Expert Analysis: DBs vs. Notre Dame

Stanford finishes its regular season with a thrilling 45-38 victory over Notre Dame. This was the last game in Stanford Stadium for our seniors, and it proved to be a game they will remember for a long time.

From my experience, Notre Dame has been one of the most hated teams on our schedule year in and year out. My Stanford teams always seemed to find a way to lose against Notre Dame. This win was extremely satisfying for me, because this year the boys found a way to win, coming from behind in the fourth quarter.

We all knew that this game was going to be a tough challenge for our DBs, facing a passing attack of Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, and Michael Floyd. This trio has been lighting up the scoreboard and the stat sheets all year, and this game was no different. Fortunately, we were able to come up with the defensive stops we needed at the right time. Let's take a closer look at how the DBs performed in their final regular season game.

First quarter

On Notre Dame's first play from scrimmage, LB Nick Macaluso is able to poke the ball out of Notre Dame RB Theo Riddick's hands. Stanford safety Delano Howell is there to scoop up the fumble. Stanford ball! Howell recognizes that it is a run play, flies up to the line and is in the right place at the right time. Big-time turnover to start the game for the Stanford defense!

Notre Dame starts its next drive with a pitch to RB Robert Hughes. Stanford corner Johnson Bademosi does an excellent job of violently taking on the block and forcing Hughes back inside so that DE Thomas Kesier can get a hold of him. Then, Delano Howell is there to clean up the play with a punishing hit, knocking Hughes to the ground. Two plays later, Notre Dame is forced to punt after an incomplete pass. Three and out! The defense is looking good so far in the first quarter.

Sudden change! Stanford punt returner Tyler Gaffney fumbles and the Stanford defense is back on the field. Look for Notre Dame to take a shot into the end zone to try and get a quick score. On first down, QB Jimmy Clausen throws a perfect pass that is dropped by a diving Golden Tate in the end zone. Johnson Bademosi is in coverage on the play. Taking a closer look, Bademosi does a nice job at the line of scrimmage. He is patient and able to widen Tate's route by getting his hands on him at the line. As he turns to run with Tate, he is a little late to get his head around and is not able to locate the ball, giving Tate a chance to separate as he makes a diving attempt for the ball. Decent coverage by the young corner, but a good pass and good catch would have resulted in a TD.

A few plays later, Clausen goes after Bademosi again, and hits Tate in the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass. On this play, Bademosi uses poor technique. He lines up with his heels on the goal line. If he is going to play this technique, he needs to hold his ground at the goal line and force Tate to go around him. Instead, he is not physical and easily lets Tate inside. Then, Bademosi looks back at the QB and loses his man, as Tate whips back to the outside on what we call a smash or a whip route. Tate creates enough separation for an easy throw and catch for a Notre Dame touchdown.

Notre Dame's first play of their next drive is an incomplete pass knocked down by LB Shane Skov. This is progress from last week, as Skov is deep in his zone drop and doesn't give Clausen a clear window to throw through in our zone coverage. On the next play, safety Delano Howell comes up from his safety position to put a big hit on RB Robert Hughes. Howell is bringing the wood tonight.

Then, on third and seven, we send senior Bo McNally on the safety blitz. This is a perfect call by Lynn and the defensive coaches, as McNally comes through untouched. Unfortunately, Clausen is able to avoid the sack and complete an 11-yard pass for an ND first down. McNally has to be able to make this play to get our defense off the field.

After a fake QB sneak gets Notre Dame down to the 18, Clausen is able to scramble out of the pocket and hit #3 Michael Floyd for a touchdown. On this play, Clausen is able to buy a lot of time by scrambling out of the pocket. As the play gets longer and longer, it becomes harder and harder for DBs to stay in tight coverage. On this route, Sherman is in pretty decent shape, until Floyd begins to work back towards his scrambling QB and Sherman falls down. This provides the separation for Clausen to throw a pass towards the outside and Floyd makes an outstanding catch with one foot barely in bounds.

Second quarter

In the first drive of the second quarter, Notre Dame slowly marches down the field on a mix of runs and short passes. Stanford's defense steps up on third and five, as an incomplete pass by Clausen forces Notre Dame to settle for a field goal. On this play, Bademosi provides tight coverage on a slant route, and Clausen simply misfires.

The Notre Dame offense begins its next drive backed up in its own territory. On 1st and 18, DE Chase Thomas makes an impressive spin move and is able to hit Clausen as he throws a pass intended for Michael Floyd down the field. Richard Sherman is in perfect position to make a play on the ball, but he does not jump to catch the ball at the highest point. Thus, Floyd goes into defensive mode and is able to knock the would-be interception away from Sherman. We have to be able to capitalize on these opportunities to create turnovers, especially against an offense like Notre Dame's.

A costly personal foul by Sherman on the next play gives Notre Dame a first down and keeps their drive alive. On the very next play, Clausen completes a 78-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate over two Stanford defenders. On this play, Bademosi does not get a jam on Tate at the line, but is able to use his speed to catch up and is in decent position on the outside of Tate. Bo McNally comes over from his safety position and overruns the ball as he tries to adjust and make a play. He gets tangled up with Bademosi, and they both end up on the ground as Tate makes the catch and races for the end zone. There isn't much to say about this play except we had two guys there with a chance to make the play, and their guy came up with the ball and the touchdown.

