Notre Dame averaged 8.5 yards per carry. And lost. They averaged 9.4 yards per pass attempt. And lost. They outgained Stanford by over 100 yards, scored a special-teams TD, and lost.
For the second time this season, there can be no doubt: Notre Dame handed a game away that they put themselves into prime position to win.
It will sound like sour-grapes whining, but that's just a fact. Notre Dame's complete and total inability to execute and take care of the ball in the red zone cost them the Clemson game, it cost them style points last week against BC, and tonight it cost them whatever tiny chance was left for them to reach the College Football Playoff.
Here we go.
Red Zone, Red Zone, Red Zone
It's the same damn story every week with Notre Dame. It's insane, but until the Irish's final fourth-quarter drive, they had gotten into Stanford territory 3 times, and they had scored 6 points. Six points! When they were at one point averaging 11 yards per play!!! ND's 3 scores all came from over 50 yards away.
It's almost impossible to think that it wasn't in the team's heads, after seeing Amir Carlisle drop a relatively easy pass from DeShone Kizer on one such drive. All due credit to ND for the final drive, which was perfectly handled by coach Kelly (the 4th-down give to Adams was perfectly set up by a series of Kizer draw plays leading up to it - it's incredible how Kelly can do that in such key spots). But the game's fate was sealed in the first half, as it turned out.
I don't know what can be done to fix these issues, nor do I know whether they're endemic to some failing of Kelly or just a statistical oddity. Either way, I'm getting super tired of the same problems being the cause of everything that goes wrong.
That Replay Call
If anyone tries to tell you ND benefited from DeShone Kizer getting a TD run on that last sketchy replay decision, they are lying and chances are they really wanted ND to lose. The Irish offensive line was utterly spectacular all night tonight, and there was about a 0.4% chance ND wasn't scoring from the quarter-yard line, so the replay uphold basically gave Stanford an extra few seconds on their back end. (In what I'm sure is an unrelated story, the replay official is employed by the Pac-12 Conference, and Stanford is the league's only faint hope for a playoff berth this season.)
None of the above is meant as any kind of excuse - as I said above, ND clearly did plenty on their own to lose the game, and there's no reason to allow an opponent to go far enough to get a FG in 25 seconds - I just already was seeing hot takes regarding the call on Twitter and didn't understand why anyone would think ND benefited from it. You have to, in some sense, appreciate the College Football Gods trolling the Irish by having a controversial replay decision at the goal line benefit them on the surface but clearly not benefit them in the larger picture. In a Stanford game, no less.
Yeah, they get their own subhead. Dear lord, the offensive line. 35 carries, 299 yards. 299 yards! Without C.J. Prosise!! Many people could get some blame for this loss, but not those 5 guys.
Josh Adams was great, too. Let's not forget that. 18 carries. 168 yards. Over 9 yards per carry. He's going to be an absolute stud. If Prosise comes back...whoo-wee.
What to do about the defense?
Granted, ND's defense, like its offense, has been decimated by injuries. But come on. The Irish let Kevin Hogan, who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn last year with a pass against ND, dissect them all night. There was nothing resembling consistent pressure, and the tackling (see Michael Rector's TD play) was consistently...eh.
Oh, and one question, which I'll put in Internet-crazy all caps: WHY IS MATTHIAS FARLEY COVERING DEVON CAJUSTE 1 ON 1 IN THE FINAL MINUTE OF THE GAME WHEN CAJUSTE HAS UTTERLY DESTROYED NOTRE DAME ALL NIGHT?
There needs to be a lot of examination of the ND defense in the off-season. If you're going to have an aggressive scheme, it needs to actually reap some benefits of being aggressive...and if you're not forcing any turnovers with your aggressive scheme, maybe it's time for a tweak. We shall see.
Bowl destination probably unchanged
The loss hurts. Let's be real. But in the big picture, ND was going to the same bowl this year no matter what happened tonight, since no one in front of the Irish lost and almost everyone directly behind them got creamed. The only remaining chance for the Irish to reach the playoff at 11-1 was for Florida, possibly the worst 10-win team in Power 5 history, to beat Alabama next week. I'm gonna go ahead and say that isn't happening. The Irish will go to a major bowl since everyone behind them, except Ohio State, pretty much got blasted today.
And in the long run, let's not forget what ND accomplished in 2015. 10 wins with the worst spate of injuries this program has probably ever seen, and they were in the playoff conversation all the way through to their final weekend of games. They were, you could easily argue, the better team on the field in all 12 games and cost themselves 2 games through, hopefully, correctable mistakes. This was a good year. 1 more game to go. Try to shake this one off.