View from the Press Box: Notre Dame

Stanford went into South Bend on Saturday with no external expectation or hope of competing, yet they for a second straight week gave much more fight than anyone expected. The defense and special teams helped with field position and some stops. The offense ran the ball well and came out of the gates firing. This time it was not a matter of turnovers. The offense literally dropped the ball.

Pregame - I'm watching the specialists out on the field ahead of just about anybody.  Since Stanford's placekicking is one of my focal points of obsession this season, my eyes move to a little setup where fifth-year senior (guard and) short snapper Jon Cochran is going to snap to redshirt junior (punter and) holder Jay Ottovegio for redshirt sophomore kicker Aaron Zagory.  The very first time I watch, the kick never gets off as Ottovegio is unable to put down the snapped ball.  Yikes.  That crystallizes Stanford special teams this year.  And I swear that I hear in my head the voice of Stanford Stadium announcer Steve Frost in my head bellow, "It's time for Stanford Football!"

Pregame - Tavita Pritchard is warming up and wearing #10, which he has been wearing in practice.  He is Stanford's third-string quarterback and is taking those warm-up snaps and throws, but he also has added a wide receiver and special teams role.  Fifth-year senior wideout Marcus McCutcheon is healthy and practiced this week for the first time since the preseason; he is out there taking full repetitions with the Stanford receivers.  That reduces the likelihood that Pritchard will be called into pass-catching duty today, but he has played on the kickoff return team as a "hands" front line blocker.  Pritchard cannot wear his normal #14 jersey when redshirt junior cornerback Tim Sims also plays on special teams and dons that same number.

Pregame - This is my fourth time watching the Cardinal and Catholics battle in South Bend, but I never really paid attention previously to the giant flagpole on the field just beyond the corner of the North endzone.  They'll put a pad around that before kickoff, but its unusual proximity to the playing field makes me think of the injury risk.  My very first vision is that if healthy, I would half-expect redshirt junior wide receiver Evan Moore to race toward that corner on some fade pattern and be forced into an awkward collision as he is tackled/pushed out of bounds by a defender.  The poor guy has had everything else happen to him, so why not add a flagpole collision to the injury archive?

Pregame - Stanford's captains today are fifth-year senior safety David Lofton, fifth-year senior guard Josiah Vinson, senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo and fifth-year senior safety Trevor Hooper.  Three defensive players?  I'm sure at least one of Lofton and Hooper represent special teams play, but never in my wildest dreams coming into 2006 - or even two weeks ago - would I have thought it possible that three of Stanford's four most meritorious players named as captains would come from the defensive side of the ball...  Stanford wins the coin toss and elects to receive the ball in the second half.  After last week's respective performances, I'm more interested in seeing the Cardinal defensive on the field before the offense, as well.

Pregame - Speaking of captains, last week we saw an injured player out of pads walk to midfield - for the second time this year.  Senior fullback Nick Frank was a captain dressed in street clothes for the Navy game, having been named a captain at the start of the week but on that Thursday discovering a birth defect in his spinal column that necessitated his retiring from football.  At UCLA last week it was redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Kimble similarly in street clothes and a jersey walking with the other captains to the coin toss.  Kimble suffered an ankle injury and concussion the previous week but was such a strong performer that he had been named a captain prior to the full revelation that his injuries would keep him out of action throughout the entire week.  Head coach Walt Harris praised Kimble this week and said that they felt so good about his play and leadership that they kept him as a captain for the UCLA game...  Kimble did not practice this week on Tuesday, other than very light action in a yellow jersey, but the running back returned on Wednesday to normal duty.  Relevant to the here-and-now is the sight of Kimble conducting full warm-ups before the game.  Kimble will play today, and I would not be surprised if he starts.

2:43 p.m. - How is that for a role reversal?  Stanford starts off with a field position advantage.  The kickoff by redshirt junior Derek Belch is returned only to the nine-yardline.  I don't have the numbers in my head and don't have the time to look it up, but how many times this year has Stanford covered a kickoff inside the 10-yardline?  Is this the first?  Pretty marvelous start, albeit modest in the grand scheme of a three-hour football game, to put Notre Dame onto a long field to start.

