After a rather sluggish start to the game, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were able to accomplish something that hasn’t been done since 2007 – that being get a win in Palo Alto against Stanford. The Irish came away from Saturday’s matchup as 45-24 victors and capped off their regular season with a 10-2 record. Notre Dame was able to finish with a perfect November record for the second year in a row as well as finish with 10 or more wins for three years running. As we wait for things to shake out to determine which bowl game the Irish will be playing in, let’s take a look at how Notre Dame was able to defeat the Cardinal.
After both the Irish and Cardinal scored on their respective first drives, the Irish offense went back into “sputter mode”, seeming to take a while to get up and going again. This was not the start both offensively or defensively that Notre Dame was looking for. Outside of that first scoring drive, it took a few drives for the offense to put points on the board and for the defense to start to make tackles that were missed during Stanfords first possessions. It was a frustrating start to the contest, but luckily the Irish were able to weather the storm, both literally and figuratively, and regain control of the game. Ian Book finished the came completing 17 of his 30 attempts for 255 yards in the air, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. After all of the complaints and frustration expressed towards Book during the beginning and middle of this year’s campaign, Book somewhat quietly put up some extremely respectable numbers. Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Ian Book are the only two FBS quarterbacks to have over 2,500 passing yards, over 500 rushing yards, and 30 or more passing touchdowns through this point in the season – not too shabby to be in the company with one of college football’s most prolific scoring offenses. The Irish finished with 445 total offensive yards on Saturday, but didn’t have too much luck running between the tackles. Tony Jones Jr. was Notre Dame’s leading rusher totaling 50 yards on 14 carries, but the explosive run plays came from Braden Lenzy and Jafar Armstrong getting outside on sweeps and using their speed. Lenzy finished the game with 48 yards on four carries and Armstrong added another 44 yards on three carries. This game continued to show Lenzy’s dual threat ability in both the pass and run games and foreshadowed what could continue to be a very bright future for him in the upcoming seasons. Book was under relatively significant pressure throughout the game as well, however it was his ability to use his legs, get out of the pocket, and make great decisions that contributed to the Irish taking control of the contest.
It was Clark Lea’s defense that really sealed the deal for Notre Dame, as has been the case in the majority of games during this 2019 season. As mentioned, it took a couple of drives for the defense to really get going; I was disappointed with their numerous missed tackles throughout the first few Cardinal drives, but after giving up 17 points in the first 20 minutes of the game, the Irish defense locked in and completely changed the game’s trajectory. As mentioned, Stanford was up 17-7 when freshman defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey blocked a Cardinal punt, giving the Irish the ball back deep in Stanford territory. That was definitely a momentum shifting play. From that point on, the Irish went on a 38-7 run to close out the game and arrive at their 45-24 victory. From the Foskey punt block through the end of the game, the Notre Dame defense was very impressive. I am still shocked (and thankful) at how well Clark Lea is able to make halftime adjustments and Saturday’s game was no exception to that. The Irish defense only gave up 22 total yards in the third quarter. Having a defense that is so dominant and able to keep opponents in check like that is what has kept Notre Dame in so many of their games. The defense’s play has allowed for the Irish to get off to a slower start offensively and still be in the game thanks to the opponent’s lack of ability to score or move the ball. With Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, another Irish defensive lineman not dressing due to injury on Saturday, the defensive line was still able to ware down the Cardinal offensive line and apply pressure to Stanford quarterback Davis Mills thought the game. This is a great testament to the Irish recruiting as there have been a multitude of injuries to the defensive line and they are still producing at such a high level. Mills finished his night completing 28 of his 46 attempts for 276 yards in the air and two touchdowns, not necessarily a bad performance, but not enough to get past the suffocating Irish defense.
After finding themselves down by 10 points early in the game, the Irish were able to claw their way back and take control of a contest that should never have been that close to begin with. Coach Brian Kelly finally got his first win at Stanford and for the third year in a row, the Irish will finish with 10 wins or better. As so many people have been complaining about this, I think it is very important to take the broad view here and look at the overall trajectory of the program. The fact that some Irish fans are complaining about back-to-back-to-back 10+ win seasons is a good problem to have; it means that the program has continued to elevate itself to a level where this is the new standard. Yes, making it back to the College Football Playoffs would have been fantastic, but taking a look at this season as a whole should not discourage anyone. Is there still room for improvement? Absolutely. But is the program significantly better off than it was before Kelly’s arrival. You bet it is. It was not long ago that Irish fans were dreaming of getting back to double digit wins, so let’s enjoy it while it’s here and continue to build towards an even brighter future. The 2019 season is not over yet though as the Irish (at this point in time) will most likely receive an invitation to the Camping World Bowl in Orlando. Let’s hope the winning ways can continue!