Brian Kelly got his signature win. In the first meeting of top ten teams at Notre Dame Stadium since Moses wore short pants, he orchestrated a performance of Wagnerian depth, one that left half-man half-hot dog David Shaw dumbfounded. The final score, 38-17, did not reflect just how comprehensive was The Irish triumph.
Football is often referred to as “a game of two halves.” To Stanford’s detriment, Notre Dame took their second half away. Consider these tidbits: Stanford ran just seven plays in the game’s fourth quarter, gained just 31 yards in the half, managed 1.6 yards per play, and scored just three points. Stanford ran just 55 plays in the entire game. For an Irish squad rightly criticized for not finishing, Notre Dame combined a suffocating, vicious defense with fourteen fourth quarter points. Stanford never had a chance.
Along with the Legends trophy, Stanford left Bryce Love’s Heisman hopes in South Bend. Aside from a first quarter touchdown romp of thirty-nine yards, Love was neutered by Clark Lea’s charges and held to just 73 yards on 17 carries. Notre Dame exploited Stanford’s shaky offensive line to the tune of five sacks, of which Jerry Tillery collected four, and nine tackles-for-loss.
The Irish defense, the team’s consistent strength throughout the first five games, elevated itself. Tillery’s performance was singular, equaling the individual game performances of former greats and Nyles Morgan’s entire 2016 sack production. Speaking of 2016, this year’s defense is one sack shy of equaling that season’s tally of fourteen.
On offense, Ian Book conducted a vivisection of Stanford’s defense. Dexter Williams returned to the field and took his first touch to the house. He would carry the ball 21 times for 161 yards and one score. The Irish ran for a total of 272 yards. Through the air, Book was 24 for 33, four touchdowns, and 278 yards. Miles Boykin caught 11 of those passes, one for a score, thereby proving the old football adage that “you should probably cover Miles Boykin.” Nine other receivers caught balls as Book showed a great ability to extend plays with his feet to allow his guys to find the open spaces — even if those spaces existed for mere breaths of time.
All of the rivalry trophies are now belong to us. That, in itself, is an accomplishment but one that now seems not enough, given this team’s potential. Of the five wins, three (Michigan, Wake Forest, Stanford) are noteworthy. Michigan, a team now ranked fifteenth in the country, fell to Brandon Wimbush’s best performance. Wake Forest allowed Notre Dame and Ian Book complete access to the playbook and let Irish fans experience a runaway win for once. Stanford put Notre Dame squarely in the post season conversation. Ranked sixth in the AP poll, an upward move of two spots, and with games against Virginia Tech and Syracuse looming as the most difficult remaining, an undefeated season is, on paper, a statistical likelihood. Performances like those on Saturday against Stanford should make Notre Dame a lock on the playoffs.