2:43 - Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Will Powers starts again.  He started for the first time in college last week at UCLA - made plays and sparked the defense.  He was praised by many teammates and coaches with whom I talked during the week...  Senior safety Brandon Harrison is able to start, which was an unknown after watching him in a yellow jersey this week...  Redshirt sophomore Tim Sims starts again at the other cornerback position.  He has had the best two games of his Cardinal career the last two weeks, in tight coverage and making standout breakups...  Darius Walker carries for Notre Dame on first down and picks up eight yards.  Not a good start for the Cardinal.  You can just about guarantee that a team will run on first down to start a game when pinned back inside their own 10, yet you allow them in that context to pick up eight yards?  Is the "old" Stanford defense from the first four games of 2006 back?

2:46 - 3rd & 1 at the Notre Dame 31...  Brady Quinn keeps the ball for the Irish, and the push from their offensive line easily allows two yards on the play.

2:47 - Quinn just passed to Walker for 10 yards - wide open.  But I think I have already heard the name of senior linebacker Michael Okwo called three times on this series.  He broke his hand during training camp and missed the first two games of the season.  He played in Stanford's last three games, albeit with a cast and wrap that turned one hand into an unusable club, yet Okwo recorded double-digits tackles in all three games.  He is off to a fast and super start here today

2:47 - Stanford gets its first pressure of the day, forcing Quinn to throw into the dirt.  The hurry was by Okwo and redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Maynor.  Stanford brought pressure last week against the Bruins and enjoyed success.  This Irish offensive line is better, but that was an early piece of evidence of ability and desire to attack Quinn today.

2:49 - On 3rd & 7, the best defensive down-and-distance in this young game, Quinn finds Jeff Samardzija for a gain of 10 yards.  That moves the Irish across midfield.  There was a chance there for the Cardinal to make their stand and get a stop, but credit Quinn and his offensive line for having time and making the pass look easy.

2:50 - Another connection with Samardzija.  I'm already impressed by the precision, control and calm of Quinn.  Completion percentages alone do not tell the tale of a quarterback.  Putting the ball right on the money allows the receiver to make a positive play after the catch, and that makes a real difference in your offensive effectiveness.

2:51 - Quinn goes over the top to tight end John Carlson (a one-time Stanford recruit), with good coverage by Lofton.  Quinn has to throw it a little long because of the tight coverage by Lofton, and it goes incomplete just off Carlson's fingertips.  Very well done by Lofton, who has not often had those kinds of coverage challenges running down the field.

2:53 - Okwo chases Walker out of bounds...  We now have 3rd & 5.  Quinn takes off and scrambles.  That was a quick decision for him to run, but I don't think it was a designed keeper.  Quinn moves pretty well and picks up an impressive 10 yards.

2:53 - Short pass completed to Samardzija, which Sims wraps up immediately for no gain.  Nice play by Sims, who tackled so terribly the first two games in the season but is a different player of late...  Also interesting to see high-percentage plays for short yardage throughout this drive, excepting the toss attempted to Carlson.  Does not Notre Dame want to smite Stanford swiftly and run away with this?

2:54 - Notre Dame calls a wide receiver screen out to the right sideline, but Harrison is able to get to Samardzija quickly to shut down the play at the sideline (two yards).  But Harrison grabs his face mask to pull him down, which is an obvious 15-yarder.  That turns a 3rd & 8 into a 1st & Goal.  Ouch.

2:55 - Irish use play-action and Stanford bites.  Quinn lobs a soft and easy pass to an open Samardzija in the back of the endzone for a touchdown.  Notre Dame 7, Stanford 0...  That opening drive covered 91 yards in 17 plays with seven first downs covering 7:10 of the clock.  The yards, plays and time on that drive are all the longest of the season for Notre Dame.  That reinforces my earlier observation that Notre Dame used a lot of high-percentage but short-gaining plays on that drive.  They may have more talent than any other opponent Stanford has played this year, but the Irish are following the same recipe of conservative calls that get playmakers into situations against Stanford defenders.

2:58 - Hands team frontline for Stanford on kickoff return: freshman wide receiver Austin Yancy, redshirt sophomore outside linebacker Thaddeus Chase, redshirt sophomore tight end Austin Gunder, redshirt sophomore fullback Ben Ladner and redshirt freshman tight end Erik Lorig.  I cannot guarantee they are the best five Stanford can put on that front line, but I like them best of all that I have seen through six Stanford games this year.  Those are all players with size who can run.  Yancy is the slightest, but he is tall and can by physical.  Chase isn't big but he's physical and used to neutralizing players in open space as a linebacker...  Nothing fancy, but Stanford will start this drive on the 26-yardline after an 11-yard return by redshirt sophomore fullback/running back Ray Jones.  Not bad.

