PALO ALTO (UHND.com) – Notre Dame’s disastrous 2007 season came a close Saturday evening and much like the entire season, nothing was easy for the Irish in a 21-14 victory which was much closer than it had to be. Turnovers, a weak penalty negating a touchdown, and one of the more questionable replay reversals in recent memory combined to put this game in doubt until the final minute, but the Irish led by a group of talented freshmen ended the season on a winning note for the first time since 2001.
Notre Dame opened the game with a bang and found themselves with a first and goal in no time before a Robert Hughes fumble ended the drive and gave Stanford the ball. That first drive would be a sign of things to come for the Irish – nothing would come easy, but when it come, it would be freshman leading the way.
Notre Dame’s win this weekend push their record to just 3-9 on the season, but if there was ever reason for optimism Saturday night’s seven point win over lowly Stanford might just be it.
On the surface the game was an ugly display of football. Four turnovers, under thrown deep balls, an amazing interception return called back because of a personal foul, and a meager 31% third down conversion percentage add up to a pretty dismal performance in a normal year. The 2007 season, however, has been anything but a normal year.
The reason for optimism comes from the fact that Notre Dame’s leading rusher and receiver were both true freshmen who were getting thrown or handed the ball from a fellow true freshman.
With James Aldridge banged up this week, Robert Hughes got the start and saw the bulk of the carries. The freshman back from Chicago certainly took advantage of the situation with 136 yards on 18 carries and the go ahead touchdown with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
At receiver, Duval Kamara paced the Irish with 6 catches for 92 yards and had a chance for quite a few more yards had a couple deep balls not been under thrown by Jimmy Clausen. Kamara nearly scored his fifth touchdown of the season in the first quarter as well had he not lost his footing on a terrible playing field.
Jimmy Clausen meanwhile was making his 9th start of the season and while he made some very obvious freshman mistakes, he still completed almost 60% of his passes and had an obvious touchdown reversed by some replay officials who ruled David Grimes did not come down with a 3rd quarter touchdown even though ever replay shown on ESPN showed he did.
The freshman impact was not limited to the offensive side of the ball either. Notre Dame started three more true freshmen on the defensive side of the ball in defensive tackle Ian Williams and outside linebackers Brian Smith and Kerry Neal. All three made their presence felt Saturday. Smith and Neal combined for 1.5 sacks and Williams was fifth on the team with 6 tackles.
These freshmen are going to be part of the foundation for the 2008 team and the experience that they have gained this season will go a long way towards fixing many of the problems we saw plague this 2007 squad.
Uncertainty surrounded the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver positions heading into this season, but with the emergence of Clausen, Kamara, and Hughes as well as fellow freshmen Golden Tate and Armando Allen that won’t be the case this spring or summer. Throw into the mix some talented sophomores like James Aldridge at running back and Robby Parris at receiver and there’s even fewer question marks heading into ’08 than there was heading into ’07.
While a seven point win over hapless Stanford might not be all that impressive in the box score, being led on offense by three true freshmen just might be.