by John Vannie
Quenton Meeks ignited a second half comeback with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown as Stanford overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat Notre Dame by 17-10 on Saturday night. After a safety on another bad snap by the Irish brought the Cardinal to within 10-9, the visitors recorded the winning score with 10:38 left in the game when Bryce Love was tackled at the goal line and the ball rolled into the end zone. A pair of Irish defenders inexplicably could not pick it up, and Cardinal center Jesse Burkett pounced on it for the go-ahead touchdown. Stanford added a nifty two point conversion play for the final margin.
Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was replaced by Malik Zaire following his second interception, was reinserted to into the lineup with 3:44 remaining. The ensuing drive reached the Cardinal eight yard line as the clock ticked down, but ended in frustration when Kizer’s fourth down scramble fell short. The loss dropped Notre Dame to 2-5 on the season and 2-7 in their last nine games.
Things were going well for the Irish in the first half. Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina clanked a field goal attempt off the top of the left upright in the early going, and a Cardinal fumble set up the first Notre Dame score. Kizer capped off an impressive ground-based march with an eight yard run for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Justin Yoon added a field goal shortly thereafter and the Irish held a 10-0 lead at the half. Stanford’s offense was in disarray as Christian McCaffrey cheered from the sidelines while quarterback Ryan Burns struggled.
The Cardinal coaching staff did a better job of making adjustments in the locker room, and suddenly Notre Dame’s offense ran into trouble. Kizer’s interceptions occurred on consecutive series in the third quarter, and Zaire could not generate anything positive. Meanwhile, Burns did just enough to get his team into the end zone after his defense put nine points on the board.
It was a bitter loss for the Irish, who played well on defense for the most part and appeared to be the more talented team. Confidence has to be an issue now, and the coaching staff should be concerned about its collective job security. The team has a week off for fall break and will resume play on October 29 when the Irish host Miami of Florida.
Let’s look at the answers to the pregame questions for additional insight.
Which offense will control the clock and keep its defense off the field? Stanford did a better job, particularly in the second half, and won time of possession by 33-27 minutes.
Can Notre Dame’s anemic pass rush break through Stanford’s porous offensive line? The Irish brought some effective pressure and had a couple of sacks against the Cardinal, whose line was not very solid at all.
Will Bryce Love pick up the slack for McCaffrey? Definitely. Love had 129 yards on 23 carries and acquitted himself well.
Which team will shake off its recent losses and play inspired football? It was a tale of two halves. Notre Dame was clearly in charge in the first half, but Meeks’ interception changed momentum and the Irish never regained it.
Can the Irish rediscover the running game? They did for a brief but beautiful scoring drive in the first quarter, but they did not pursue what appeared to be a clear advantage of this contest.
Which offense will convert its red zone opportunities? Stanford scored on its only opportunity while Notre Dame had to settle for a short field goal on its second trip. A sack and two incompletions from the Stanford eight brought out Yoon. On the final series, the Irish had to throw and Kier could not find anyone open.
Will Irish fans just stay home and watch the Cubs? The smart ones did – it was an entertaining game with a grand ending.
Once again, a game that should have been a comfortable win came down to a final, pressure packed drive that ended poorly for Notre Dame. Stanford is not a good team, especially without McCaffrey, but the Irish seem to be hopelessly lost from top to bottom.