by John Vannie
Notre Dame, led by Brady Quinn and Darius Walker, stayed in control and was never seriously threatened in its 31-10 victory over a competitive but overmatched Stanford squad. Quinn passed for three touchdowns and Walker accounted for just under 200 yards of total offense as the Irish dominated the Cardinal. Notre Dame outgained Stanford by 437-226 and had 29 first downs to 15 for the Cardinal.
With very few exceptions, the Irish defense was in control throughout the afternoon despite the absence of three injured starters. Notre Dame did benefit from a couple of dropped passes by Stanford that could have made matters more interesting. To be fair, Walt Harris’ team was also missing its two best wide receivers, and it definitely hurt them in this contest.
The Irish took the opening kickoff and marched 90 yards to take a 7-0 lead as Quinn played pitch and catch with Jeff Samardzija. Excellent play calling by Harris and the passing of Trent Edwards led the Cardinal right back to the Notre Dame four yard line before Kelton Lynn dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone. Stanford settled for a field goal and trailed 7-3 as the first quarter came to a close.
The defenses took over early in the second quarter. The Irish managed to move to midfield, but the drive stalled and Walker was stopped for no gain on a fourth down and two. The Cardinal had a chance to move into scoring position, but another drop by a wide open receiver on third down abruptly ended the threat.
Just when it appeared the lackluster Irish would end the half with a paltry four point lead, Quinn took over with 2:35 left and led Notre Dame on a textbook 68-yard march for a 14-3 lead. Rhema McKnight grabbed a well-executed slant pass and darted into the end zone with 29 seconds remaining.
Victor Abiamiri ended the half with a sack of Edwards, and he added another to stop Stanford’s opening drive in the third quarter. The Irish took over and marched for another score as Walker covered the final 51 yards capped by a 32-yard touchdown romp at the 9:25 mark.
The Cardinal could not respond as Trevor Laws and Derek Landri joined the sack party at Edwards’ expense. Quinn and Walker went back to work, but the drive ran out of steam just inside the red zone. Carl Gioia came on to boot a 35 yard field goal and the Irish stretched their lead to 24-3 with sixteen minutes remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Stanford recorded its only highlight after the opening drive. Edwards threw to tailback Anthony Kimble, who squared up and tossed a deep floater to a wide open Kelton for a 57-yard score. Free safety Chinedum Ndukwe was victimized on the play, and he received an earful from secondary coach Bill Lewis on the sidelines.
With its lead cut to 24-10 and fourteen minutes remaining, Notre Dame’s offense answered the bell. Walker ripped off chunks of yardage and the Cardinal pitched in with a 15-yard penalty for hitting Quinn out of bounds. A third down pass to McKnight and a run by Walker brought the ball to the Stanford one. Quinn faked a handoff and hit tight end John Carlson, who made a one-handed grab for the score.
The Irish were determined not to allow the Cardinal to put a dent in their 31-10 advantage, and they shut down Edwards and backup T.C. Ostrander over the last nine minutes despite substituting freely on both sides of the ball. Anthony Vernaglia was particularly impressive and freshman Toryan Smith got his uniform dirty at middle linebacker.
The highlight of the final minutes for Notre Dame fans came when heralded freshman tailback James Aldridge saw his first action behind a few of his classmates along the offensive line. Aldridge flashed an impressive glimpse of power and speed in his four carries for 26 yards before the clock ran out.
Notre Dame stands at 5-1 at the halfway point of the season, and the entire team will benefit from a much needed week off. Key starters such as Tom Zbikowski, Travis Thomas and Ambrose Wooden should return against UCLA, and the Irish defense will face a trio of option teams in the upcoming weeks.
The offense was able to achieve balance during the last two games as Walker rushed for more than 300 yards and Quinn’s accuracy exceeded 73%. Penalties are down, although Notre Dame was hurt by a holding call that negated a 60-yard kickoff return by Darrin Walls and Maurice Crum was called for a late hit on Edwards. Crum atoned for his mistake with an interception of Ostrander that was the game’s only turnover.
The Irish have a long climb after falling to #12 in the national rankings, but the best days for this team may lie ahead. Last season, the opposite was true as that group wore down and stumbled down the stretch. Weis is developing depth and building for the future by bringing a few more of his talented freshmen into the mix. This trend should continue as Notre Dame plays a softer second half schedule until the showdown with USC in Los Angeles on November 25. For now, however, the Irish are looking ahead only as far as an upcoming week of rest.
JV’s Top Ten
1. Ohio State
6. West Virginia
7. Notre Dame
9. Georgia Tech
10. (tie) Auburn/California/Louisville
3. San Diego State
5. Anyone from the MAC
7. Mississippi St.
8. North Carolina
9. Miami (Fla)
10. Florida State
Dishonorable mention: Michigan State, Illinois