The Notre Dame playoff push continued in dominating fashion on Saturday night in Palo Alto, as the Irish throttled Stanford 45-14. The game tops off a seven-game winning streak for the Irish. The last six wins came by margins of 15, 10, 28, 25, 55, and 31 points. Head coach Brian Kelly was full of brash confidence in the postgame press conference.
“That’s 100 points – if you guys weren’t counting – to 14 in the past two weeks,” Kelly said, referencing the Irish’s 55-0 win a week ago. “We feel like we controlled the game from start to finish. It’s a really good football team – I think it’s one of the best four teams in the country.”
Irish Exhibit Game Control, Dominate Cardinal
The game itself was not a particularly riveting affair. Notre Dame controlled the tempo from start to finish, holding Stanford under 100 total yards through the first three quarters. Offensively, Notre Dame’s Jack Coan was a crisp 26-of-35 for 345 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Kyren Williams ran for 74 yards, and Tyler Buchner and Chris Tyree combined for 100 rushing yards. Two players, Kevin Austin and Michael Mayer broke the 100-yard receiving mark.
The Cardinal started with a fruitless three & out on offense, punting after barely two minutes of possession. The Irish needed just three minutes of clock to drive 74 yards for their opening score. Coan hit Austin for 33 yards on the opening play to jumpstart the drive. He polished off the drive with a 16-yard score to senior receiver Braden Lenzy.
It wasn’t as bad a rout as a week ago, but the Irish had no issue getting what they wanted on both sides of the ball. Playing a 3-8 team, the Notre Dame playoff case could only be boosted by extreme dominance. Covering the 20.5 point spread would be a good start, and the Irish did that in the first half. Offensively, Stanford tried to attack Notre Dame with a quick-strike game plan. The Irish have had some suspect tackling, particularly amidst their secondary, this season, and the Cardinal tried to get the ball to their receivers with a chance to make plays. However, it was largely the Irish making those plays. Buoyed by strong tackling performance, the Irish cut down most Stanford pass plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Tanner McKee finished the first half completing six of his nine attempts…for nine yards.
Mayer Dominates in Pass-Heavy Approach
Defensively, Stanford had featured a three-man front all season, which led to poor performances against the run. Facing a red-hot Kyren Williams, the Cardinal loaded the box. So, from the first play, the Irish looked to the air and found success. Mayer was a frequent target, and his nine-catch, 105-yard effort etched his name into the Irish record book.
Firstly, Mayer set the all-time Notre Dame tight end record for receptions in a single season. He tied the mark with his 63rd catch early in the fourth quarter. On Notre Dame’s final drive, Mayer notched a 34-yard reception to secure the record. More impressively, that previous record was set by 2013 first-round draft pick Tyler Eifert back in 2011 and included the Irish’s bowl game. Mayer has at minimum one game left in the season and can expand his record in the postseason.
“I’m so appreciative of what everyone’s done for me. Game in and game out, they [the coaches] put in an awesome game plan for me and for the offense,” Mayer noted. “I don’t beat this record without those coaches, without the other eleven guys with me on the field. This record isn’t broken by me, it’s broken by the team.”
While Mayer didn’t want to take much individual credit for the performance, Kelly certainly professed his praise for the sophomore tight end. “He’s complete in every facet, a beast. He’s a guy that you double, and he finds himself open.”
Kelly went on to offer some comments dripping with sarcasm targeted towards the voting committee for the Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in the country. “He’s not a finalist for the Mackey. Maybe that was…an oversight? Maybe they’ll get back together and revote.”
Irish Cruise in Palo Alto
Mayer didn’t get notch a touchdown on Saturday night, but his fellow tight end did. Senior George Takacs reeled in a two-yard reception early in the second quarter for Notre Dame’s second score. That gave Notre Dame a 14-0 lead and truly put the rout in motion. On the ensuing Stanford possession, senior Justin Ademilola burst through the Irish line for a sack, stripping McKee of the ball in the process. A scrum ensued, and ultimately it was Ademilola who also notched the eventual recovery. Notre Dame couldn’t fully capitalize on prime field position, but they expanded the lead to three possessions on a 36-yard field goal.
A Williams’ rushing touchdown ballooned the lead to 24-0 later in the quarter, as Notre Dame cruised. The closest Stanford came to scoring in the first half was a 58-yard field goal attempt at the horn. The kick had the leg but drifted wide left, preserving a third straight half of shutout football by the Irish. It was the seventh straight half they didn’t give up a touchdown.
The second half, like many of Notre Dame’s recent games, was a bit of a snooze. The Irish’s lead never dipped below 17 points, even as they gave up their first touchdowns in November. Stanford struck first in the half with a 13-yard drive set up by a Coan interception. But the Irish responded in four plays, courtesy of a 61-yard Coan-Austin connection, and a follow-up quarterback sneaks for the score.
While Stanford struck one more time, the Irish notched another pair of touchdowns. Buchner led a three-play drive that he finished himself with a 33-yard scamper. Williams found the end zone for the second time with 58 seconds to play as Notre Dame dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s for the Playoff Committee.
Notre Dame Playoff Hopes Remain Alive
Ever since their loss to Cincinnati, the Notre Dame playoff hopes have hinged on total chaos. They’ve gotten plenty of that to keep their chances alive heading into Conference Championship weekend. On Saturday, Michigan theoretically eliminated Ohio State from contention by handing the Buckeyes their second loss. Meanwhile, Alabama continued to look like a worse one-loss team, with their third one-possession win of November – their second against a team that finished 6-6.
Six teams are in contention for four spots. Georgia is a virtual lock at 12-0. Only a complete and utter blowout of maybe 30+ points could knock the Bulldogs out of the top four. Then Alabama, Michigan, Cincinnati, and Oklahoma State will all vie to claim conference crowns. It’s a win and in for most of those squads, so Notre Dame needs a little more chaos, as they remain idle.
So are the Notre Dame playoff hopes alive after another dominating victory?
“We made our case,” Kelly said confidently. “We’ll sit back and see what other people think. But we’ve got one of the best four teams without question in my mind.”