clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

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

Let’s talk about that nice BYU win and look ahead to a home match-up against that REELING squad from Palo Alto

Alrighty, let’s see here — I’ve got my mug of coffee in-hand, I’m wearing my cozy slippers, and I’m completely green with envy at my girlfriend not having to work today because her company gives them Indigenous People’s Day off, while I’m over here SLAVING AWAY for the good of W.I.N.

I’ve got everything I need, time to go ahead and dive into the week with my weekly project call!!!

*presses “Join Call” button*

Hello, everybody! How’s your Monday coming along? Anybody do anything exciting over the weekend?

Oh very nice, that sounds relaxing. Yeah I didn’t do much either, caught up on some chores and some TV shows, watched the game with some buddies, took a nice Sunday morning walk to watch the Chicago Marathon for a bit — yeah it was a good, low-key weekend, for sure.

Well, I think this is everyone for today, I know Adam and Sally are both on PTO this week, so we can go ahead and jump into the deck.

Can you all see my screen?

Huh? Oh, sorry, I forgot to click the “share” button. Mondaze, amiright???

Okay, here we go...

Alright, so it’s officially Stanford week. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish haven’t played a home game in over 3 weeks with the squad attending trade shows in Chapel Hill and Las Vegas over the last few weekends, so it should be a nice little return to the House That Rockne Built in just a few days.

To prep for that, it’s the same basic agenda as always...

And we can hop through the first couple slides, as you all no doubt know what we’re doing with the W.I.N. project at this point.

So, we’ll get started today with Last Week’s Results — let’s talk about the results of the #BusinessTrip we just took to Sin City!

As you can see on the slide, this was a nice weekend for sure, with plenty more to discuss on the positive side than in the Brian Kelly column.

The offensive line continued to improve and perform at a high level, this week keeping a clean score sheet of 0 sacks allowed and 0 QB hurries surrendered to the BYU Cougars defense, while also paving the way for 234 Irish rushing yards and a 5.2 yards per carry average. Hopefully they can keep picking up momentum and refining their collective game to ensure they’re firing on all cylinders when the Clemson Tigers and their elite defensive front come to South Bend.

Tight end Michael Mayer, as I don’t need to tell you, once again asserted himself and put on display why most of us would say he’s the best and most complete tight end in college football, and very likely the best to ever play the position at Tight End U. Georgia’s Brock Bowers is no doubt an incredible athlete and talent as a receiver, but Mayer is essentially on the same level as him there (maybe just a bit slower, but otherwise just as great) and also an excellent blocker, making him the most well-rounded and versatile tight end in the nation. His 11 receptions, 118 yards, and 2 touchdowns put an exclamation mark on the above opinion.

I don’t need to tell you all this, but I’m going to say it anyway: let’s cherish the next 8 games of Irish football, as they are the last we will have to watch Mayer in a gold helmet. It’s been, and will continue to be, an absolute treat to watch him dominate the competition, and we certainly do not deserve him but are quite happy we’ve got him for these 3 years of our lives.

As I mentioned when talked about the offensive line, the running backs had another nice game, with Audric Estime (97 yards on 6.9 yards per carry) and Logan Diggs (93 yards on 5.5 yards per carry) combining for an excellent rushing attack that helped drive the Irish to such a big lead and helped them ice the game in the end.

The other benefactor of the offensive line’s play, of course, is QB Drew Pyne, who continues to look better and better each week and has shown himself to be incredibly efficient and accurate (22-of-28 for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns on the day), and is now starting to make some legitimately beautiful and super fun/creative passes.

One of Pyne’s passes that wasn’t beautiful, though, was this touchdown he threw to sophomore Jayden Thomas, who had himself a great little coming-out party just when the Irish desperately needed another receiver to step up.

