Learning From Notre Dame: Grading The Keys

The Bootleg laid out four keys to victory for Stanford in South Bend. Here, we grade how well the Cardinal performed these tasks in their 20-13 overtime loss.

Key No. 1: Don't shy away from Notre Dame's strengths
Their determination was noteworthy, but Stanford took this key too far. The Cardinal were excessively cute with their offensive strategy at Washington, never firmly establishing the run that had led them to record-setting victory the year prior. So, the fear entering the match-up with Notre Dame's vaunted front seven was that David Shaw's imposing squad would again cower away from its blue-collar identity. After all, the Irish trio of 300-plus pound defensive linemen backed by Heisman candidate Manti Te'o at linebacker presented Stanford's hogs with their first even physical match of the season.

In a 180-degree reversal from Seattle, the Farm Boys' gameplan was adequately fearless. But it was also destructively obtuse. Stanford knifed at the heart of the beast, pounding between the tackles nearly 40 times. Stepfan Taylor's 28 carries for 102 yards reflected smashmouth, physical success in the teeth of Te'o and his friends, but the Cardinal's final demise on downs at the goal line was precipitated by overcommitment to the inside run. Knowing power was coming, Notre Dame blew it up in the backfield (and reaped the benefits of a blown call) to seal the win.

Perhaps I should have worded this key more specifically last week: while it was essential that Stanford not back away from Notre Dame's strength on defense, it was equally important for the Cardinal to avoid a stubborn muscle-flexing competition while abandoning change-of-pace ingenuity. At least one more play-action pass or creatively designed outside run could have brought the balance needed to tip the scales in Stanford's favor.

Grade: C (the Cardinal brought smashmouth cruelty, but they forgot to mix in necessary creativity)

Use Kelsey Young
In Young, Pep Hamilton has a speedster who has flashed massive potential to stretch defenses laterally. With Ty Montgomery injured, the sophomore was the fastest Stanford player on the field against Notre Dame, only one week removed from a blazing 55-yard fly sweep touchdown. He was just what the doctor ordered against an Irish defense that could use some loosening.

But the Cardinal hardly turned to their still-secret weapon. Young rushed only two times for 13 yards. He also hauled in an 11-yard reception, but was never called upon to sprint to the outside in a way that seems to best suit his speedy talent. Through half the season, the Todd Gerhart-led Norco High School product has run only five times - for 88 yards. Despite that 17.6 yard per carry average, Stanford is reluctant to use him.

Perhaps an early Big Game is fitting since Cal has its own version of underutilized electrifying speed, Brendan Bigelow. The battle of secret weapons - if they are finally properly used - could determine the winner of the rivalry match-up.

Grade: F (two Kelsey Young carries in another zero-touchdown offensive effort is head-scratching, to say the least)

Keep Everett Golson in the pocket
For three quarters, Stanford's defense was phenomenal. But due to offensive incompetence, the D is having to sprint the first mile of a marathon. They're completely gassed by the end of games. Last Saturday, that fatigue left them vulnerable to Golson (at this point, an average quarterback at best) and Tommy Rees' surprising accuracy late (4-for-4, 58 yards). A 12-play, 79-yard drive pummeled the Cardinal down the stretch.

While Golson was constrained early on, the Cardinal front seven kept him contained and teed off. Ben Gardner snapped the quarterback in half to set up Chase Thomas' touchdown fumble recovery. That set a tone that wouldn't be broken until Stanford tired in the fourth quarter. Even while fatigued, though, the Cardinal maintained a good containment effort until a curious James Vaughters blitz on 3rd-and-18 set the table for Golson's equalizing touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert, a phenomenal catch in double coverage that could have been triple coverage if not for Stanford's over-aggression.

Golson finished with 67 positive rushing yards, a solid effort. By no means, though, should it have been a winning one. He was injured on a play that drew the game's key penalty, a controversial 15-yard flag against Usua Amanam. Rees handled the rest, finding another schematic hole: Thomas, whose strength is on the defensive interior, was caught in a mismatch against the explosive Theo Riddick downfield on third and eight in overtime. The resulting 16-yard lob pass crippled the Cardinal.

Grade: B (the defense made mistakes, to be sure, but they limited Golson and outscored the offense, so the blame can't be levied on them)

Jordan Williamson
As predicted, field goal kicking helped determine the outcome of this one. Just one more successful boot would have avoided overtime altogether. After a high snap, Stephon Tuitt blocked Williamson's 25-yard attempt in the second quarter. The kicker made some amends by nailing a career-long 48-yarder in the rain to end the first half, but that missed early opportunity is one of many chances that will haunt the Cardinal. Williamson, by the way, is now 9-for-14 on the season.

Grade: D (high snap or low snap, your fault or not, a 25-yarder must split the uprights in a defensive battle)

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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