2:59 - First play for Stanford on offense this day is a great fake by fifth-year senior quarterback Trent Edwards, he rolls out to the naked left side and hits Yancy for an 11-yard gain.  Yancy gets the start at the "X" wideout position after he was a reserve last week.  Redshirt sophomore Kelton Lynn starts at the "Z" wide receiver position.

3:00 - Second down is a wide receiver screen to Lynn behind Yancy that picks up seven yards.  I like that call - Lynn has great speed and Yancy is a big guy who can block.  Great combination for that play, with the potential to pick up significant yardage.

3:00 - Same playcall, reversed to the left side of the field.  That picks up eight yards.  26 yards on the first three plays - surprising.

3:01 - Redshirt junior Mike Miller in for Yancy, who looks hurt coming off the field...  First running play of the game is Kimble for six yards - nice quickness and use of his blockers.  2nd & 4 is a fun place to be.

3:02 - Kimble races ahead with great speed and determination - more straight-ahead than we have often seen from the shifty back.  It pays off for a nine-yard pickup.  Stanford is already down to the Notre Dame 33.  This is an impressive start.  Why am I waiting for the inevitable turnover to come?

3:03 - Now the tight end gets involved - seven yards from Edwards to redshirt freshman James Dray...  Classmate and fellow tight end Lorig comes onto the field for redshirt junior fullback Emeka Nnoli.  Two tight ends.

3:03 - Lorig on the field usually means a run, and Kimble carries indeed.  He picks up six yards and a first down.  Where has this offense been all year?

3:04 - There on the eightth play of the drive is the first non-gainer for Stanford.  Kimble loses one yard running to his right.  The man Nnoli was trying to block looked like he made the stop.

3:04 - Can it all unravel at the snap of the fingers?  Following that negative play, we next have a false start on redshirt sophomore left tackle Allen Smith.  Five yards further back sets up 2nd & 16...

3:05 - Good answer by Walt Harris.  A quick three-step drop by Edwards finds Dray on the right side for a 12-yard pickup.

3:05 - On 2nd & 4, freshman running back Toby Gerhart is in the backfield and carries for a fast-hitting gain up the middle for 10 yards.  1st & Goal from the four-yardline.  Is this not the best drive of the season for Stanford, hands-down?  But it will all be judged on these next few plays...

3:06 - First down, Kimble carries into the pile for just one yard...  Second yard is Kimble again, and it's scary to see him dance for a second in the backfield before darting outside to the right.  It looks like he might get to the corner, but Victor Abiamiri cuts him off and makes the tackle.

3:07 - Edwards sits in the pocket and has time on third down.  He has Lynn crossing left-to-right in the back of the endzone and lays it right on his hands, but the walk-on drops it.  Terrible.  Gut-wrenchingly awful.

3:08 - Zagory and the field goal unit come onto the field... and the 19-yarder is good.  Notre Dame 7, Stanford 3...  That drive covered 6:35 and is the longest of the year thus far against the Notre Dame defense, according to Irish officials here in the press box.

3:11 - Belch's second kickoff is returned for a long run that crosses midfield and carves into Cardinal territory.  But a holding penalty brings it back.  My eyes followed redshirt sophomore cornerback Wopamo Osaisai on the kickoff coverage.  He blazed down the field almost literally twice as fast as any other Stanford player.  He's something to watch.  Even though Osaisai was blocked by the second deep man for the Irish, the Stanford speedster came all the way back from deep behind the play to make that tackle far down the field.  The kid has a burner strapped to his backside.

3:14 - After a TV timeout, we see Osaisai on the field as Stanford opens this series with their "magic" defense of six defensive backs.  Notre Dame picks up two yards running on first down.

3:15 - Second down is a short completion to Carlson for five yards, and he is tackled by redshirt junior cornerback Nick Sanchez.  Sanchez was an 11-game starter a year ago but began the 2006 season locked in a dead heat with Sims for the starting job.  Sanchez had a slight edge then but has battled some injury.  Sims also has surged the past two games.  He may have the starting job today as much for his play as for Sanchez' current health.

3:16 - That was a FAST first quarter.  Two drives and just two plays into the third series.  Now the question is who does this pace favor?...

