Notre Dame held Stanford to a field goal midway through the fourth quarter – not Saturday’s fourth quarter, mind you, not when the lone Cardinal visit inside the Irish 20-yard line resulted in the fait accompli go-ahead touchdown, 17-10 lead that held as the final margin.
And not last season either, not when all five Stanford drives to the Notre Dame red zone resulted in touchdowns, officially knocking Brian Kelly’s squad from playoff contention. And not in 2014, either, when both Cardinal trips inside the Irish red zone resulted in touchdowns scored including a short-lived, late-game go-ahead.
I’m referencing November 2013, a 27-20 win by Stanford, a game and a fourth quarter that marks the last time the Cardinal rolled through the Irish 20-yard line and came away with anything other than seven (or eight) points.
The moral of this story? Stanford finishes.
Notre Dame, especially the current crew, try as they might, simply cannot.
Over the last four seasons – three Stanford wins decided by seven points or fewer among them – the Cardinal offense combined to produce the following zone: 13 red zone trips 11 touchdowns.
In that same span, Notre Dame’s offense charged into the Cardinal red zone 15 times and scored just six touchdowns.
3rd AND FOR THE WIN, AGAIN
Saturday night’s loss dropped the Kelly-led Irish to 2-5 vs. Stanford in his seven seasons at the helm. In those seven losses, the winning team likewise won the day on third down, with the Cardinal yesterday punctuating the fool-proof statistical measure by converting 7-of-12 chances in a 17-10 win.
Conversely, Notre Dame made good on just 5-of-14 – and 7-of-18 if you include fourth-down opportunities – with no misses more damaging than the third down spike and fourth down sack suffered to conclude the contest.
After taking a sack on second down – a crucial mental error by quarterback DeShone Kizer – Notre Dame elected to spike the football rather than take two shots, in 12 seconds, at the end zone.
Though it naturally takes less time to spike a football than it does to throw a fade pattern 12 to 15 yards downfield (into the end zone), the offense nonetheless had a dozen seconds to execute two pass plays…and it could take up to 10, even 11 seconds to finish off the first snap of the potential pair.
Said Kelly when asked if the offense has a signal to throw a fade route in an attempt to score rather than spike the football with time running out on third down, “We felt like we had a play. The next play was what we wanted (fourth down). We had a fade on, so we got to the play that we wanted.”
It was a telling answer, one as nonsensical as the result of the ensuing fourth down fade call – another sack suffered by Kizer, ending the contest with a whimper.
SENIORS STEP UP
Lost in Saturday’s defeat was an outstanding effort by Notre Dame’s starting seniors, the group charged with leading Kelly’s Irish out of the current abyss.
An examination across scrimmage shows the following:
- Nose tackle Jarron Jones: Two tackles including a sack, forced fumble, and fumble recovery plus two unofficial QB pressures.
- Sam linebacker James Onwualu: Five tackles including one tackle for no gain on third down, a career-high three passes defended including one on third down, plus another coverage win on third, plus a forced fumble.
- Cornerback Cole Luke: Four tackles including one short of the first down marker, an interception inside the Irish red zone, and a coverage win just outside the red zone. Luke also had a strip-score overturned by a dubious “forward-progress” whistle in the second quarter.
- Running Back Tarean Folston: In his first action since suffering a sprained ankle prior to the Syracuse contest on Oct. 1, Folston rushed eight times for 49 yards (a 6.1 average) while producing a team-high four Irish first downs – one on third down (via the pass) and one on fourth-and-short.
- Wide Receiver Torri Hunter, Jr.: Produced a game-high 70 receiving yards on just four receptions, gaining first downs on grabs of 33 (on third down), 20 (likewise) and 11 yards.
- Defensive End Isaac Rochell: Two of his three tackles resulted in Stuffs (including one for lost yardage) to go with a quarterback pressure.