NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Here’s the reality facing Notre Dame today.
The Irish are two losses away from the program’s first losing record since the nadir of the Charlie Weis era. A quarterback billed as a potential No. 1 pick got benched for a guy that later got benched himself. And the defense, which played well enough to get Brian VanGorder fired in September has been a case study in addition by subtraction under Greg Hudson.
Now Notre Dame enters the bye week without answers or a compass to find them.
Here are three takeaways from the 17-10 loss to Stanford as Notre Dame dropped its third straight home game.
Regrets, This Could Be One
Brian Kelly came to his own defense after shuffling quarterbacks against Stanford, benching DeShone Kizer after back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter for Malik Zaire, only to return to Kizer on the potential game-winning drive.
Zaire looked no better than the quarterback who showed up in Austin last month, leading two three-and-outs that sandwiched center Sam Mustipher’s errant snap that led to a Stanford safety. For the season in competitive games (excluding Nevada), Zaire has logged 27 snaps and the Irish offense turned those into 45 yards.
“It just felt like we needed some momentum,” Kelly said. “Malik is a really good quarterback, and I just felt like at that time he would provide that for us. And it takes 11 guys to give you momentum, too. But I just thought he would be a catalyst in that situation. But in no way, shape or form would I regret ever going to Malik Zaire.”
Kizer played one of his worst games of the season, finishing 14-of-26 for 154 yards with two interceptions and taking three sacks, although he added 11 carries for 83 yards rushing and Notre Dame’s only touchdown.
Yet when faced with a fifth chance to lead a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Kizer couldn’t deliver as the Irish flamed out on fourth down at the Stanford 14-yard line. Kizer couldn’t find an open receiver on the play. Does Notre Dame win if Kizer gets maximum reps? That’s impossible to say and it's the same question that was asked at Texas.
Kelly left no doubt Kizer will start against Miami in two weeks. It remains to be seen how his benching, a first since he’s ascended into this starting and starring role, will affect him. Kizer's teammates believe these five losses haven’t dented the quarterback’s confidence.
“I think he stays the same about his business the same way he’s always done it,” said offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey. “That’s the best thing about him. Everybody understands what the pressure of being the Notre Dame quarterback is like.”
Notre Dame did not make Kizer available for postgame interviews, a first in the past two years.
Jarron Jones Delivers
Jarron Jones was credited with just two tackles against Stanford.
He did exponentially more that that.
Jones crushed Stanford’s center on multiple occasions, often walking him straight back into quarterback Ryan Burns. That included an incredible moment midway through the third quarter when Jones scored a single-snap hat trick (sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery) as part of Notre Dame’s best defensive effort this season.
Basically, Jones looked like the defensive tackle who showed up in Tallahassee, Fla., two yeas ago before an MCL injury and broken foot slowed his rise.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Jones said. “I guess everything is starting to fall into place for me personally. But I feel there’s more I need to do.”
Notre Dame finished with a season-high three sacks – Greer Martini posted a couple – as Stanford managed just 296 yards total offense. The three turnovers forced also marked a season-high. The Cardinal managed just one red zone trip while playing without Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey.
Basically, the Irish played their best defense of the season, at least when weather gets removed from the evaluation.
“It’s just small things we gotta fix and when there’s so many small things you don’t know, you lose sight of every small thing that needs to be fixed,” Jones said. “That’s our mindset."
As Brian Kelly navigated the on-field crowd after the game a Stanford strength coach passed in front of him and said something that set off the Irish head coach. Kelly barked at the strength coach, who engaged in a brief, heated conversation before retreating.
Assistant Irish strength coach David Grimes chased down his counterpart across the field to attempt to clear the air.
“Bye-bye,” Kelly said when asked what the Stanford strength coach had said to trigger the reaction.
It’s not clear why a Stanford strength coach would engage Notre Dame’s head coach at all considering those positions are usually of the seen-and-not-heard variety. While the confrontation was equal parts awkward and unnecessary, Kelly seemed set to let it go publicly afterward. With an opportunity to blow up the moment in his postgame press conference, Kelly didn't take it.
Regardless, the moment left a sour taste within a rivalry that’s been respectful during the Kelly-David Shaw matchups.