3:18 - Great pass coverage by Maynor against Carlson.  Maynor makes a perfectly timed play on the ball from behind, diving and reaching around as the ball arrives.  He rolls on the ground and gets up with the ball in his arms, and he runs for a strange touchdown.  The referee runs with him and signals the score at the goalline.  WHAT???  That has to be the dumbest misinterpretation of an obvious rule (down by contact when on the ground in college football) I have ever seen in my life.  But Stanford is celebrating and bring out the extra point team...  The officials are huddling, so there is no chance of a quick PAT to lock in the play before it can be challenged by Notre Dame...  The officials announce the pass was incomplete.  Ouch.  I know it was not a touchdown, but the ball touched the ground?  I could not see that at all.  Yet another tough break from the officials for Stanford this year.  That would have been stellar field position just outside the red zone in short striking distance for a go-ahead score.

3:20 - Bottom line: Stanford's defense made a three-and-out stop and forced Notre Dame to punt after the Irish had marched 91 yards the previous drive...  A wounded and wobbling punt travels low but gets an Irish roll for a total of 37 yards.  The ball went out of bounds with no return, and that is a respectable net for the punt.  But it feels just a little bit like another positive play for Stanford in what might be momentum shifting in this game.  Stanford will start just short of midfield on their own 46.  Can the Cardinal replicate what they put together last drive?

3:23 - The offense takes the field, and it's Miller and Lynn out wide.  Still no Yancy...  It's a pitch to Kimble to the receivers' side of the field.  Two cannot block three, but Kimble makes the smart play to take it to the sideline and picks up seven while the free defender was neutralized by the angle.  Stanford is making really good yardage on first downs so far today.

3:24 - Kimble runs ahead for two yards, pulling a tackler with him for half the gain.  That sets up 3rd & 1...  Edwards drops back to pass and looks to Lynn down the right sideline.  He has no separation against cornerback Mike Richardson - either holding or great coverage.  Lynn falls down and there is no flag.  Gerhart was in the backfield, and I thought for sure that he would carry the ball in that short yardage situation.  I don't like the playcall.  Lynn is not a good percentage target on that play, unless the defense bites hard on play-action.  You have done almost everything you wanted so far in this game offensively, so why not prove that you can pick up one yard when you need one yard?

3:25 - Stanford punts for a Samardzija fair catch at the 15.  Not really where Ottovegio wants or needs to put that.  Why not go for it on fourth down in Irish territory?  I guess it is too early for such a gamble when you are down just 7-3 in the second quarter.

3:28 - The crowd is stunned and silent as Munir Prince loses four yards on first down for Notre Dame.  He is hit quickly in the backfield by Hooper, and breaks the tackle only by running backward and then being dragged down by Okwo in a play that pushes Prince near the goalline - generous forward progress allows "only" a four-yard loss.  Okwo treated Prince like the proverbial rag doll on the tackle.  What a beast.

3:29 - For the third straight play, Notre Dame hands off to Prince.  He picks up the first down on 3rd & 4.  The Irish want to establish the run to help open the passing game, and I bet something big will come of it before long.  It takes guts, and I really admire, the willingness and success to run two straight plays when you have 2nd & 14.  Expect the Irish to run the ball all day long, folks - and effectively.

3:30 - Wow.  What a lightning-quick close and tackle by Osaisai against .  The completion only picks up a single yard.  If Osaisai is at all coming of age like what we have been seeing from Sims, it could be a tremendously brighter outlook for the Cardinal cornerback future than we thought just a few weeks ago.

3:31 - Notre Dame picks up 11 yards on the next play, though.  Quinn to Carlson - they have a great connection on the field, don't they?

3:32 - Okwo just levels Prince in the backfield.  That is already his seventh tackle today, and he's not just picking up numbers because his defensive surrounding cast is playing poorly.  This guy is unbelievable.  I honestly have to believe he is the best Stanford Football player since Troy Walters.  I was having this discussion with Troy Clardy in the press box before the game, but the senior is already - just three games played this year - the best linebacker I have seen since I matriculated in 1993.

3:35 - Irish took a timeout on 3rd & 5.  This is big for them...  Quinn takes a deep drop and acts like he is looking downfield, but he tips his shoulder and tells me he is looking to Walker out of the backfield.  Yep.  Stanford swarms to the ball, and Harrison makes the open-field tackle.  Just three yards on the play.

