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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Stanford Week

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Last weekend was fun as hell. Let’s do it again over the holiday weekend and really gorge ourselves on a delicious blowout win!

Wow, I honestly cannot believe it’s already time for our 12th week of this project’s weekly meetings.

It seems like just yesterday I was assigning red scorecard circles to the offensive line, the defense, Brian Kelly’s joke delivery, etc. after that wild Week 1 win over Florida State.

We’ve gone through a lot of slides and a lot of bad fantastic Microsoft Paint photoshops and more than enough research into the Notable Alumni sections of various academic institutions.

Despite the fact I’m tired as hell from the weekly grind on this W.I.N. project, it’s been a ton of fun. I’m actually almost — ALMOST — looking forward to hopping on today’s call and seeing all those faces (or non-faces for those who just refuse to go on camera) looking back at me, ready to review last week and attack the upcoming one (which is a short one thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday, so HECK YEAH to that).

I’ve got my coffee, I’ve already gone through some of my morning emails, and I’ve got Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa’s fumble return playing on loop on another monitor. Let’s do this.

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Helloooooo everybody!!! How’s everyone doing today?

I’m doing great, thanks for asking! Yeah I had a really nice weekend that involved a birthday dinner for my friend Prison Mike and a delicious and wine-heavy “Framsgiving” friendsgiving celebration with my girlfriend and her friends from law school, along with watching my favorite football teams absolutely slaughter their opponents (G’Irish, Go Colts, Jonathan Taylor is the GOAT).

Does anybody have big plans for Thanksgiving? Traveling anywhere fun?

Oh, nice Diane! That sounds really fun, I’m jealous you’re going somewhere warm. Not jealous of your travel during this time though, that will be a madhouse.

Yeah I’m just going to Indy to spend the holiday with family, per usual — very much looking forward to a nice, peaceful visit.

Okay, well we’ve already used about 7 minutes talking about the weekend and Thanksgiving, so let’s go ahead and dive into the deck to ensure we get through it all today. Wouldn’t wanna have to schedule a follow-up meeting for Wednesday, amiright???

*polite laughter while all the eyes on the video chat scream “I will kill you if you do that” *

Alright, can everyone see my screen?

Perfect!

The agenda is, if you can believe it, the same as always, so I won’t waste our time on this slide...

And you all are experts in W.I.N. at this point...I bet I could have Gary or Nora present these next two slides and we wouldn’t miss a beat!

So let’s jump right on through those...

Okay awesome, let’s dig into Last Week’s Results, which are HEAVILY positive this week, you guys. It’s so exciting to be able to say that, no matter the opponent.

Let me just start this slide with what’s at the end of it: in terms of negatives for a 55-0 complete dismantling of a Power-5 opponent, I have absolutely NO NOTES.

Yeah, there are probably some small things I could pull out and put on this slide if we want to nitpick, but in the spirit of this week, I was thinking we just take the absolute blowout of the Yellow Jackets and be thankful for how fun it was and how dominant the Irish finally looked against an over-matched opponent.

We’d already started to see shades of that kind of performance against Navy and UVA, but this game made those look like nail-biters. If ND can do something similar against a BAD Stanford squad and then get some help down the stretch in a couple of the conferences, the Irish may actually Drew-Pyne-swagger-walk their way into a College Football Playoff spot — which is mind-blowing if you think about where the team was early in the year, or even after the Cincy/Virginia Tech games.

Okay, so with that said, let’s have a fun little time running through the positives of Saturday.

We have to begin with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, a grad student DL who’s given so much to the program and been such a leader for this squad, and a guy who’s never had a truly signature individual moment like a defensive touchdown despite almost getting one a couple years back against UVA.

So, to see what he was able to do in the second half on that fumble forced by Isaiah Foskey, on his Senior Day and the last time he will play in Notre Dame Stadium, with his late father watching from above, it was enough to fill any football fan’s heart, let alone Notre Dame fans’.

MTA also got his hand on Georgia Tech’s field goal try at the end of the first half, deflecting the kick and securing the shutout for the team. He’s just the best and I’m sure gonna miss watching him play in the blue and gold, you guys. He rules so much.

