff chances by not showing up ready to play at Clemson (with the job finished off by Kelly’s 2-pt. boners in that game). But at least Clemson was a very good team, so the close loss was spun as positively as any loss by anyone in recent years that I can recall.

    But any playoff dreams were officially removed when ND failed to show up for what it KNEW was a beauty contest game against a horrifically poor BC team.

    Kelly was quick to declare in the filed interview afterwards that the occasional lack of focus as an inherent issue that “18 to 21 year olds” have. He didn’t discuss why the entire team had this ‘affliction’ hit each of them at the same time, which is completely on him and his staff. As he’s been doing this for 25 years now (did you know that?), you’d think he’d have that one solved.

    The entire team was simply not ready to play this game. They stunk up the joint. Ball protection. Red Zone execution. Tackling.

    Anyone wants their job to be mad easier for them, and ND handed the playoff committee all it needed to say ‘Ummm, I think we’ve seen enough. We’ll let you know. Next!’

  2. @ southside:
    “Win One for the I-10.”
    I like it.
    Losing ten starters-and now vs. Stanford- on the road- for the fourth game in five weeks, with your second leading tackler and your leading rusher out of the picture.
    What’s wrong with that picture?
    If I was a betting man, I’d have learned by now never to bet on ND as a favorite and give the points; but also, never bet against ND when they’re an underdog. To snatch victory with all ND has going against it this week would even further mark Team 127 as a team for the ages. This team’s resiliency and fortitude reminds any paying attention this year to never count them out.
    Ya gotta believe!

  3. Good article Duranko. Irish will win. Farley and Jaylon will two time McCaffery . Cage is back , Rochell back at d-end , Tori Hunter Jr. in d-back field to help. No turn overs on Offense and Irish will score big. Fuller doesn’t get free–Irish have best receiving core in the country to go to. This is it–the Big Game of the season. It was the battle cry long ago , “Win One for the Gipper”, now this Saturday it’s “Win One for the I-10. Ain’t talk’in bout that interstate highway. Go Irish

  4. Great observations Duranko!

    ND is a better team than Stanford, more talented and faster. Period. ND should win this game, it will depend on how bad the taste in their mouth is for victory, combined with execution on the playing field.

    Let’s knock em on their ass……Go Irish

  5. The bad play is the one “where the Kizer hands off to the back”. Priceless RichM.

    My guess is Shaw will try to isolate Jaylon by spreading between McCaffrey and Cajuste, which if Farley and Redfield can’t cover for, will be deadly.

    What was most disconcerting about what may be the CFP loss (regardless a Stanford win), wasn’t so much the mental mistakes, as what looked like a simple lack of balls. They didn’t appear to have the heart to compete at a playoff level. I hope the majority pout is a hard lesson that’s recovered from quickly.

  6. BC defense crushed our O. They beat us up. That was pathetic.

    We need to get pissed off and kick ass to beat Stanford.

    That game was so frustrating. Thank goodness we won. Truthfully, we are the worst team with only one loss in the country. We need to get hot quickly!

  7. This should be a win an your IN game for Irish regardless of what any other team does this week or next.
    11-1 should be enough if not the only way for them to ever get in is with a 12-0 record or they have to join a conference.

  8. It is not worth too much of our breath to analyze the team dynamic or psyche of playing to the level of your opponent. A lot of folks think it is harmless, but I think it takes its toll on you physically, emotionally, and most important deprives your “next-men-in” of getting reps. I think we all believed that once Wimbush gave up his red shirt he would have seen a lot of time which has not materialized. In years where Stanford can’t stop Oregon, BK should pay attention as to how to attack them. We will probably need at least 35 points to prevail and absent turnovers we probably can.

  9. ND does have a fast Defense. Have done well against running teams. Pass rushing has been coming on. Hogan has been known to have bad games also. Going to be a hard hitting game. I’m still expecting ND to control the game. Rise to the occassion in the red zone. Score and keep stanford offense in check. Special teams (kicking game at least) and field position will be huge again. Also ND favor.This one will be earned and belongs to ND. Thanks.

  10. I will say it’s nice to be “disappointed” about a win. How many times during the Willingham-Weis years would these games be losses?

    While ND still has some work to do, and it is taking time, it’s nice to see progress being made.

  11. Great piece, Duranko.
    Keeping hope alive without ignoring the struggles of the last two weeks and the inconsistencies all season. Balanced minus the despair we fans too often slip into after two less than gratifying wins- if there even should be such a thing these days in college football. Fact of life with college football- every opponent is seemingly more intense and focused vs. ND. It is what it is.
    The last two weeks I’ve seen a tentative, tight ND team playing against looser, nothing- to- lose opponents. This week we have two teams on the field with plenty to lose. What I’ve seen is NDs superior play-makers making enough plays to win- kudos to Jaylon Smith, DeShone Kizer, our two RBs, and Will Fuller all year, and Amir Carlisle and Chris Brown last week, as you pointed out. Stanford will have at least two play-makers on offense of their own in McCaffrey and Hogan, but like SC with its play-makers, ND will face a defense that can be exploited as well. With QB Hogan, he’ll be looking to avenge his mediocre performance vs. ND last year, playing in his last home game at Stanford ever. Emotion matters, and ND will not have faced a quality opponent with more of it since Clemson. McCaffrey, among the elite on the Heismann watch, will be focused and poised to make a statement on national TV, as will Kevin Hogan, the ND shunned recruit, the nephew of NDs ’66 “next-man-in” Coley O’Brien, that guy who stepped in to lead ND to a 51-0 rout of SC on the road to close out the ’66 national championship season.History can repeat itself and our own ‘next-man-in” QB can win his last road game in California like Hogan’s Uncle Coley did for ND fifty years ago.What gives me hope is the resiliency and never-say-die fortitude Team 127 has shown all year. With injuries that will sideline yet two more key players last week, “Although the odds be great . . .”
    Go Irish!

  12. If I were a betting man, I would think long and hard about not taking the Irish in this one. As good as the record is 10-1, with the only lose coming to #1 Clemson by 2 pts. The Irish have looked like a very tired, slow moving club. The play calling has also been suspect especially the one were Kizer hands off to the back. The play takes too long to set up and the defense has not been fooled on very many if any of those lately. 5 turnovers and the Irish get killed. The one thing I see is that Stanford is a good team and always a tough opponent. The Irish have played well against the good teams on our schedule, obviously. They play down to their opponents which has been the case recently. They need this one to stay in the conversation for top 4 and a shot at the championship. Go IRISH!!!!!!

  13. I agree Duranko. At the end of the day all they can do is win against Stanford. The chips will fall where they may. They can’t do anything about Michigan State, Oklahoma or Iowa, their biggest threats for that coveted number 4 spot. It comes down to win and you have a good shot, lose and it’s NY Day 6 bowl (admittedly, in my own opinion before the season started, what I thought was the minimum to consider this a successful year so I won’t be allowed to complain I guess).

    Frankly, while it would be a huge disappointment, a NY Day 6 bowl would be quite an achievement for a team that lost some critical starters, not the least of which was our QB.

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