3:36 - Notre Dame fans are clamoring for the Irish to go on fourth down, but that's just stupid.  Fans always want to see the "O" go for it...  Is this for real?  Notre Dame's offense is still on the field.  Draw the defense off-sides?  No, Quinn keeps it, and the Stanford defensive line gets a great push.   Redshirt freshman defensive end Tom McAndrew makes the stop and celebrates wildly, running off the field.  Wow.  Wow.  Stanford will start in Notre Dame territory.  That is a second huge fourth-down stand for the Stanford defense in two weeks.

3:39 - Stanford is back on the wrong side of midfield after a six-yard sack of Edwards.

3:39 - It's a quick slant to Lynn, but he is tightly covered and cannot catch the ball.  3rd & 16.  There goes "mo."

3:40 - Yancy and freshman wide receiver Richard Sherman are on the field...  Edwards has time and finds Sherman with lots of separation in a pocket in the Irish zone defense.  The ball is thrown a little behind him, but Sherman should catch it.  He drops the wide-open pass at the Irish 33-yardline.  Are you kidding me?  He very well may have scored if he brings that in.  If Stanford's receivers can (gasp) catch the football when it hits them, Stanford is either tied and driving or up seven right now.  I've said it over and over, but those unconscionable mistakes cannot come for a team with this small a margin.  What an absolute momentum and drive killer.

3:42 - I hope Sherman does not anytime soon complain about so much as a mosquito.  He has himself to look at in the mirror before he complains about anything anytime soon.  The kid has talent, and he's a good kid.  But he has to grow up and get better.

3:44 - Quinn uses play-action on first down, and McKnight runs a great route against Sims and safety help to get open on a comeback.  16 yards.  The Irish are back in business.

3:44 - For a fleeting moment, you were excited as a Stanford fan to see Powers blow up Walker blocking in the backfield.  That was explosive, and nearly a sack of Quinn.  But the cool quarterback was able to find Marcus Freeman for Notre Dame's longest play of the game - 25 yards.

3:45 - What a big play by the defense, and it was a beauty to watch unfold.  Okwo blitzed and pushed a blocker into the backfield for some pressure that had Quinn backstepping.  Then Lofton reads and races for a delayed blitz.  Quinn wasn't looking for it - wrapped up without any inkling of a scramble.  Big loss of seven yards and maybe stems the tide of the Irish offense.

3:46 - What did I say a little while ago about Osaisai?  Quinn has big Samardzija deep down the right side on the 10-yardline.  It looks like a sure catch and maybe a touchdown, but Osaisai leaps into the air to knock the ball away.  There is fast, and then there is also athletic.  Osaisai is obviously the former but flashed the latter right there.  Big, big play forces Notre Dame to punt.

3:49 - Hard to believe, but there is just 5:22 left in the half.  Time is FLYING in this game.

3:49 - Edwards goes right on a designed rollout.  He runs a long way and has to hit Yancy coming back.  Forward progress gives just four yards.

3:50 - Stanford runs on second down despite showing three-wide, and Kimble makes another impressive powerful run.  Five yards, setting up 3rd & 1.  Remember the last time we saw this down-and-distance?...

3:50 - Edwards keeps and leans behind his offensive line, who get no push, and the play picks up nothing.  That's the least inspiring and threatening drive yet this game for Stanford.  In fact, each drive has picked up successively less yardage.  Was that first series the best we'll see today?

3:52 - Ottovegio punts to the Notre Dame 32 (just 33 yards).  Less than three minutes to go, will the Irish go to a hurry-up?

3:52 - Walker runs on first down and picks up seven.  A nice little gain and not quite what I expected...  Second down is another Walker carry.  He gets the first down but time is ticking under two minutes.

3:53 - The clock stops after a six-yard pass to Carlson that is tackled out of bounds.  Notre Dame is just across midfield to the 49 with 1:44 to go.  They have time (plus two time outs).

3:54 - 13 yards to Samardzija, which moves the chains and briefly stops the clock.  What is it that John Wooden says about being quick but not in a hurry?  Nice drive so far for Notre Dame.  This is calm and smart playcalling.

3:53 - Walker runs up the middle for seven yards and another first down...  Now Notre Dame has to burn their second time out of the half after Okwo wraps up Samardzija in the middle of the field after a five-yard reception.  The Irish are knocking at the Stanford 16 with 39 seconds left in the half...  Okwo just picked up his 10th tackle...  Samardzija just recorded his seventh reception.  It's all short stuff, but it is still impressive and ties his career high.  We're not yet to halftime.

