The score was not indicative of the game. In fact, Notre Dame played far worse.
The Irish’s 37-14 loss to Stanford marked the lowest point in a season that has seen plenty of them thus far. However, the last-minute loss to Michigan and the overtime loss to Michigan State that led to both teams being ranked afterward had Notre Dame fans believing they could at least play with good, ranked opponents.
Saturday’s loss proved them wrong.
The defense, which has been called into question in recent weeks, actually had a game in which the box score does not reflect the effort. Until the fourth quarter, the defense held one of the best NFL quarterback prospects to one touchdown and the Irish were still within striking distance, even when down, 19-6.
But eventually, the defense got tired because of the offense’s ineptitude. Manti Te’o had an impressive 21 total tackles on the day, but that signals the larger issue: Why did Te’o have to be on the field long enough to accumulate 21 tackles?
It’s because Stanford knocked the Notre Dame offense out of rhythm the entire game and shut off any chance of Dayne Crist getting Kyle Rudolph involved in the offense. Rudolph, who started the game leading the nation in receiving by a tight end, was held to one catch for one yard on the day. Michael Floyd got his with over 100 yard receiving and Theo Riddick also once again impressed in the slot, but overall, the Irish were not able to sustain drives and were unable to run the football effectively enough to free up some receivers downfield.
Kelly’s teams have been known for their ability to pile on the points, but through four games, Notre Dame is averaging 23 points per game, which is worse than Utah State. Credit does have to be given to Stanford, who proved their early-season success on defense was not just a mirage created by playing Sacramento State, UCLA and Wake Forest in its first three games. What was most impressive was the Cardinal’s ability to shut down the pass without allowing a big day running.
People seem surprised that the team is losing games, even when early in the season they predicted the Irish would lose 3-4 games. It almost seems like fans said that simply so they did not seem overconfident as they had in 2009, but fully expected Notre Dame to be in the hunt for a championship. Anyone who expected that not only drank the Kelly Kool-Aid, they bobbed for apples in it. This is a coach who is in his first year trying to run his spread offense with pro-style personnel that he didn’t recruit. On the other side of the ball, he’s trying to transition to a brand new style that requires different responsibilities that players are still trying to learn. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.
The season is not over for Notre Dame. Far from it. It’s not time to pack it in and say there is no hope for a bowl game this year. Let’s face it, this has been a very difficult stretch of games for the Irish, including three teams that are currently ranked. Now the Irish now begin a stretch of very winnable games with Boston College (just shut out by Virginia Tech), Pittsburgh (recently embarrassed by Miami), Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa.
The Stanford game proved Notre Dame is no where near ready to be called elite yet. Still, they have enough talent to win more than they lose.
Check back on Friday to see my five predictions on the Irish’s matchup with Boston College this Saturday.