A quick review today and then it's time to look at a bowl game and the off-season.
Play Call of the Game: 4-Yard TD from Rees to Jones
By golly, we actually did something different near the end zone and it worked! This was a play-action from a 2-man backfield---a formation we almost always run out of---and Rees found Jones wide open in the end zone.
Hopefully this is a major part of the gameplan next year with all sorts of option built into the play-call.
I didn't have a big problem with the gameplan. Kelly got away from the run but only really on the last drive and I'm not too concerned about going so pass heavy while losing with 3:35 left in the game.
All things considered the offense played okay, I thought. The run game was right where I thought it would be in the tough sledding department. Only being able to gain 64 yards on 24 carries (2.7 per rush) shouldn't have surprised anyone and it put the Irish behind the 8-ball for the entire game.
Only 263 total offensive yards doesn't look good at all but it's more than Notre Dame gained in the win over Michigan State. The Irish also averaged 4.5 yards per play which isn't terrible while gaining 19 first downs. There is a lot of room for growth on offense but they put in a solid effort against a very good Stanford defense.
Turning Point: The Second & Final Rees Interception
It's funny as this fateful drive was playing out I chuckled to myself at how slow the offense was moving and how much time was being burned off the clock. There were three and a half minutes left in the game and it took over a minute to move the ball 11 yards prior to the interception.
God bless Tommy Rees but 2 picks on the last two drives while losing by 7 points on each series, just ugh. Just imagine if Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball on each of those final two drives. Coughing it up in these situations is not acceptable but we've come to expect it.
Surprising Stat: 1.6 YPP Differential
I honestly would have believed Stanford out-gained Notre Dame a little more than this. The Cardinal did rack up 261 rushing yards (the most ND has surrendered to a non-service academy that isn't also Alabama since the Denard Show in 2010 against Michigan) but it took Stanford 51 carries to get there which is pretty similar to the production BYU had on the ground 2 weekends ago.
Unheralded Star: Dan Fox
This is back-to-back awards for Fox who has played very well over the final two regular season games. He finished this game with a team-leading 15 tackles and that gives him 24 over the last two games.
I did notice a couple poor run fits that led to nice runs by Stanford, but Fox also filled gaps nicely and made a couple big tackles on the perimeter to prevent big gains.
Missed Opportunity: Failing to Score after Hogan's Second Interception
Notre Dame did take a 3-0 lead in this game but spent the next 3+ quarters trying to grab momentum back from Stanford while chasing a deficit. With over 6 minutes left in the contest the Irish got that big second interception off Hogan and finally had the opportunity to turn the tables and grab some much needed momentum.
A 15-yard run by Folston on first down offered some hope and he followed that up with a 3-yard run to get the Irish in a decent 2nd and 7 situation. We were actually running the ball when losing late in a game!
Then Rees threw a dangerous and inaccurate pass down the seam to Koyack and threw an interception on third down. That was a major missed opportunity.
Flag of the Game: Personal Foul on Carter
The ol' targeting rule reared its ugly head again as Stanford corner Alex Carter came up to make a tackle on Irish tight end Troy Niklas who then slipped on the grass (mmm, tradition) and took a big hit from Carter.
The replay overturned Carter's ejection as he clearly hit Niklas on the right chest.
That is all.
Red Zone TD Success: 50%
The Irish settled for field goals on two early trips to the red zone but were able to score touchdowns on their next two opportunities. The latter two scores were very nice plays but boy they could have used a touchdown on one of those first two red zone attempts.
The defensive line played their hearts out but just couldn't slow down the Stanford running game. That's not all on the line though (Farley misses another tackle) and they needed some help that often wasn't there. The second half seemed better in their effort but that was largely due to holding the Cardinal to 10 yards on 4 carries on their third and second to last drives of the game to give the Irish offense a chance to tie things up.
Otherwise, the Irish gave up runs of 8, 20, 9, 12, 17, 11, 12, and 18 in the second half while surrendering 163 yards at 5.82 per carry taking out the Stanford kneel downs. I don't question the effort at all and the horses just weren't there to make an impact. Also, only notching 2 tackles for loss (Stanford had 5) really hurt the defense's ability to get Stanford into some third and long conversion attempts.
The offensive line did pretty good all things considered. The run effort was poor but that was to be expected and I haven't laid all the blame at their feet the entire season. They did a really good job keeping Stanford from wreaking havoc in the backfield and they gave Rees a lot of time to throw on most of his pass attempts. Same as it ever was.
There were 9 true freshmen listed as playing in this game and that doesn't include DE Isaac Rochell who I have to think saw some snaps given the injuries up front. Does anyone remember seeing him on the field?
Jaylon Smith made 5 tackles, James Onwualu actually started at receiver blocked well and made a tackle on special teams, Butler, Luke, and Redfield saw action, Steve Elmer came in at right guard after Hanratty slid over to left guard following Watt's injury, Will Fuller had a couple targets in the pass game, Folston gained 50 yards on the day, and Corey Robinson had 2 catches for 29 yards.
I really liked the effort in this game and I'm surprised the Irish were able to cover the spread and what's more I was even more surprised they were able to make this a very competitive game right down to their last possession. Going 8-4 is always going to be disappointing but in a macro program sense I'm very encouraged by the amount of fight the team played with all season.