3:58 - Strange-looking play.  Quinn drops back and throws high and deep, with no chance for McKnight in the endzone but Sanchez has a diving chance in the back corner.  It's out of bounds.

3:59 - Quinn hits McKnight on the five-yardline, and Harrison takes a terrible angle just a few yards away.  McKnight is able to run into the endzone without any glove anywhere near him.  Notre Dame 14, Stanford 3...  That drive went nine plays, methodically and mechanically marching 68 yards.  Tip your cap to Charlie Weis.  He called a great drive that patiently and potently moved the chains and picked up the score.

4:01 - Edwards is sacked on the final play of the half for a loss of eight yards.  With the new rule this year, the game clock winds to start a possession as soon as the play clock starts ticking.  Stanford had no chance, starting at its 20, to get anything achieved.  It's not the normal criticism, but I have to believe you just kneel down and go into the locker room...  Regardless, the bigger picture is that Stanford trails by two scores despite what looked subjectively like their best half of football in a month.  Special teams probably outperformed those of Notre Dame.  The defense made a huge fourth-down stop and had other big plays.  The offense drove the length of the field on the opening possession, but they choked on the goalline and sputtered afterward.  They have not turned the ball over, but the "O" is at fault thus far. 

4:22 - I and many other observers expected Stanford to be blown out today.  14-3 at the half is a pleasant surprise.  But I expect the game to spiral out of hand in the second half.  The offense came out strong on their first possession, but how many times in recent years have you seen one early flash of hope from the offense, only to see the opposing defense gather themselves and lock down the rest of the way?  Look for more offensive impotence, turnovers and a tiring defense in the second half, as the Irish smile and run away.

4:24 - Very nice kickoff that takes Jones into the corner against the sideline, but he has his second productive return of the game out to the 30-yardline.  The best thing about this game so far?  Special teams and field position.  Mix in zero turnovers for the Stanford offense, and it's a small step in the right direction.

4:24 - Six-yard gain by Kimble on the ground to start the series.  Don't look now, but Kimble and Gerhart combined to average 4.5 yards per carry in the first half.  The running game is delivering.

4:25 - 3rd & 3.  Pass is incomplete, but we have flags...  Both against the Irish.  Off-sides and pass interference.  It has been little talked about, but Stanford came into this week ranked #2 in the nation in both penalties per game and penalty yards per game.  Why can't that focus and discipline carry over to the minimization of turnovers?

4:27 - That penalty moves the ball out to the Stanford 44, and Ray Jones is in the backfield.  This is his first appearance on offense since 2004.  He carries for a loss of one yard.

4:28 - Edwards passes incomplete to Nnoli on second down and is swarmed for a sack and six-yard loss on third down.  After good field position and a first down, Stanford squanders its opportunity and has to punt away.  If Notre Dame keeps calling on offense like they did to finish the half, Stanford will see this game soon slip away.

4:31 - Swing pass to Walker for 14 yards...  Egboh is blocked low in the backfield and too easily stumbles to the ground - that is his play to make on Walker in the open field.

4:32 - Quinn throws backward to Samardzija, who tries to throw downfield incomplete.  That was terrible.  While Samardzija is a renowned pitcher playing baseball, it is a myth that throwing a baseball is helpful or at all linked to throwing a football.  The throwing motions are completely different, and Samardzija helped illustrate the point right there.

4:33 - Walker run for nine yards on first down.  He has not broken anything "big" yet but Walker is having a nice, productive game.  Notre Dame gets him a lot of touches, and he almost always rewards with positive plays.  He ran for 50 yards in the first half plus 18 receiving yards.  Nothing special, but very productive.

4:35 - Well, I spoke too soon on the "big play."  Walker has excellent blocking on the left side and runs untouched around gold helmets for a 32-yard score.  Notre Dame 21, Stanford 3...  This drive went 72 yards in six plays that covered just two and a half minutes.  Notre Dame is already eating bigger chunks of yardage and look like they don't need that conservative (yet effective) playcalling they employed in the first half.  Stanford is defensively wearing down already, and we're just a few minutes in the third quarter.  It's that same old story of last week, where the offense is leaving the defense out to dry by not being able to possess the ball and move down the field.

