Will the Irish Crack the Top 10?

In a business-like performance, the Irish methodically dissected the Stanford defense on Saturday. It just took a little time. Notre Dame now moves to 5-1 on the season with a very important off week this week. The question is: How good is Notre Dame?

The Irish were a 30-plus point favorites heading into their game against Stanford on Saturday, yet they only scored 31 while allowing 10 to the cardinal. Did the Irish disappoint on Saturday?

I don't think so. I think Stanford had an excellent game plan to slow down the Irish. While most teams have been blitzing the heck out of Brady Quinn and Notre Dame's offensive line, the Cardinal decided to drop eight in coverage most of the day, limiting the big plays Irish fans are accustomed to seeing on Saturdays.

In fact, the Irish had just three plays in the passing game that resulted in 16 yards or more. Stanford forced the Irish to drive the field on a number of occasions, including a 17-play drive, and drives of nine, six, 10 and 12 plays as well to score on Saturday.

Stanford did a nice job of keeping the play in front of them, and the Irish had to be efficient in order to score. For the most part, they were efficient on Saturday and did what they had to do.

Was it pretty? Not always, but it was efficient. The Irish didn't play well early on offense other than their first drive and last drive of the first half, but they came out and dominated the second half on both sides of the line of scrimmage and looked like the team that many thought we'd see on Saturday.

But the question remains. How good is Notre Dame? Do they deserve to be a top 10 team? Are the Irish better than a two-loss LSU? Are they better than an one-loss Auburn? Are they better than an one-loss Oregon? How about an one-loss Georgia?

In my opinion, yes they are. While the Irish don't always look pretty, one thing I do know about this team, they'll rise to the level of their competition. Notre Dame's defense hasn't been outstanding, but I think each of those teams mentioned above have just as many or more holes than Notre Dame. And I'm quite sure none have played the type of schedule the Irish have at this point.

The good news for the Irish is they'll get an off week to heal and get ready for their "second season." I don't care who you are, if you're missing three starters to injury, that's going to hurt, especially when you're as thin on depth as the Irish.

Game Balls

Brady Quinn: Quinn played an excellent game on Saturday. His stats weren't overly impressive, 27-of-38, 232 yards and three touchdowns, but it's what he didn't do that impressed me. It has to be very frustrating for any quarterback to have to continue to check down to the short routes, especially all game. Stanford forced Quinn to do that almost the entire game. What you didn't see is Quinn become impatient and try to force the ball into places he shouldn't be throwing. I was quite impressed with how patient he was on Saturday.

Ashley McConnell: Darius Walker doesn't rush for 153 yards on Saturday if McConnell doesn't make some big lead blocks. He did a nice job and has stepped up when called upon.

The defensive line: Stanford was able to run the football a little more than I'd like in the first half, but the Irish defensive line turned it loose in the second half and played outstanding. Victor Abiamiri, Trevor Laws and Derek Landri spent what seemed to be the entire second half in the Stanford backfield.

Irish offensive line: Special recognition to Ryan Harris, who has looked outstanding in the running game the past two weeks. We've always known that he was a good pass blocker, but he's opened some massive holes (with the help of his linemates) the past two weeks. Bob Morton also had an impressive game. I was frustrated with the first half play, but they absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half.

Darius Walker: It's funny how good Walker can look when given some running lanes. I know the James Aldridge performance on Saturday (and he played very well) will bring some calls for the freshman to see more time, but Walker is such a big part of the Notre Dame offense, and he's really played outstanding the past two weeks.

Final Thoughts

The Irish should have plenty of opportunities to impress over the next few weeks, but I doubt anyone will notice or care in the national media. I think Irish fans better prepare themselves for what's likely coming in the next few weeks.

The Irish will continue to win and they'll be given very little credit for it…..in both the national media, and more importantly, in the rankings. I bet it starts today. If the Irish want to get into the top five, they'll have to start playing like a top five team. They haven't played that way all year in my opinion, but I do see an improving team.

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