Third quarter

Notre Dame opens up the second half with a reverse to Golden Tate that picks up 15 yards. Bademosi has to be there to keep contain and force Tate back to the inside. Sometimes it's tough for young players to be disciplined enough to realize they are not going to make a play on the other side of the field, and that they need to stay back in case of a reverse or trick play.

A few plays later, Notre Dame comes out in the wildcat formation and executes a double-reverse pass for a 46-yard touchdown. Hats off to Charlie Weis for a creative play call. It's hard to say much about this play, except that the boys should realize that something is up when Clausen, split out at WR, runs back into the backfield to get the ball. That being said, this is a running formation and at full speed, it's hard to diagnose a play this tricky. Technically, Delano Howell is responsible for the WR who caught the touchdown pass, Floyd. Our defense asks a lot out of its safeties in run support, and it's hard for Delano Howell not to come up to stop the run when he sees Tate running around the corner with the ball in his hands.

Notre Dame is forced to punt on their next drive after picking up just 23 yards. Bademosi provided an impressive play on this series, upending RB Theo Riddick for a loss of two yards on a swing pass. Bademosi is a physical corner who sniffs this play out and shoots past the blocker to make a play in the backfield, setting up third and long.

Fourth quarter

Bademosi is flagged for pass interference on the first play of Notre Dame's next series. On this play, Bademosi does not get hands on WR Golden Tate at the line of scrimmage and gives him an easy inside release. Bademosi turns and shows impressive make-up speed to catch Tate downfield and is not in bad position to make a play on the ball. I thought this was a pretty weak flag, as there is almost no contact and Bademosi is looking back for the ball. DBs do not have to move out of the way and let the WR catch the ball! Tate is very good at using his body position to shield DBs away from the ball, and I think this helped make it look like pass interference to the referees. Just a few plays later, Clausen goes deep for Michael Floyd down the sideline. Again, pass interference is called, this time on Richard Sherman. Sherman needs to be more patient at the line of scrimmage so he can get his hands on Floyd and not have to chase him the whole way. As Sherman runs with Floyd down field, he doesn't realize he is actually not in bad position to make a play on the ball. Instead he panics and basically mauls Floyd before the ball gets there. No arguing this call. As Sherman gets more experience on the defensive side of the ball, he will realize that you can make a lot of plays just by not panicking and giving up on the play.

Then, on second and nine, Clausen hits Tate for a 28-yard catch and run. It looks like Stanford is still playing its base quarters coverage. This time, Bademosi is backed off of the line of scrimmage instead of pressed up, like he has been. The slot receiver goes vertical and safety Bo McNally takes him down the field. This leaves Bademosi and Tate one-on-one, there is no need for Bademosi to keep drifting back, as the only WR in his zone is running a short route. He has to close in on Tate and give himself a chance to make this tackle for a minimal gain. It is very hard to get an athlete like Golden Tate on the ground when you give him this much room to make you miss. Bademosi falls, and Tate is able to cut back on the rest of the Stanford defense as they overrun him. Someone has to be able to get him down on this play.

After Stanford ties the game up 38-38 with a touchdown pass by Gerhart to Ryan Whalen, the defense needs a stop to give us a chance to take the lead. On third and two, the defense steps up to the challenge as freshman LB Skov is able to stick ND RB Hughes in the hole. The rest of the Stanford D is there to finish the tackle, forcing Notre Dame to punt!

Stanford takes the lead 45-38 on a run by Gerhart, but Notre Dame gets the ball left with 59 seconds to go. The defense needs one more stop to pull out this victory.

After a big-time sack by DE Thomas Keiser, Clausen hits Tate down the sideline for a 43-yard gain. Johnson Bademosi is playing off to not give up the deep ball, he is where he is supposed to be over the top of Tate, but is not able to make a play on the ball. Tate does a very good job of using his body to keep Bademosi away from the ball. At some point, our guys are going to have to make a play. It doesn't really matter what coverage is called, it comes down to our guys against their guys.

Clausen comes back to Tate on the next play and picks up 16 yards. Bademosi is giving Tate a little too much cushion, probably because he is worried about giving up another deep pass. The young corner has to shake those plays off and play just as aggressive after someone catches one on you.

On second and four, DE Chase Thomas sacks Clausen for a loss of seven yards! The clock keeps running, and Notre Dame only has time for one last play. A Hail Mary is knocked down by a host of Stanford DBs and Stanford wins 45-38!

This game was exciting down to the very end, as both squads really wanted to win this one. Fortunately, the good guys came out on top, as this victory must feel very good for these seniors who have not beaten Notre Dame since they've been here at Stanford. All the coaches and players have to be happy to close out the regular season and go into bowl preparation on a good note. Our defense was not able to shut down or even really slow down this impressive passing attack by Notre Dame, but they stepped up when it counted and stopped Notre Dame on its last two drives to preserve the win.

I'd like to mention that safety Delano Howell and corner Johnson Bademosi played very physically in the run game, with some good plays and hard hits. Some things our DBs can work on over the bowl practices are getting hands-on in press coverage, and making a play on the deep ball. By the end of the game, Notre Dame was just throwing it up for grabs, thinking they would get a big gain or a pass interference penalty just about every time.

This was probably the best duo of WRs we've seen all year, and I think our inexperienced corners may have lost a little bit of confidence towards the end of the game. Congratulations to the Stanford players and coaches on a great season, and I'm very excited about finding out who we will play in the bowl game!

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