He finished with 3 catches for 74 yards and that Moss-esque 30-yard touchdown grab over a Cougar defensive back. If he can give that kind of production to Tommy Rees regularly, the Irish could really be cookin’ with gas considering how well Mayer and the running game look and how Lorenzo Styles Jr. should be able to chip in a bit more than he did last Saturday as well.

Defensively, the entire unit had a solid game, holding BYU to just 6 points until late in the 3rd quarter and picking up a safety with just under 7 minutes to go in the first half. Brandon Joseph had a nice game with 6 tackles, Jack Kiser chipped in brilliantly with 4 tackles and a sack (including combining with Jayson Ademilola to get that safety), TaRiq Bracy reeled in the team’s first interception of the season (on a pass Jaren Hall threw HORRIBLY in the first quarter), and Prince Kollie got some more snaps than usual and picked himself up a sack, flashing some nice speed and aggression.

Also, Jayson Ademilola and Nana Osafo-Mensah combined to make the big stop on 4th down of BYU’s final drive, stonewalling Lopini Katoa for no gain as the Cougars threatened to score with a chance to tie the game.

On the special teams front, Blake Grupe’s perfect day should be noted (2/2 on field goals, 2/2 on extra points), and Jon Sot deserves a shoutout for finally getting a very restful game (only had to punt twice), but still making the most of his action with 2 punts for a 56.5 yard average (one downed inside the 20-yard-line) and also a nice tackle on Hobbs Nyberg’s 42-yard return in the 1st quarter.

Now, despite the overwhelmingly positive game and result, anyone who watched (or who just knows this team) could tell you there is still plenty to improve upon and there were still some major negatives for the Irish on the day. Pyne’s interception wasn’t ideal, even if it got tipped and thus wasn’t necessarily him throwing a bad pass, and the Irish’s failed 4th down conversion in the second quarter and their failed two-point conversion after Thomas’s touchdown catch were certainly not sparkling displays of execution by the offense.

Furthermore, there were one or two drops by ND receivers on passes they should have reeled in, and the big plays the defense surrendered down the stretch that allowed BYU to scrape their way back into the game simply cannot keep happening. The killer instinct needs to arrive for this team prior to match-ups against teams like Clemson or USC or even teams like Syracuse who have offenses capable of scoring some points fast.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Notre Dame Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Also, I’m going to quickly add the departure of DL Jacob Lacey from the program as a negative. He was never the consistent starter-level player of someone like Jayson Ademilola or Howard Cross III, but Lacey was a really good player who had some really nice moments in his career (ND might not have won the Cal game without him), and I hope he finds a starting job and some strong success wherever he ends up after entering the transfer portal.

Overall, though, despite the above negatives, it was really a nice follow-up performance to the UNC win, and the Irish have now strung together a 3-game winning streak to get Marcus Freeman to .500 overall as a coach and to get this season back above .500 with a 3-2 record. That Catholic thing is continuing to work for him...

Okay, now let’s take a very brief look at the scorecard for this week.

I won’t read through each of these items, but just want to give a shout-out to the coaching staff for doing a great job getting some younger guys in against a good opponent (and preparing them well enough to generally succeed in those opportunities — Prince Kollie, Holden Staes, Gabe Rubio, etc.), and then also want to shout-out guys like Drew Pyne, Michael Mayer, Jayden Thomas, Jayson Ademilola and Nana Osafo-Mensah, etc. for stepping up and making lots of big plays on a big stage.

There are some open items that need completing around stepping on opponents’ throats and not giving up big plays in the passing game, but really a nice performance all around from everybody, even me and my friends for the great job we did drinking beer and eating pizza during the game (shout-out to my buddy Prison Mike for hosting us!).

Okay, now let’s recognize the Team Members of the Week, who really put on a show this past Saturday...

I don’t think any of the above will come as a surprise to y’all, so we’ll not spend too much time here and I’ll just extend a huge congratulations and thank you to Michael, Joe, Jarrett, Zeke, Josh, Blake, Jayden, Drew, Jack, Jayson, and Nana for all their great work and dedication to the team in getting us across the finish line last weekend. You all should find a fresh Chipotle gift card in your inboxes come the end of the day!!!

