Jack Coan came out firing as Notre Dame streaked to a 24-0 halftime lead and rolled over an undermanned Stanford team by 45-14 on Saturday. With the Cardinal overplaying the run, Coan was able to stand inside a clean pocket and find open receivers most of the night. His one miscue led to the first touchdown scored against the Irish defense in four games, but Stanford never threatened to get back into the game. Notre Dame closes its regular season at 11-1 but must still hope for certain outcomes next week in conference championship games to determine its postseason fate.
The Irish started the game on defense for the first time this season, and it worked out well. The Cardinal went three and out before Coan took the field. A crisp touchdown drive began with a 33-yard pass to Kevin Austin and ended with a 16-yard scoring strike on a post route to Braden Lenzy. Later in the period, Notre Dame went on another long march that was capped by a short pass to Pete Takacs, who dragged a defender across the goal line. The Irish lead was 14-0 just two plays into the second quarter.
Justin Ademilola caused and recovered a fumble on the next Cardinal possession. The Irish were poised to score again but were stopped by a holding penalty. Jonathan Doerer came on to kick a field goal for a 17-0 margin.
After a quick three and out by Stanford, Coan directed another drive featuring passes to Michael Mayer and Lorenzo Styles. Kyren Williams finished things off with a one yard plunge with 4:47 remaining in the half. Stanford’s closest brush with points occurred on the last play of the half. Kicker Josh Karty boomed a 59-yard field goal attempt that had plenty of distance but was just wide.
Notre Dame is unaccustomed to receiving the second half kickoff, and Coan appeared to be disoriented. His third down pass was picked off by Jonathan McGill and returned to the Irish 13-yard line. The Cardinal found the end zone from there as Notre Dame’s no-touchdown streak ended at 14 quarters.
It took less than two minutes for the Irish offense to recover. A 61-yard pass from Coan to Austin set up a sneak by Coan for a touchdown. This deflated the Cardinal and the game settled into a punting contest for the rest of the third period.
Tyler Buchner was inserted at quarterback as the fourth quarter began. After a 33-yard run by Chris Tyree, Buchner scored untouched on his own 33-yard burst to stretch the lead to 38-7. Stanford answered against the Irish defensive reserves as Ben Yurosek rumbled in from 49 yards after snatching a pass from Tanner McKee.
There were still twelve minutes remaining with the score at 38-14. Rather than risk leaving the field with a more narrow margin of victory, Brian Kelly apparently decided he needed a few style points to impress the Playoff Committee. He reinserted Coan and the other offensive starters on the team’s final possession after Houston Griffith recovered a Cardinal fumble.
The move paid off as Coan hit Mayer down the sideline before Williams scored again with 58 seconds left. This run boosted Williams over the 1,000 yard mark for the season, and he earned every one of them. The 45-14 final score better reflected the dominance that the Irish displayed throughout the evening and allowed the team to leave the field on a high note.
While Stanford’s much-maligned rush defense “held” Notre Dame to 169 yards, Coan shredded the Cardinal secondary for 345 more. Austin and Mayer had more than 100 yards receiving each. The Irish defense yielded 55 yards on the ground and 172 through the air.
Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions for further analysis.
Can Stanford’s plus-sized offensive line handle the Irish defensive front? Not really. They were big but looked fat and slow. The Ademilola brothers pushed them around all night.
Will Notre Dame take advantage of Stanford’s porous rush defense? The Cardinal committed their safeties to the box to minimize the Irish running game, but paid a heavy price for that gamble.
Can the Irish finally score a touchdown on their opening drive? Yes! Who knew it would come after Stanford had the ball first? Maybe Kelly should defer once in a while when he wins the toss.
Will Notre Dame’s defense put more points on the board? Not directly, but the great play by Justin Ademilola led to a field goal.
To what extent will hometown favorite Isaiah Foskey make his presence felt? Foskey was largely held in check by Cardinal tackle Walter Rouse, but Rouse had help on many of those passing downs.
Which Irish freshman will have a breakout performance this week? Styles and Buchner were the most productive of this precocious bunch.
Can Notre Dame enhance its playoff chances with an impressive outing? They did what they could, but we won’t know the answer until next week.
Will someone please pull the plug on Michigan? Someone will before this season is over. Tom Brady doesn’t play for them anymore.
Tuesday’s rankings should give us an indication as the where Notre Dame stands with regard to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will play Baylor in the Big-12 championship and could leap past the Irish with an impressive win. The SEC, Big-10 and AAC championship games will all have a bearing on whether Notre Dame can sneak into the final four. We’ll find out then if 11-1 is good enough.