It was really fun to see a lot of seniors have nice little moments or overall performances during a game that may or may not be their Irish send-off, depending on the guy. Senior Bo Bauer and grad student Isaiah Pryor were 1st and 2nd on the team in tackles on the day, which was cool to see for a couple guys who’ve mostly just been reserve/rotational/special team guys in their Notre Dame careers.

The Irish defensive front accounted for 6 total sacks, with Pryor, Justin Ademilola, and Drew White all being seniors/5th years who contributed to that along with juniors Foskey and Howard Cross III and sophomore Alexander Ehrensberger.

Add in a nice day from senior DB TaRiq Bracy (5 tackles, 2 QB hurries) and Houston Griffith (5 tackles), and it was a lovely Senior Day in which all those guys seemed to have a solid little moment or two.

Georgia Tech v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The offensive line had another very nice day overall, with that senior/grad student right side helping pave the way for 212 rushing yards on 6.4 yards per carry and 3 rushing TDs. And there were 3 sacks for Georgia Tech on the day, but in the grand scheme of a 55-0 victory it’s hard to get too upset over those.

Grad student Jack Coan had himself a lovely little day under center as well, completing 75% of his passes and tossing 0 picks while throwing for nearly 300 yards and a couple touchdowns. Coan’s ride in a gold helmet has been a roller coaster to say the least, but you have to feel good for the guy and what he’s been able to do down the stretch as QB for this team. He seems like a helluva kid, his teammates seem to love him, and he’s looking like he’ll be a starting QB with a final regular season record at ND of 11-1, which is pretty damn great for a transfer QB expected to just be the bridge between Ian Book and Tyler Buchner.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In slinging the ball around against Georgia Tech, Coan found some fellow seniors for nice moments — especially Kevin Austin Jr., who only had 2 catches on the day but made them count, considering they were a 51-yarder and a 38-yarder. It was fun to see senior TE George Takacs get involved with a nice little 19-yard snag, and although he didn’t have a big day, senior Braden Lenzy managed to get himself a reception on Senior Day as well.

Oh, and Jonathan Doerer was perfect on the day with 2 field goals and 5 extra points, and Jay Bramblett’s final punts at Notre Dame Stadium went off without a hitch (Bramblett is apparently planning to graduate after his junior year and grad-transfer to another program, which I guess is why they went out and flipped a Wake Forest commit).

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

And then, of course, there were the non-seniors who came up big. I’ll start with Bellyman, as he seems incredibly likely to declare for the NFL Draft after this season. He didn’t need to have a monster day considering the opponent, and yet he still managed to string together 89 offensive yards (56 rushing on 5.1 ypc, 31 receiving on 4 receptions) and 2 rushing touchdowns on a day where the ball was getting shared to just about everybody and no one was going to put up star numbers.

If this is indeed the last time we get to see Bellyman make defenders look foolish and/or like rag dolls when he stiff-arms them, then I just want to bid the most loving farewell I possibly can to the guy who ended up becoming my favorite Notre Dame football player of all-time. He surpassed Joey Getherall and Vontez Duff and Theo Riddick and Julian Love and Quenton Nelson and just scampered right on into the #1 spot in my heart.

I’ll always love and cherish the two years I got to see you absolutely exceed every expectation we had for you, Bellyman, and I thank you for your leadership, energy, swagger, and just all the joy you brought us. That Clemson 1st quarter TD run, especially, will forever give me goosebumps. Two-season numbers of 2,079 rushing yards and 25 rushing TDs on 5.2 yards per carry, combined with 76 catches for 655 yards and 4 touchdowns receiving, and you still have at least two games remaining. You’re the best, Bellyman, and I can’t wait to see you become a fantasy football star in the NFL.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Bellyman, of course, wasn’t the only non-senior to have a nice game on Saturday. Michael Mayer went the Kevin Austin route and had a nice little 3-catch, 86-yard day that included a 52-yard TD. Logan Diggs continued to impress despite only touching the ball 3 times, as he ran twice for 6 yards and caught one pass but managed to score two touchdowns — one through the air from 20 yards out, and one on the ground.

The young backs on the team didn’t stop there, though. Tyler Buchner didn’t have to do too much on Saturday, but he did manage to break off a 68-yard run, which was awesome. And then freshman Audric Estime, the guy most of us figured would be the more college-ready of the two between him and Diggs, finally got some carries and did not disappoint, rumbling for 61 yards at a 10.2 yards-per-carry clip. The future of the running game is BRIGHT, and that’s without even factoring in at least one more season of Chris Tyree, who was quiet on offense but did manage to open the game with a 51-yard kickoff return.