Really quick, let’s speed through my live journal from game day so that we can turn the page and start focusing on preparing for Stanford.

I won’t spend too much time on this slide, but the key highlights are:

  1. Liquor stores need to start stocking more refrigerated options for dark beers, as it’s October now and Pat Rick needs his stouts and porters
  2. Are Hamm’s and PBR actually the same beer? That’s the rumor...
  3. Please help me come up with ND-themed plant names for my friend Prison Mike, who has become quite the plant guy. I’ve got a number of good player-inspired ones on the slide and also just thought of BARKus TREEman, Tommy TREES, Gerad BARKer, ChanSEED Stuckey, Clark TREE, Mike ELMko, and Brandon WimBUSH (lol).
  4. It’s hilarious how stupid Texas A&M’s and Michigan State’s contracts are with their decidedly mediocre coaches

Okay, enough about this past week. Let’s look forward to this Saturday, when the Irish will play host to the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday evening.

I’ll let you study up on the Cardinal on your own time, but just want to call out a few things from this slide:

  1. David Shaw has been absolutely horrible as head coach over the last 4 seasons, currently 12-23 since the beginning of the 2019 season. We all know Stanford isn’t the same as other schools in terms of expectations and hot seats for football coaches, but at what point does the Cardinal AD say “enough is enough” and let Shaw go so that someone else can hopefully turn the program around from this tailspin?
  2. I love that picture of David Shaw and Mikey Mouse so much.
  3. Stanford has never beaten the Young Men’s Institute, Pacific Fleet (they keep popping up — are they another Carlisle, but potentially less problematic??), or 51st Regiment...that’s rough
  4. Stanford’s Wikipedia page for notable alumni/people related to the school is absurdly long and unbelievably tedious to read through, but luckily for you all I spent way too much time scrolling through it so that I could let you know that this list of people either attended or graduated from Stanford at some point: Adam West, the founder of OkCupid and SparkNotes, some famous butterfly farmer, Walter Matthau’s attorney, and Summer Sanders.

Okay, so now that we know a few high-level facts about the Stanford football program and university, what should we know about the names on their roster?

To put it succinctly, it’s a top-heavy roster in terms of name talent, with some truly exceptional monikers like Thunder Keck and Shield Taylor and Kyu Blu Kelly but then not a ton of depth, as the list of names I identified as being “ones I like” didn’t even manage to fill the slide’s typical 36 name slots, whereas for most opponents I have to whittle down a list of 40-60 into those 36 best names.

So knowing that, what else is key to understand about this specific Stanford team? What do they excel at?

As you can see, the short answer is, “not much.”

Stanford, once an annual ranked opponent match-up for the Irish in the late Jim Harbaugh and early David Shaw eras, is instead currently a 1-4 football team. They of course blew out Colgate 41-10 in their season opener, but then have lost the last 4 games since then, dropping a game to USC by two touchdowns before getting blown out by Washington and Oregon and then letting this happen last Saturday against Oregon State:

The Cardinal, as you can imagine, don’t exactly crush it in most statistical categories. They sit currently at 75th in SP+ overall (42nd on offense, 97th on defense), and really their okay offensive rating is essentially driven by QB Tanner McKee and a couple decent receivers they have.

McKee is easily Stanford’s best and most NFL-potential player, having thrown for 1,249 yards, 10 TDs, and 5 INTs while completing 64% of his passes this season. He’s got the Stanford offense currently ranked 46th in passing offense, 47th in yards per attempt, 43rd in passing touchdowns, 41st in passer rating, and 56th in pass attempts per game.

His key targets to know are WRs Michael Wilson (17 receptions, 352 yards, 4 TDs), Elijah Higgins (19 receptions, 215 yards, 1 TD), and Brycen Tremayne (14 receptions, 178 yards, 2 TDs), with Wilson being the most dangerous considering his 20.7 yards-per-catch average and his ability to be a bit of a home run threat for the Cardinal.

