Irish Chop Down the Trees – A Weekend Review

– Kevin

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In a day that was filled heavy rain, cold winds, and sloppy conditions, Notre Dame was able to overcome adversity and swing their axes to chop down the trees of Stanford in the final minute of the game to complete a thrilling 17-14 come from behind win. Even while Everett Golson didn’t play his best (and apparently had the flu according to Coach Kelly), he was still able to complete the game winning pass to Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone on 4th and 11 with only 1:06 left on the clock to seal the Irish victory. Statistically, the Notre Dame offense dominated Stanford all game long and really should have won this game by more points than they did. Stanford’s defense was viewed as one of the best in the nation, and the Irish offense racked up 370 yards of total offense including 129 yards rushing in horrific weather conditions. However its points and not yards that win football games and Notre Dame had trouble putting up points on the scoreboard only scoring 17 points. For the second week in a row, turnovers were an issue for Everett Golson, fumbling and throwing an interception in the red zone which took away chances at points for the Irish. Throughout most of the game, and even on some of the plays in the final drive, Golson looked a bit out of sync, throwing behind his receivers on multiple occassions and holding on to the ball too long.

The Irish running game still struggled this week against a tough defensive front. While the stat line says that Notre Dame rushed for 129 yards, the running backs only accounted for 69 of those yards while the remainder came from a 33 yard run by Golson and a 26 yard run on a jet sweep by CJ Prosise. Now nobody was anticipating a breakout game for the Irish running attack against Stanford but there are still some issues that need to be addressed as Notre Dame gets into the meat of the schedule. The offensive line is still not being as physical as expected before the season began. While the production has improved since Brian Kelly shuffled around some players along the line after the game against Purdue, they still are struggling at times in run blocking. Greg Bryant has been a player that everyone has been expecting to breakout but in the last few games he has really had trouble running North and South and finished with only 14 yards on 6 carries against Stanford. Tarean Folston was hurt during the game and only finished with 14 yards on 3 carries. That left Cam McDaniel to lead the team with 41 yards on 15 carries. At this point in the season I have no problem saying that Notre Dame’s strength on offense is their passing game. However in order to maintain the success that the Irish have had through the first five games, they will need to improve their running game with games at Florida State and USC still left this season.

While Golson’s game winning pass at the end of the game was the highlight of the game, it was not the main reason why Notre Dame was victorious against Stanford. That honor goes to the defense, which has continued to impress every week after looking to a be a weak point of the team at the beginning of the season. The Irish defense dominated Stanford from the start of the game to the final play holding the Cardinal to 205 TOTAL YARDS. Thats not a typo. Even more impressive is the fact that the defense held a Stanford running attack, which has been the staple of their offense, to only 47 yards rushing. Thats right, 47 yards. Stanford had not been held to that few rushing yards since 2006. The ability of the defense to shut down the run really set up the Irish for success forcing David Shaw to change his stratagy from his normal two tight end sets to more of a spread attack which played right into what Notre Dame wanted to do defensively. With the running game shut down the Cardinal was forced to pass more than they had planned for and the Irish defense responded. Kevin Hogan went 18-36 for 158 yards and two interceptions, both by Cole Luke, who probably played his best game of the season. Brian VanGorder kept Stanford guessing the entire game with his defensive game plan and never allowed the Cardinal to get in any sort of rhythm. Notre Dame’s third down defense impressed again only allowing Stanford to convert 5 of 14 third down attempts. Had it not been for Everett Golson’s fumble deep in the redone in the first quarter, it is safe to assume that the Cardinal may have only scored 7 points. Stanford’s score in the fourth quarter was the only drive that was able to move down the field against the Irish. In a game where Stanford’s defense was supposed to be the elite unit, Notre Dame’s defense out played the Cardinal and made a loud and definitive statement to the rest of the college football world.

Notre Dame won the game sure but they really should have won the game by much more than they did. They left a lot of points on the field and played a pretty sloppy game in the grand scheme of things. And to me thats what makes this win over Stanford even more impressive. The Irish made their fair share of mistakes, had players playing with the flu, and had to deal with awful weather conditions and they were still able to beat a Stanford team that most predicted to come into South Bend and win. Notre Dame still needs to clean up some things on both sides of the ball but their potential for an outstanding season is through the roof. This team’s play has already exceeded what I expected for this season and if they are able to fix some of the issues they still have they will be hard for anyone to beat.

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