Defensively, we saw Jack Kiser get his second pick-six of the season after he had a potential fumble return touchdown taken away on a play just before that (he’s now tied for 2nd in the country in pick-sixes, hell yeah). And we saw Isaiah Foskey continue his fantastic year, picking up another sack and a couple forced fumbles to continue to make a case for All-American honors.

I mentioned Cross and Ehrensberger getting in on the sack fun, and also need to mention Clarence Lewis having a nice little day with 6 tackles and 2 passes defended. It was also good to see Prince Kollie get some more PT (5 tackles), Jordan Botelho continue to be in the mix (4 tackles, 1 TFL), and Ramon Henderson play well in his newfound starting safety role (3 tackles).

Overall, it was a really fun game with just about everyone making a play or two to contribute, and it was a lovely sendoff for all the seniors and grad students who won’t or can’t stick around for the 2022 season.

Can’t ask for much more than that on Senior Day, you guys.

Okay, with all that said, let’s take a quick look at the Scorecard for this week.

Lots of this we really already covered, so I mostly just want to say hats off to the team for green circles across the board here. This is the first time this year we’ve had that and I can say from experience on many different projects that it doesn’t happen often. Well done, everybody!!!

One specific shout-out I want to give is to the Coan Zone Guy, who’s been going to ND games dressing up as a traffic cone for weeks, and it all finally paid off when he got to take a photo on the field with Jack Coan and his father, Mike.

You absolutely love to see it.

One other quick shout-out needs to go out to the Oregon Ducks for hearing ND fans’ pleas for them to fall to Utah and providing not only a loss but an embarrassing one at that, absolutely eliminating them from any and all consideration as a playoff team.

Well done, Ducks! Quack quack quack quack quack!!!

Alrighty, let’s quickly move to our favorite slide of this meeting, the Team Members of the Week!!!

We’ve got a number of deserving folks this week, so it’s a busy slide. But I think we can all agree all of these guys deserve the recognition and the Chipotle gift cards coming their way!

Big-time congrats to MTA, Bellyman, Logan/Audric/Tyler, Jack, and those front seven boys who crushed it, Bo/Isaiah/Howard/Jack/Drew/Isaiah. You all performed beautifully against a really bad opponent and I wish you all the best Chipotle bowls you can create!

Okey dokey, now that we’ve thoroughly celebrated such a lovely Senior Day performance, it’s time to turn our attention to the season finale and the final regular season opponent for 2021, the Stanford Cardinal.

Here’s an overview to get us started.

I’ll let you guys read through all this in your spare time, but just wanted to point out a couple things:

  1. Their Wikipedia claims they have no mascot, but we all know they have the stupidest and drunkest and most embarrassing mascot of all-time, whether it’s official or not
  2. They’ve never beaten the Young Men’s Institute, lol
  3. Notable alumni include the inventor of AltaVista, the first person to circumnavigate the globe solo in a balloon, both Ben and Fred Savage, Andre Braugher (plays one of the best TV show characters of all-time, Captain Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and Ulysses S. Grant IV, who is, believe it or not, the grandson of Ulysses S. Grant
  4. That David Shaw picture with Mickey Mouse LMAO
NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, moving right along, let’s check out the key insights we should know about this 3-8 Stanford team.

I think this slide does a really good job of pointing out what Stanford has been good at this year: namely, inexplicably beating Oregon and being pretty good at limiting kickoff returns by their opponents.

Honestly, that’s about it for them. Their offense is 94th in SP+, 111th in scoring (tied with San Jose State at 21 points per game, which ranks juuuuust behind such offensive juggernauts as Bowling Green, UNLV, and Louisiana Monroe), 121st in total offense, 98th in yards per play, 103rd in sacks allowed, and 92nd in tackles for loss allowed.

NCAA Football: California at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

They don’t really do anything well, considering they’re 126th in the country in rushing, 114th in yards per carry, 78th in passing, 96th in yards per attempt, and 93rd in passer rating. QB Tanner McKee is 41st in the country in passing yards, but 71st in passer rating and 76th in yards per attempt, so he’s not exactly efficient or making a lot of big throws for chunks of yardage.