If the BYU and UNC games are any indication, he could be the main skill position player capable of doing some damage against the Irish defense.

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

Other names to know amongst the Stanford receivers include TE Benjamin Yurosek (15 receptions, 134 yards), and WRs John Humphreys (8 receptions, 128 yards, 1 TD) and Miudia Reuben (3 receptions for 38 yards, with 2 of those 3 catches going for touchdowns), as well as RBs Casey Filkins (12 catches for 157 yards and a TD) and EJ Smith (8 catches for 63 yards and a TD). It’s good that Filkins and Smith get involved in the passing game, because they certainly don’t do a ton of damage on the ground considering the Stanford offensive line’s struggles.

The Cardinal are 90th in the nation in rushing (138.6 YPG) and 79th in yards per carry (4.08), which explains why they’re also 99th in rushing touchdowns and 92nd in rushing attempts per game. The offensive line, once a major strength of the program, has also allowed 17 sacks and 35 tackles for loss so far this season, good enough for 110th in total sacks allowed, 121st in sacks allowed per game, T-89th in total TFL allowed, and 111th in TFL allowed per game.

It’s actually a bit of a wonder how Filkins and Smith still have somewhat respectable rushing numbers, as Filkins does have 339 yards and 4.1 yards per carry to go along with 3 rushing touchdowns, and Smith — Emmitt’s son — has 206 yards and 3 touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

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

Besides generally not committing penalties (Stanford is 5th in the country in penalties per game and 23rd in penalty yards per game), though, the Cardinal are mediocre-to-bad in just about everything else related to offense. They’re 75th in scoring (29 PPG), 70th in total offense (400.2 YPG), 54th in yards per play (6.01), 119th in plays run, 48th in first downs per game, 76th in 3rd down conversion % (38.7%), 117th in total 3rd down conversions, 83rd in red zone conversion % (80%), 98th in time of possession, and 117th in turnovers lost, with 13 of those already on the season.

On the other side of the ball, Stanford has potentially even less to hang their hats on. They’re pretty good at getting off the field on 3rd down and in the red zone (30th nationally in 3rd down conversion % allowed at 31.8% and 47th in red zone conversion % at 79%), and aggressively mediocre in passing defense (61st, 224.6 YPG), but otherwise they hold the below statistical rankings:

•110th in scoring defense at 32.8 PPG

•110th in total defense at 431.6 YPG

•122nd in YPP allowed at 6.54

•121st in rushing defense at 207 YPG

•126th in YPC allowed at 5.63

•106th in passer rating allowed

•91st in YPA allowed at 7.7

•75th in completion % allowed at 61%

•61st in total sacks at 12, but actually 41st in sacks per game at 2.4 (so I guess that’s decent)

•108th in INT per game at 0.4...Notre Dame is somehow even worse at 123rd

•122nd in forced fumbles with 1 total, or 0.2 per game

•T-74th in opponent first downs per game, 20.8

•101st in total TFL and T-69th in TFL per game with 5.4

•Dead last in turnover margin at -2.2 per game (-11 on the year)

•Tied with Notre Dame for dead last in total turnovers gained (2)

Needless to say, this Cardinal defense is NOT very good at stopping opposing offenses, and especially bad at stopping the run, which should mean the Irish should have no major troubles in tearing them up with the way they’re running the ball right now.

In terms of the names to know on the Stanford defense, LBs Levani Damuni (34 tackles, 2 PD), Ricky Miezan (24 tackles, 2 sacks), and Jacob Mangum-Farrar (22 tackles, 2 PD, 1 FF) are all important guys in the middle, and they combine with guys like DEs David Bailey (20 tackles, 0.5 sacks), Aeneas DiCosmo (14 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 PD), and Stephen Herron (13 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and DL Tobin Phillips (13 tackles, 2.5 sacks) to form the key group in the front seven.

