Anyone who has attended multiple games at Notre Dame Stadium keeps a personal record of wins and losses while they were there.
My mother, for example, has a horrible record as an attendee—Notre Dame has lost every game that she’s attended. Previous to last season, I had a 4-0 record as an attendee—however, the last game I attended was last year’s game against Navy.
Understandably, I was a little leery about attending Saturday’s game against Stanford. This game had all the makings of an upset surrounding it: trash talking, a duo of very productive opposing running backs, and Notre Dame coming off a decent win against Purdue. My voice is just now starting to return.
This week, rather than writing my regular article of general observations and suggestions for the coaching staff, I am going to point out several things that had a significant effect on the fans in the stadium and in return affected the players on the field.
It’s a very unique experience watching a game in person. Most of my perceptions of the game were more emotionally based rather than cognitively based. Thus, I have also reviewed the game on television to round out my experiences and perceptions of what went on during the game. So, without further ado...
What we saw at the beginning of the season from Jimmy was just a flash of what we would see from him later. Hopefully what we see from him now will only be a small flash of what he will be towards the end of the season.
He continues to put up career-high numbers every game and is now starting to put up numbers as a sophomore that Brady Quinn did his junior year. However, there are still things to improve about his playing.
First, he is still being spooked by blitzes. I’m sure that eating dirt a few dozen times last year has nothing to do with that. Additionally, he is still holding onto the ball too long to try to make plays where there aren’t any. He should be throwing the ball away about three seconds earlier when he can’t find an open receiver.
This will come back to hurt him if he can’t learn to throw the ball away instead of forcing a play where there isn’t one.
Pat Kuntz, Kyle McCarthy, David Bruton, and Brian Smith—all of these players had a significant impact on the way the defense performed during the first half of Saturday’s football game. They made big plays when the team and the fans needed it the most and were a big part of why Notre Dame was up 21-7 at the half.
Now, if only they can continue to do this throughout the season and do it through a whole game (more on that later). Unfortunately, they only seem to make plays inconsistently.
This unit has improved drastically from the beginning of the season. At the beginning of the season, Golden Tate was a novelty and had yet to be discovered by opposing defenses. Now they have an understanding of his playmaking abilities and have covered him very well.
As is an important aspect of a solid receiving corps, Mike Floyd, David Grimes, and Kyle Rudolph have stepped up to help out the team. Grimes was one of the most frustrating receivers to watch last season, but since he’s returned from his injury, he has been a nice compliment to Floyd and Tate.
I still wish that Duval Kamara would show up on a regular basis, but I’m starting to wonder if he’s a lost cause this season. Nevertheless, this corps is still quite young, which excites me, but they are also very solid. They are one of the major reasons that Jimmy Clausen is putting up career-high type of numbers.
I know I’ve covered this aspect of our game several times. However, it wasn’t until this weekend that I saw the true devastating affect that an inconsistent kicking game has on this team and the fans.
Brandon Walker is 1-7 this season and 2-14 over the past two seasons on field goals. This is just simply unacceptable from someone whose only job is to put the ball between the uprights.
Additionally, his inconsistency is a major emotional deflator for this team. It’s like having a quarterback who throws an interception to end every offensive drive. The offense scratches and claws down the field, only to have the kicker miss a field goal. The defense creates a turnover only to have it wasted on a missed field goal.
Something needs to be done to salvage the rest of the season for the kicking game. Not only are they not putting points up on the board, but they are also having a negative emotional and psychological effect on the entire team.
Last year, Robert Hughes ran for over 300 yards in the team’s final two games against Duke and Stanford. During the offseason the only thing anyone ever said about the offense was how Robert Hughes was going to continue to run rampant on the opposing defenses and put up over 1,000 yards this season. Well, he hasn’t done that.
The same happened when Armando Allen rushed for over 130 yards last week. A lot of people immediately fell in love with Allen and expected him to break out. Saturday was a major letdown for the running game.
I’m convinced that the Irish’s anemic running game is a result of Notre Dame’s running backs and not the offensive line. The running backs are timid when the have to run through the middle of the offensive line, and it’s killing the offensive drives. Without the running game, the offense is forced to throw the ball much more and becomes predictable.
This may not have caught up with the team this week, but there will be a game, maybe as early as next weekend, when the opposing defense completely shuts down the passing game, and the Irish will have to rely on the running game. All I can say is that I hope they fix the problem by then.
Too many times this season, the defense has had to rely on the sound tackling of our secondary to stop the opposing offense. I’m not sure what the problem is, but the defensive line and linebackers are having a difficult wrapping up opposing running backs and receivers on first contact.
Notre Dame is very lucky that Stanford didn’t have enough foresight to keep pounding the ball at their defense. Stanford averaged just over seven yards a carry on Saturday. Luckily for Notre Dame, they only ran the ball 23 times.
Had Stanford chosen to run the ball more, even in just the first half, I can’t say that Notre Dame’s tackling would had saved the game for them.
This game was an unusual game for Notre Dame. They could have won the game 34-21 had Brandon Walker hit his field goals. Or the game could have been even more lopsided had Notre Dame’s offense and defense played in the second half like they did in the first half.
Conversely, Stanford really could have beat Notre Dame had Pritchard not thrown three interceptions and had they stuck to their ground game more. Stanford had no problem moving the ball against Notre Dame but was clouded with mental errors.
Notre Dame did an alright job of moving the ball, but their drives were killed with critical errors by the running game and kicking game. Really, this game could have been won by either team. Luckily for Irish fans, it was Notre Dame who committed fewer errors.
This game was a very interesting one to attend. It started very positively for Notre Dame and ended with the Irish holding on for dear life. Had it not been for the stout performance of the defensive line towards the end of the game, this really could have been a Stanford victory.
Notre Dame is starting to find their offensive identity through Jimmy Clausen and the talented corps of receivers, but they continue to struggle other fundamental areas of the game—mainly running the ball, tackling, and kicking.
I’m always satisfied, as a fan, with an Irish victory. However, unless the team starts to form some sort of consistency with all three facets of the game, the last half of the season—which is supposed to be much more difficult than the first half—could be a disastrous one.
Next weekend, Notre Dame travels to North Carolina, who is also 4-1. This will be a tough game for the Irish, who have yet to win on the road. Hopefully the Irish will continue to progress in their strengths and begin to rectify their weaknesses. The fate of their postseason hinges on it—as does the sanity of this fan.
Players of the Game
Offense: Jimmy Clausen – 29/40, 347 yards, 3 TDs
Kyle Rudolph – 5 receptions, 70 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Kyle McCarthy – 14 tackles, 1 interception
Pat Kuntz – 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass deflection, 1 fum. rec.
Special Teams: Brandon Walker – 0 field goals, 2 attempts