Defensively, it’s pretty much the same story. The Cardinal are 106th in SP+ defensive rating, 97th in scoring defense (31.3 ppg!!!), 109th in total defense (445 yards per game!!!), 112th in yards per play allowed (6.42!!!!), 115th in sacks, 123rd in tackles for loss, and 112th in interceptions. They simply don’t force turnovers (tied for 120th in turnover margin), and are easily one of the worst rushing defenses in the country.

Their rankings in key passing statistics are a bit better, ranking 30th in total passing defense, but that’s mostly just because opponents choose to run all over them instead of passing super often. That can be seen a bit more in their yards per attempt allowed (65th) and passer rating allowed (61st) rankings, which show a not-great pass defense that just doesn’t get tested a lot overall because no one really has to.

The one name to know on the Stanford defense is probably DB Kyu Blu Kelly, who not only has a great name but is also #23 in the country in total passes defended and #14 in passed defended per game. He’s maybe the one person out there for the Cardinal who might intervene on some Jack Coan aerial attacks, but otherwise the Irish should be able to basically do whatever they want again this week.

NCAA Football: Utah at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

One quick note: I mentioned Stanford is good at kick return coverage, and they are also solid in kick returns themselves. RB Nathaniel Peat is 25th in the country in kick return average and 6th in kick return yards per game (which doesn’t say great things about Stanford’s defense and how many TDs they allow to set up those kick returns). Stanford ranks 29th in Special Teams in SP+, so that’s maybe the one facet in the game where they sort of measure up to the Irish.

With all that said, What’s Important Now for the Irish in their season finale? Let’s take a look...

Per usual, we’re not straying too far from what’s been important in the past few weeks. The Irish are playing a team that can’t stop anyone, especially on the ground. So, it’s important that Notre Dame continues to feed the ball to their stable of talented backs and relies on the offensive line that’s now playing much better than earlier in the year. Bellyman, Tyree, Diggs, Buchner, and hopefully Estime again will all have a chance to carve these turkeys up.

Similarly, Coan should have another opportunity for a nice, calm, efficient game where he doesn’t have to make a ton of throws but the ones he makes are for big plays and take advantage of the defense committing to stop the run. The same tempo and passing scheme should perform very well against this Stanford secondary, and Coan should have plenty of time to throw against a Cardinal defense that’s VERY bad at wreaking havoc in the backfield.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Tanner McKee should be pressured by the front seven early and often and the Irish DBs can focus on shutting down a couple okay-but-not-great receivers in TE Benjamin Yurosek (37 receptions, 566 yards, 2 TDs) and WR Elijah Higgins (42 receptions, 491 yards, 4 TDs), and I imagine the Irish will come out of this game with one or two picks and probably a forced fumble or two when Foskey and co. get to McKee, as he’s not a super mobile guy back there.

ND can continue to shut down the opposing run game as well, as Stanford’s backs Nathaniel Peat (401 yards, 5.3 YPC, 3 TDs) and Austin Jones (343 yards, 3.5 YPC, 1 TD) are not talented enough to make lots of guys miss on their own. As long as the Irish focus on wrapping up and not beating themselves with bad fundamentals, they should be able to lock the Cardinal down on the ground.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, just overall: the Irish need to stay hungry for the feeling they got from devouring the Yellow Jackets last week and pursue that feeling again this Thanksgiving weekend. This Stanford squad is bad and is perfectly laid out as a feast for both the ND offense and defense — come with an appetite for making another statement and show the committee that despite playing some bad teams down the stretch, the Irish dismantled them how a potential CFP team should. That’s all BK and his crew can do at this point (as well as hope for some helpful results that eliminate other contenders).

Alright, I know I went through that pretty fast to make sure we got through it all, and we’re basically at time, but does anyone have any questions?

Okay, I will take your silence as a confirmation that I did a fantastic job once again — for the 12th week in a row, in fact!

As always, I will send out a link to this deck for you to reference on your own, and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Otherwise, I hope you all have wonderful Thanksgiving holidays and get to relax a bit, and hopefully we all come back refreshed and ready for the final ~4 weeks of the year to finish 2021 strong!

Alright, thanks everyone and talk to you soon!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

Alright, time to spend the next 3 days daydreaming about mashed potatoes while getting shockingly little done in terms of actual work. Let’s gooooooo.