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

Meanwhile, Stanford has some key guys who make some plays at safety, including Kendall Williamson (33 tackles, 1 PD, 1 INT), Patrick Fields (27 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PD), and Jonathan McGill (20 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PD), and also CB Ethan Bonner could be a guy whose name you hear on Saturday, as he’s got 13 tackles and 2 passes defended so far this season.

One final note that’s not on this slide — Stanford’s special teams is actually potentially decent, although probably not in a way that will really move the needle on this or most games. Placekicker Joshua Karty is perfect so far in 2022, having hit 17 of his 17 extra point attempts and making all 4 of his field goals, including 3 of them coming from 40+ yards and his season long being from 53 yards out). The Cardinal’s special teams is ranked 17th in the country in SP+.

Okay, with all the above said, What’s Important Now for this Irish team as they face what should be an extremely destroyable opponent?

This should be a pretty simple week in terms of priorities, in my opinion.

Firstly, the ND defense needs to bring the heat on Tanner McKee early and often. He’s the only reason their offense has had ANY success this season, but he’s been hit a bunch this year and the Stanford offensive line is a sieve in front of him. The Irish can really limit his effectiveness and probably force some turnovers by simply taking advantage of the mismatch up front.

The secondary, meanwhile, needs to focus most of all on keeping WR Michael Wilson in front of them. They’ve had lapses against North Carolina and BYU in terms of letting speedy receivers get behind them for big plays that kept games somewhat close, and thus they HAVE to take a different approach on Saturday and make sure Wilson doesn’t cause any unnecessary headaches for Marcus Freeman. If the DBs can simply keep Wilson in front of them, they shouldn’t have any problems mostly shutting down the Cardinal offensive attack.

Offensively, it’s important for the Irish to run the ball down Stanford’s throats and start early in methodically building a sizable first half lead. The Cardinal defense is horrible against the run and the ND o-line is jelling, and so it’s a no-brainer for Tommy Rees to just gash them over and over again with Estime, Diggs, and Chris Tyree. That plus some well-placed play-action and throws downfield from Pyne to Mayer, Styles, Thomas, etc., and hopefully Notre Dame can have an insurmountable lead heading into halftime or at least by midway through the 3rd quarter.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Notre Dame Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

If they can do that, then it becomes very important for the staff to get as many young guys as possible out there to pick up some game reps. Obviously guys like Benjamin Morrison, Jaden Mickey, Eli Raridon, Holden Staes, etc. will already be on the field, but this is a great opponent for getting Steve Angeli a bunch of reps at QB, getting some passes actually thrown Tobias Merriweather’s way, giving Jaylen Sneed a bunch of snaps alongside Prince Kollie to see the future at linebacker, and giving Rocco Spindler the opportunity to bulldoze some weak Stanford defensive linemen and linebackers.

All of that could truly pay off later in the year and in 2023, as you never know when these guys will need to be called upon in an important moment.

Brigham Young v Notre Dame Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Finally, it’s important that ND wins this turnover battle amongst horrible turnover-inducing teams. The Irish have finally started to get a turnover or two recently, and the defensive line is playing well enough to hopefully force some fumbles or cause some errant/tipped passes that can get picked, so it’s important they do so and play a clean game on the other side so they can use that weakness against Stanford before Stanford uses it against the Irish.

Okay, well that’s everything we had for this week, y’all. Any questions on all of that?

Okay awesome, well per usual I will send out the link to the deck immediately following this call, and please let me know if you have any questions or concerns the rest of this week as we prepare for Saturday night.

Otherwise, thank you for joining the call and I hope you all have an excellent week!

Alright, buh-bye now!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Sweet, well I guess now it’s time to keep working diligently for the rest of the day while trying to not think about how my girlfriend is having herself a relaxing and productive little day off on her long weekend.

What a joy!

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Notre Dame Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports