The Irish got off to a bad start, turned it around in the second half, but it just wasn't enough.
There was a lot of negatives to take away, but also some positives as well.
Mouth of the South has handed out some feathers and black eyes, and here are unit grades from the last game of the regular season.
Offensive Line: D
Easily the worst performance of the year for the line and quite possibly the worst effort of the entire Kelly era as well. Only some second half success with Hendrix prevents the big boys up front from being given a dreaded grade of F.
Giving up 5 sacks and 5 quarterback hurries (officially it was 5---it had to be close to 15) is just pathetic for a line as talented as Notre Dame's.
Clearly the loss of Braxston Cave took its toll on this unit, as Mike Golic was exposed last night as a very average linemen. Yet, even the best linemen on the team were flat out abused in certain moments.
Tip of the cap to Stanford for being a bunch of beasts though, because that was the most ferocious line play the team has seen all year. Now the Irish need to turn in a good performance in the bowl game to rid themselves of this stink bomb.
Tight End: B-
Tyler Eifert caught 4 balls for 79 yards (now the single season leader in receptions for a tight end) and played a strong game as a pass catcher. His drop for a sure first down was a momentum killer in the second half though. Ben Koyack also pretty much whiffed on a block that led to the Rees fumble.
Wide Receiver: C+
It was another chapter in the same story---Floyd gets his numbers and plays well and you don't even notice Notre Dame's other receivers. Floyd now has the single season record for receptions overtaking Golden Tate.
With a somewhat controversial non-catch, Robby Toma was held without a reception. FC Goodman caught one quick out on the day, while TJ Jones caught one screen and slipped and fell before making the first down.
With better protection the receivers could have had more balls thrown their way, but I doubt much would have changed other than Floyd and Eifert upping their totals. Developing the young receivers next year has to be a HUGE priority for this coaching staff.
Running Back: C-
A lot of the blame here falls on the offensive line and an awful playing surface, but little production results in poor grades around here.
I actually thought Cierre Wood played really hard but just wasn't getting any help. His numbers (12 carries for 41 yards) were not good, but I've really liked his toughness this year.
Riddick caught two passes that racked up a lot of yardage, but I thought his play at running back was less than stellar. Of course it wasn't a great game to make the switch, but 6 yards on 4 carries won't cut it.
Did Riddick look more natural at running back, or was it the fact that he's a playmaker who was having the ball handed off to him instead of trying to run routes and get open? I'm pretty sure he'll go back to receiver next year.
Thanks for Andrew Hendrix, this grade is salvageable.
Deep down, didn't most of us kind of feel that this type of game was coming for Rees---that it was only a matter of time? Didn't some of us wonder out loud what he could bring to the team if the protection was bad and the running game was shut down?
Well now we know.
I won't go as far as to say that this was the end for Rees as the starter, but this seemed to be a major eye-opener for many people---and that likely includes the coaching staff.
And that is because Hendrix came in and played well, and even very well given his lack of experience and the situation he was thrown into.
Make no mistake about it---Rees struggled mightily and was outplayed by an inexperienced Hendrix. This was the perfect storm for finally going to another option at quarterback as there had been a mystery as to what the Irish truly had behind Rees.
Now the picture is a little clearer.
Defensive Line: B
The D-line put in a good effort, but they simply couldn't stay alive in the face of the grinding Stanford offense.
They were stout against the run at times, but also let some big gashes go by. The pressure was decent, but they could only do so much with a mobile Luck in the pocket.
196 yards given up on the ground can't be considered a great game, but Louis Nix seems to get better and better and I like that.
An average day all around for the linebackers---making some plays in the backfield but also failing at their block destruction duties and letting Stanford run with success.
Te'o played well and the Fleming interception was a big play, but I've got nothing else to say about this group.
Luck only completed 8 balls for 90 yards to receivers, but the Irish secondary made two or three errors and a few dumb penalties that killed the defensive effort.
Blanton was dragged into the endzone on one score, and made the wrong decision on another touchdown, while Motta got turned around and slipped on a third touchdown.
You have to make big plays in games like this and that didn't happen.
Special Teams: C
Ruffer's missed field goal really took the wind out of the team's sails. With the field conditions as they were you couldn't expect a whole lot from this unit.
At least the Irish tried to block a punt and Stanford missed a field goal too!
To be honest, I kind of saw this loss coming and I'm sort of thankful that it happened in the manner in which it did.
As I already mentioned, many saw Rees eventually hitting a brick wall and this was that game.
If Notre Dame was going to lose a big game like this it at least feels a little better that the defense hung in there when the game could have gotten out of hand and Andrew Hendrix came in and showed the world a lot more than just his talent and potential.
It's now pretty important for the offensive line to have a really good game in the bowl, so they better refocus and make sure that they do so.
So will Kelly move on to Hendrix for the bowl game and is the Rees-era over?
I will say this...
I don't want to just come out and say that Kelly has mismanaged the quarterbacks, although I think he has to some degree. The bigger problems is that he was handed a crappy situation last year and now has a roster of talented quarterbacks that will be hard to manage for any coach in the country.
Now that the Irish finish the season 8-4 and it looks like Hendrix has a good shot of starting the bowl game it seemed really dumb to not play Hendrix a lot more throughout the previous 11 games.
Now seems like a good time to start building the full spread offense---quarterbacks running the ball and a no-huddle fast-paced offense being of paramount importance now.
For two full years Kelly and the Irish have been running a spread offense in handcuffs. I think we're fast approaching the time when it's time to take them off.