The Irish left Irish fans very little to complain about after this game. This was a well-coached, well-executed game plan, where the Irish players stirred up memories of past dominating teams, and past dominating players.
Julius Jones rushed 23 times for 218 yards and a touchdown, stirring up memories of many of the best Irish running backs to wear the gold helmet. Jones continues to make his case as the best Irish running back ever, and we don't disagree.
Everyone expected Jones to run well, however, but the play of many other Irish players, and coaching of many Irish coaches, surprised even the loyalist of Irish fans.
First game ball has to go to Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick. Diedrick gave the Cardinal a healthy diet of Jones, but also mixed in some very impressive wrinkles including taking off the training wheels of freshman quarterback Brady Quinn. Quinn unleashed his powerful arm and found Matt Shelton for a 65-yard touchdown in the first half, and Maurice Stovall for a 45-yard touchdown in the second half.
The loosening of the chains on Quinn is the first step in the true maturation of Brady Quinn the quarterback, and Quinn didn't disappoint. Quinn finished the game 8-of-13 for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Quinn's high completion percentage and touchdowns were impressive. But, what impressed us the most was Diedrick's decision to attack the Stanford defense through the air, on deep passes, keeping the Cardinal off-balance. Quinn should only improve from here on out which is fantastic news for Irish fans.
Second game ball has to go to the Irish offensive line. The big boys up front set the tone on the opening drive and never let up. The Irish scored 21 points in the first quarter, and out-gained the Cardinal 210-9 including 106 yards on the ground by Jones alone.
The offensive line was opening up huge running lanes for the Irish backs from the first whistle, a site many Irish fans remember from the glory days. The Irish amassed 320 yards rushing and 512 total yards—numbers not recently associated with the Irish offense.
Third game ball goes to the defense, and defensive coordinator Kent Baer. The Irish defense held the Cardinal to just 20 yards rushing on 35 attempts. The Cardinal did throw for 231 yards with a big chunk coming on the Chris Lewis to Mark Bradford 65-yard touchdown pass in the second half, the only Cardinal score on the evening.
The Irish pass rush was relentless in pursuit of Lewis, and Lewis couldn't find a rhythm in the entire game. Justin Tuck ended the game with 3.5 sacks, giving him13 total on the year, and setting a single-season sack record for Notre Dame.
Fourth game ball goes to the entire team, coaches and players. This team has not quit when many thought they would. Everyone stepped up in this game, coaches, players; we couldn't single out any one player who we thought had a bad game. Irish fans have been hoping for a game like this, I hope all can celebrate in a very impressive victory, regardless of the competition. Admit it, you were grinning from ear to ear after this game.
The Irish certainly are far from a finished product. Notre Dame hasn't played the best of competition during their three-game win streak. Still, we see vast improvement in this Irish team, regardless of the competition. The confidence the Irish are gaining by winning these games will only help them next year.
In the past few weeks, much speculation has come over the speed and the athletic ability of some of the Irish players on the roster. We certainly agree that the Irish need to sign more players with speed and athletic ability to get back to the top of college football. In this game, the Irish looked plenty fast and plenty athletic. Just goes to show that a little execution can take a team a long way.
One game does not make a season, a player, or a coach. This game does bring hope for Irish fans—something all had been searching for. This is merely a step in the right direction, nothing more, nothing less. The good news is the Irish have a chance to end their season on a high note with a victory against Syracuse next week. It's been a long time since the Irish finished a season with a win.