Notre Dame turned in its worst all around performance in recent memory and fell to a lowly but scrappy Stanford squad by 16-14 on Saturday. The Flailing Irish defense refused to tackle anyone and compounded the problem by leaving the Cardinal receivers uncovered most of the night. Meanwhile, the offense was even worse. After being shut out in a horrid first half, a fumble by Audric Estime derailed their futile attempt at a comeback. Notre Dame drops to 3-3 on the season.
The Irish got off to another slow start with the usual three and out on the first series. Stanford responded with a crisp 66-yard drive in eight plays to take a quick 7-0 lead. The Cardinal defensive slants seemed to confound Notre Dame’s offensive line and they overplayed Michael Mayer in the secondary. Tom Rees and Drew Pyne struggled to find an answer.
Special teams provided a spark for Notre Dame when Prince Kollie blocked a Ryan Sanborn punt. The Irish took over at the Cardinal 34 but the drive ended in frustration. An ineligible man downfield penalty negated a touchdown pass to Mayer and the Irish followed with a failed fourth down rush in the red zone.
Pyne tried to move the team in the second quarter. Notre Dame caught a break when the Cardinal failed on a fourth down pass of their own instead of kicking a field goal. Unfortunately, Pyne was sacked near midfield and he fumbled the ball away. Stanford capitalized this time with a 45 yard three-pointer for a 10-0 lead as the half ended.
Stanford dominated field position the early part of the third period. Josh Karty tacked on another field goal to stretch the lead to 13-0 before Notre Dame finally got rolling. Logan Diggs ran for 26 yards Estime added 22 more to put the hosts in business. Estime then covered the last ten yards to put the hosts on the board with 6:22 left in the quarter.
The Cardinal failed on another fourth down gamble moments later at the Irish 40. Momentum and the scoreboard turned in Notre Dame’s favor on the first snap of the fourth period. Pyne found speedy freshman Tobias Merriweather in single coverage and hit him in stride on a deep post for a 14-13 lead.
The positive vibes did not translate to the defense though. Quarterback Tanner McKee rallied his troops and picked apart the Irish secondary on his way downfield. Karty capped the drive by hitting what proved to be the game winner for a 16-14 lead with 10:20 left in the game. Poor tackling by the defensive back seven aided Stanford’s cause and was the main theme of the night. The poor effort and sloppy technique were an embarrassment to the legacy of the program.
Still, Notre Dame had a chance to pull out a win. A few good runs and a pass interference penalty moved the ball across midfield. Estime took off on hard run, shedding tacklers in his wake. He rumbled into field goal range before the ball was knocked from his grasp and recovered by the Cardinal at their own 21.
With 6:35 still on the clock, the Irish needed a defensive stop. McKee stayed cool and hit Brycen Tremayne for 22 yards to maintain possession. Tremayne made a terrific catch on the play but it was just more evidence that the Cardinal wanted the victory more than Notre Dame. Another pass to Elijah Higgins wewnt for a first down and the Irish were forced to burn its timeouts.
The offense got the ball back with 2:30 left at their own ten yard line. Pyne could manage only short gains before a sack and two pathetic incompletions ended the drive and the game. Stanford knelt down as the Irish faithful stood in disbelief.
There are no excused for this loss. Notre Dame had injuries but Stanford had more of them. The Irish have considerably more talent on paper but were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached by the Cardinal. They have lost to two of the worst teams in collge football this year (Stanford and Marshall) and more embarrassing outing may be on the horizon.
Offensively, the play-calling lacks any flow or coherent strategy. The coaches are slow to grasp what the defense is doing and adjust. Pyne is limited physically and teams have enough film on Notre Dame now to force him out of his comfort zone. The pass to Merriweather was the only departure from the same predictable game plan. We never saw the talented freshman again after that play.
Defensively, the coaches continue to call for blitzes that never get near the quarterback. The linebackers are a liability in coverage and do not fill the gaps with any force or physicality. Even mediocre running backs like Casey Filkins are consistently able to pick up five yards after contact. The secondary has regressed after a decent start to the season. They shy away from contact and the first man to greet a receiver in the flat misses the tackle every single time.
Let’s look at the answers to our pregame questions:
- Can Stanford’s patchwork offensive line stand up to the Irish defensive front? The Cardinal linemen played with a chip on their shoulders and won most of their battles with the Irish.
- Will Notre Dame’s linebackers be able to defend Stanford’s RPOs? Stanford kept them off balance most of the night. They didn’t score a lot of points but they frustrated Notre Dame by playing keep away. They won time of possession by 36-24 minutes.
- Can the Irish score touchdowns inside the red zone? Estime scored once and the Irish failed on a fourth down. Those were the only trips to that area of the field.
- Will Isaiah Foskey make any highlight level plays for the Irish? No. Notre Dame managed only one sack against a bunch of second stringers.
- Can Notre Dame rush for over 200 yards while holding the Cardinal under 100? Stanford managed only 97 yards on the ground but the Irish total of 150 was a major disappointment.
- Will the Irish receivers other than Mayer make significant contributions? Yes, Merriweather. That was it. Lorenzo Styles had a couple of drops and Braden Lenzy caught a couple of short throws. It was not an impressive effort collectively.
- Can Notre Dame’s secondary cover the tall and experienced Cardinal receivers? No, not when it counted the most.
- Are USC and Clemson living on borrowed time? USC blew a lead and lost to Utah while Clemson held off Florida State. Both will beat this Irish team though.
This disastrous game put an end to any hopes for a successful season by any reasonable measure. The primary responsibility falls on the shoulders of the head coach. It’s fair to say now that the honeymoon for Marcus Freeman is over and it’s time to produce.
The rest of the staff bears a share of the blame as well. Rees has been a disappointment. The receivers have not stepped forward, either. What happened to Deion Colzie, Joe Wilkins or Styles? The tight ends other than Mayer are talented but not involved in the game plan. The line looks good in certain sequences but cannot get a push when its most critical.
Al Golden’s defense has not made havoc plays against even the weakest teams. I’m not impressed by Al Washington’s defensive line – they were supposed to be a strength of the team. The starting linebackers are terrible. Prince Kollie and the freshmen need to get a chance. There’s no reason to hold them back any longer. The secondary is not much better. Cam Hart cannot tackle and Brandon Joseph has not lived up to his preseason hype, but the rest of them look lost as well.
Other than that, it was a great night.
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