Notre Dame put together an exceptional team effort for 60 minutes to record a convincing 38-17 victory over Stanford on Saturday night. The Irish dominated in all phases, especially in the fourrth quarter, to break open an intensely competitive contest and turn it into a romp. Running back Dexter Williams returned to the lineup after a four game suspension to rush for 161 yards on 21 carries, including a 45 yard touchdown burst to ignite the 5-0 hosts. Notre Dame out-gained Stanford by a whopping 550-229, and held the Cardinal to a mere 30 yards in the second half.
Ian Book had another rock solid game at quarterback to lead the Irish. He connected on 24 of 33 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns, each to a different receiver. Williams’ contributions at tailback could not have been more welcome and timely. Starter Jafar Armstrong was unavailable for the game due to a knee injury, and alternate Tony Jones, Jr. was injured during the first half an did not return. While we are naming heroes on offense, the line paved the way for 272 yards rushing, and receivers Miles Boykin and Chase Claypool clearly outplayed Stanford’s highly regarded cornerbacks.
The Irish defense was equally outstanding. Jerry Tillery recorded four of the team’s five sacks, while Julian Okwara applied pressure all over the field. Linebackers Te’Von Coney, Drue Tranquill and Asmir Bilal each contributed highlight level plays, while the seconday did not allow the Stanford receivers any room to breathe. The lone turnover on the night belonged to Coney, whose interception set up Notre Dame’s final touchdown and put an exclamation point on a celebratory fourth quarter.
The first half was much more intense. Stanford matched a pair of Irish first quarter touchdowns with two of their own, and the game was even at 14-14 after the first 20 minutes. Both defenses dug in to force a flurry of punts before Book led Notre Dame on a scoring drive at the end of the first half. Key passes to Boykin set up a ten yard strike to Claypool and staked the Irish to a 21-14 lead at intermission.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Costello and star running back Bryce Love enjoyed considerable success in the first half, as Love ran for a 39-yard score and Costello threw a scoring pass among his 11 completions in 16 attempts. The second half was entirely a different story, as Tillery and company turned up the pressure and mercilessly battered Costello into submission, while a punishing tackle by Okwara knocked Love out of the game and into the locker room. Costello finished at 15 for 27 for 174 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Love gained 73 yards on 17 carries before limping off the field, and 16 of those attempts netted only 34 yards.
Notre Dame answered concerns regarding its ability to play a complete game. The teams traded field goals in the third period before exploding for 14 points in 14 seconds midway through the fourth. Boykin made multiple clutch receptions, including a nine yard touchdown catch, during a decisive drive that extended the Irish advantage to 31-17 at the 8:16 mark. Coney cut in front of a Stanford receiver on the very next play from scrimmage to give the ball back to Notre Dame as the highly vocal crowd went into a frenzy. Book then found a wide open Alize Mack for a 35 yard strike and the final margin of 38-17. Stanford was unable to move forward against the swarming Irish defense, and Coach David Shaw did not bother to delay the inevitable by using his timeouts.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions so I can gloat a little bit more.
Will Book continue to lead the Irish on long scoring marches? Yes, Book made terrific decisions all night, leading drives of 85, 77, 80 and 58 yards.
Can Notre Dame cause Costello’s completion rate to drop well below his average? The Irish turned up the heat in the second half to chase Costello into relative oblivion.
Will Stanford be able to create room for Love to have a breakout performance? Just once, but that was it for the night as Love had to retire early.
Can the Irish complete passes downfield in the intermediate and deep zones? There were no deep completions, but Book was very accurate on the intermediate routes and made a few clutch third down throws when they were sorely needed.
Which team will respond best under pressure late in the game? Notre Dame won this game going away, and left no doubt as to which squad was best.
Can the Irish secondary defend against Stanford’s tandem of tight ends? Trent Irwin had five receptions for 57 yards, but was barely visible in the second half.
Will either special teams be able to tilt the outcome in their favor? Unwittingly, Stanford’s failure to down a punt at the Notre Dame one yard line late in the second quarter gave the Irish a break that translated into an 80-yard scoring drive and a 21-14 halftime lead.
The Irish lost guard Alex Bars to injury during the game as well as Tony Jones, Jr. Their status for next week’s trip to Virginia Tech is unclear as yet. The team has two games remaining before a much needed bye week, but appear to have the momentum and chemistry necessary to deliver resilient performances from those still standing.