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Notre Dame Football: Three Things We Saw Against Stanford

Swan songs on the Farm

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish let things get stupid for about a quarter and a half out in Palo Alto before settling down and running over the Stanford Cardinal in a 56-23 win. The upset bid devolved quickly for the Cardinal as they were helpless to stop Audric Estime and a vicious Notre Dame running attack from having an absolute romp out on the Farm, which is the inspiration for our last regular-season song of the week:

It felt like Notre Dame could have topped 80 points in this one if they simply avoided turnovers, but as it was a profoundly flawed effort still produced a 33-point win. The Irish now await bowl selection, which is likely to yield a rematch with old pal Brian Kelly and his LSU Tigers. In the meantime, they can enjoy having secured the last of their rivalry trophies and restored balance to the Force after last year’s bizarre home loss to the Cardinal. Let’s talk about three things that helped make that happen.

AUDRIC ESTIME

No discussion of this game would be complete without genuflection toward Notre Dame’s lead back, who was completely unstoppable and seized control of the game practically single-handed. On his way to a career-high mark only 24 yards shy of Julius Jones’ single-game rushing record, Estime repeatedly brushed off significant contact like he was swatting flies (when he wasn’t running through tractor-sized holes - more on that later). One of the most important benefits of veteran leadership in college football is the ability to keep calm and punch back when things are going wrong. Sam Hartman was supposed to be the one delivering that this season and did at many points in other games, but in this game it was his backfield mate who continuously restored order amid chaos.

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

We don’t yet know what Estime’s plans are for after this game; he will almost certainly go to the NFL draft, while his decision in Notre Dame’s bowl game is less obvious. If this was in fact his last game in an Irish uniform, then returning a rivalry trophy to South Bend with one of the most dominant individual performances in program history is quite the final statement. Irish fans should salute it proudly.

Young Offensive Linemen Seize the Moment

Supporting Estime in his prolific night was a punishing effort from Notre Dame’s offensive line, who routinely drove their opponents in Cardinal into the dirt or far downfield. Beyond Estime’s performance, other Irish backs added another 143 yards to total 381 on the day, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and an incredible 11.7 yards on first-down carries. They provided plenty of time for Hartman to make...decisions through the air, some good and some bad. When they weren’t turning the ball over, the Irish did whatever they wanted.

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

What was noteworthy about this performance - which was itself to be expected against the likes of Stanford - was that it occurred with the Irish starting a pair of redshirt freshmen at center and right guard in Ashton Craig and Billy Schrauth, both of whom were starting their second games after injuries to Zeke Correll and Rocco Spindler. That the Irish saw almost no drop-off from those injuries is a testament to the depth Notre Dame has in the trenches, which is always a reason for hope moving forward even if other positions on the offense remain uncertain.

The Need for Offensive Coaching Changes Remains Apparent

We’re going to stay on the offensive side of the ball for all three things today, in large part because the performance of the Irish defense was as consistent and solid as it has been all season and there is little left to say about it. That kind of consistency is exactly what the Irish offense missed throughout the season and missed again in this game. In a game where their opponent had almost no chance of stopping them on the field, the Irish nonetheless kept the game competitive by giving the ball away time and again. If this had happened against a team with a pulse on either side of the ball, the Irish likely would have gone into halftime down multiple possessions and, given what we’ve seen in prior weeks, lost. This is not a problem of ability from the offense - this was a problem of discipline and energy, and those point directly back to coaching.

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Notre Dame fans can point to improved talent at skill positions in upcoming recruiting classes and hope for a better passing game to come in future years, but if Gerad Parker, Gino Giudugli and Chansi Stuckey can’t coach those players to consistency week in and week out, they aren’t going to deliver the results that we are hoping for. They aren’t going to become the kind of team that effortlessly cleans up against the Stanfords of the world and delivers in big-time moments if they can’t be coached to that kind of consistency. If the Irish are serious about becoming that team, they should not be shying away from making some difficult decisions this offseason.