In a press conference leading up to this evening's matchup with the Irish, Stanford coach David Shaw referenced the Irish victory last season, saying that the Cardinal made too many mistakes in the loss to the Irish in order to win.
Tonight, the Cardinal did make some mistakes, but Notre Dame was unable to capitalize as the Cardinal topped the Irish 27-20 in Palo Alto.
Stanford Running Back Tyler Gaffney gashed the Irish defense for 189 yards and a score in a game where the Cardinal didn't really have to anything extreme offensively. Cardinal Running Back Anthony Wilkerson added 34 yards and a score on 5 carries, as the two combined to average over 5 yards a carry on the ground.
The Irish defense was able to force a couple turnovers as Hogan threw interceptions to Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth, but the offense couldn't capitalize on them.
Notre Dame actually started the game with an impressive drive with a mix of passes and runs, resulting in a Kyle Brindza field goal, but the defense, already thin with the loss of Louis Nix and the suspensions of Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate, was pushed around all night starting with Stanford's first drive.
Rees, who finished the night 16-34 for 199 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, looked both polished and erratic during the game. Rees made several impressive throws on a deep-out play that the Irish used early on and a circus-catch play to TE Troy Niklas but also threw two costly interceptions when the Irish had a chance to tie the game up.
The Irish actually controlled the time of possession in the first half but Stanford took over in the second half, taking advantage of the Irish defense's lack of depth in the secondary.
The Irish finish the season at 8-4 and Stanford at 10-2 with a PAC-12 Championship matchup against Arizona State looming.
Some thoughts below:
Despite Stanford dominating the stats, Notre Dame was still in the game: While the game result was about what I expected (I actually thought it'd be worse), Stanford left the door open all night for Notre Dame to capitalize and they were unable to do so. The Irish got the ball twice late in the 4th quarter after rare defensive stops (one an interception and one a punt) but both times the Irish gave the ball right back. DaVaris Daniels (5-79-1) and TJ Jones (6-56-1) and Troy Niklas (2-24) made plays that put the Irish in contention to win, but frustratingly, Rees tossed costly picks to the Cardinal Defense. The Cardinal dominated yardage and time of possession, but make no mistake though: The Irish could have very well won this football game.
The Passing Game Was Erratic: As I wrote above, Tommy made some great throws tonight. He was quick on the WR screen passes and made a couple nice throws to Jones, Daniels, Niklas and Corey Robinson. However, there were multiple occasions that Rees would throw back-shoulder passes where the receivers seemed to be expecting throws inside-shoulder. I'm not sure if they were partly audible-related or if it was a scheme-based issue but regardless, Rees seemed off with some of his receivers.
Turnovers Have Cost Us In Our Four Losses: In every loss this season, the Irish have been in contention to win, but have put themselves so much in a hole with costly turnovers. Tonight was no different. The Irish had the chance to win, but tossed two interceptions. Against Michigan, costly picks resulted in Michigan points. Against Oklahoma, the Irish spotted the Sooners 14 points with turnovers. Against Pittsburgh, the Irish took points off the board with turnovers. It seems to be a constant this season that hopefully the offense will work on in the lead up to the bowl game and into the spring.
Bravo Kickers and Punters. Boo Coverage.: Kyle Brindza made both of his field goals tonight, and both Brindza and Alex Wulfeck were solid in the punting game tonight. Wulfeck's lone punt was downed deep in the Stanford zone and Brindza averaged over 40 yards per kick. However, the Irish gave up an average of 31.8 yards per return, including one that would result in the go-ahead score for the Cardinal. I'll leave it to our special teams blogger to go more in-depth on this, but while our kickers seemed to do a decent job scoring points, our coverage games were severely lacking.
Onward to the bowl game! What are your picks?