4:38 - Now the offense truly must pick it up.  A short rolling kickoff bounces through Jones' legs and allow him to return it only to the 14.  Here is that long field we have seen so often in 2006, and the game will get away from the Cardinal quickly if they don't put together a scoring drive.

4:39 - First down picks up no yards, with Gerhart carrying and hit at the line of scrimmage...  Second down starts in a deeper hole after fifth-year senior right guard Jon Cochran is whistled for a false start.  That also moves the offense closer to the noisy student section in the North endzone.

4:41 - Very nice playcall by Harris.  Edwards hits Kimble wide open in the middle of the field and runs for a 19-yard gainer.  That silences the crowd and gives Stanford some breathing room and a crumb of confidence.

4:41 - Gerhart runs for seven yards on first down.  You can't lay the problems of today's uneven offense on the running backs, in my opinion.  I love how they are performing.

4:42 - Gerhart is swarmed on a second-down run, but the Irish were off-side.  The penalty puts Stanford ahead five yards and offers a fresh set of downs.

4:43 - I'm sorry, but it is difficult to watch play after play after play where Stanford has Lynn and Miller split out as its two receivers.  I suppose that is a further testament to the ground game that Stanford has somewhat held its head above water and not yet been blown out of this game.

4:44 - Edwards gets away with one, throwing a certain interception intended for his tight end into the hands of Abiamiri.  The defensive end drops it, and he might have had a "pick six" the other way.

4:45 - Two Stanford linemen are beaten by Irish pass rushers, and Edwards is sacked on third down.  The O-line should have protected better, but that is a perfect example of a greatly disadvantaged situation for the offense (and line) when in long down-and-distance situations with obvious passing playcalls.

4:45 - Not a good punt by Ottovegio.  That goes 29 yards and out of bounds.  Notre Dame has a short field at their own 37...  This by the way is the site of Ottovegio's only black mark in his first two years of college punting - he fumbled in South Bend two years ago in a tight ballgame.  I think it was on his birthday, no less.

4:49 - It doesn't take long for Notre Dame to reach the Stanford 32.  This game is moments away from being "out of reach"...  Ooh, that was almost the play right there.  Quinn looked to Samardzija just past the coverage of Hooper.  Samardzija dove on the three-yardline but could not hold onto the ball.

4:51 - While we take this break during an Irish time out, I have to voice my disappointment that we have yet to see McCutcheon on the field at wide receiver.  I am sure he is limited with just one week of practice in more than a month, but the primary duo on the field is doing nothing for Stanford in the receiving game.  Miller has no catches through nearly three full quarters, and Lynn is still stuck at two for a total of 15 yards...  And this is useless thinking, but along those same lines, what an incredible difference it would make and what a dramatically different game this would be if Evan Moore were healthy and playing.  His return may come next week, but this game was competitive for a while and could have been interesting had he been able to go today.  The offense is a spark away in the passing game, given how they are running the ball.

4:55 - Notre Dame is giving the ball to Walker play after play.  That was four yards on a seemingly harmless run against the pile.  It isn't exotic or electric, but the Irish offense is wearing Stanford down.

4:56 - There is a spark of life from the "D."  Sims races into the backfield and turns Walker all around for a tackle for loss of four yards.

4:56 - Quinn has time and looks for McKnight just short of the goalline on a slant.  Osaisai makes a nice breakup on third down.  Notre Dame will have to kick the field goal... which is good.  Notre Dame 24, Stanford 3.

4:58 - While we wait for the kickoff during what I am sure is a delightful NBC string of commercials, I note that Stanford still has not turned the ball over today.  That's a positive point of progress, to be sure, relative to recent weeks.  But down three touchdowns and still impotent on offense, celebrating the absence of turnovers is akin to waving your arms around giddily after a car strikes you, while both legs are broken and mangled.

5:00 - Gerhart grabs nine yards on the first-down carry from the 20-yardline after a touchback.  My goodness - any other offense in Division I would be popping play-action passes for gainers galore with the modest but steady running by Kimble and Gerhart.  Apologies for the broken record, but I'm just beside myself at how handicapped the Stanford offense is by its receiving corps.  Edwards' sacks (some his fault and some on the O-line) don't help either.

5:05 - We start the fourth quarter with a 13-yard run by Kimble on first down.  Big hole up the middle, and then a nice move to beat the second level defender in the open field.  He won't have enough touches to put up the game that Walker is for the Irish, but Kimble is really doing well - fresh off injury, no less.

5:06 - The running game CAN make these receivers produce!  Kimble takes a pitch on the right side and throws a halfback pass to a wide-open Lynn on the 27-yardline.  It was not a pretty pass, but with nobody anywhere within a 15-yard radius, Lynn is able to get under the ball.  He stumbles, and I swear he was going to drop it, but he keeps running and waltzes into the endzone for a 56-yard touchdown.  Notre Dame 24, Stanford 10.  We have seen the halfback pass by Kimble a few times in practice this fall and preseason, but I did not in the least bit expect it there...  I also have to admit that when the ball reached Kimble, I had a vision of Caleb Bowman's infamous wide-open drop downfield against Washington State in 2001.

5:11 - Does Notre Dame need to answer that big play and score with something assertive and aggressive of their own?  Maybe if your ego owns your playcalling, but there is less than a quarter to go and Notre Dame is a much better team than Stanford right now.  Stay with the same gameplan, I say.  The Irish are continuing to give Walker touches and let him move the chains.  They're almost to midfield here.

5:13 - Oh, how the little things can kill you.  On 3rd & 9, Quinn sees nothing open down the field and has to run.  He heads toward the sideline a good five yards short of the marker.  Okwo dives at him as he steps out of bounds, and flags come flying for a late hit.  Instead of punting on 4th & 4, the Irish move down the field and get a fresh set of downs.  Okwo has been fantastic in this game (though less so in the second half than before halftime), but that was a critical and incredibly costly penalty.  I'm not sure it was deserved - he left his feet while Quinn was not yet out of bounds - but it is what it is.

5:14 - Geez - another chance for the defense to get off the field, but they cannot seize the moment.  Quinn threw for the goalline, but Osaisai skied to tip the ball away.  It floats to Hooper, but he cannot haul it in with his outstretched hands.  That was not a gift, but it was a play the Stanford secondary has to convert for an interception.

5:16 - A football game can turn in a flash.  You lose your opportunity, and momentum passes you by.  Notre Dame completes a 16-yard pass to the 12-yardline and now look like they will score.  Just moments ago, Stanford on two consecutive plays had chances to put the ball back in the offense's hands with ample time and chance to just maybe drive for two scores.

5:18 - Quinn uses play-action to Walker and rolls out the opposite way to his right.  He throws ahead of Carlson in the endzone, and the talented tight end makes a sensational leaping grab with one hand.  The former Cardinal recruit is having a blockbuster season, and he is showing us today that his stats are no fluke.  The guy is a great talent in the receiving game.  Notre Dame 31, Stanford 10.

5:22 - Admittedly, the Notre Dame kicker has put several of his kickoffs short, but the Cardinal are mostly putting together respectable returns.  Redshirt junior running back Jason Evans runs this one out to the 29-yardline.  That is pedestrian field position in most years and for most teams, but it is twice what the Cardinal have averaged much of the 2006 season.

5:24 - Kimble runs on the first two plays for a combined seven yards.  You have eight minutes to go and trail by 21.  It's time to pass.

5:24 - On third down, Edwards scrambles for his life, shedding one would-be sack and having to reverse field a good 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  He finally gets to the right sideline and throws it away.  His reward?  A late hit roughing penalty against the Irish and Abiamiri.  That is as good as a 15-yard completion, and the drive is alive.

5:25 - Gerhart carries on first down for two yards.  We are under seven minutes.  It is pathetic that the Cardinal have to run in order to set up any hope of a pass completion, when executing a time-pressured offense.  Hurry back, Evan Moore.

5:26 - 3rd & 8 and Edwards feels the pressure around him in the pocket, so he races straight ahead.  He beats the defensive line but has a second level defender between him and the marker.  He comes up two yards short.  Stanford is going for it on fourth down.

5:27 - Edwards drops back to pass and (surprise) nobody is open.  He is sacked for a loss of seven yards.  Notre Dame takes over on downs.  With 5:10 to go in the game and a short field, the Irish almost have no choice but to score, which will make this look like a blowout game.  Have I mentioned how this receiving corps is cutting off the Cardinal "O" at its knees?

5:31 - After a nice two-man tackle by others on the defense, Egboh hobbles off the field.  Super.

5:31 - Time to head down to the field for post-game interviews.  Sayonara.

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