Stanford comes from behind to top Notre Dame, 17-10
Elizabeth Greason | Sunday, October 16, 2016
After a promising first half, the Irish dropped their fifth game of the season, 17-10 to Stanford, failing to put any points on the board after halftime.
A series of lucky breaks in the first half allowed the Irish (2-5) to jump out to a 10-0 lead.
The Cardinal (4-2) dominated on time of possession in the first quarter, marching down the field to start the game. Stanford had success running the ball with sophomore running back Bryce Love stepping in the place of injured junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who sat out with an undisclosed injury.
Irish junior safety Drue Tranquill stuffed Cardinal senior quarterback Ryan Burns on a sneak for a loss of a yard, which was followed by an incomplete pass from a hurried Burns, forcing Stanford to attempt a field goal on its first drive of the game. The 45-yard attempt hit the left upright, leaving the game scoreless and turning the ball over to Notre Dame on downs. The Irish, however, failed to gain any yardage from their first possession.
As Stanford began to threaten again, Irish junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner forced his second career fumble, which was recovered by freshman cornerback Julian Love.
The Notre Dame run game took the spotlight after the fumble recovery, led by senior running back Tarean Folston. Junior quarterback DeShone Kizer started Notre Dame off on the right foot with a 32-yard run. Folston then led the charge downfield for the Irish with four consecutive carries to put the Irish in deep into the red zone. Kizer was able to evade defenders and pick up an 8-yard rushing touchdown for the first score of the game.
In the second quarter, the Irish converted on fourth down with another run up the middle by Folston to extend their drive. Kizer re-introduced the pass to the Irish offense, completing passes to junior tight end Nic Weishar and senior captain and receiver Torii Hunter Jr. for 16 and 33 yards, respectively.
Kizer was stopped for a loss and threw two incomplete passes, forcing Notre Dame to send out the kicking unit. Sophomore kicker Justin Yoon’s 29-yard attempt was good to give the Irish a 10-point lead. That lead was solidified by an interception courtesy of senior cornerback Cole Luke at the Notre Dame 19-yard line on Stanford’s next drive.
The Irish started the second half with the ball, but failed to achieve a first down before turning the ball over. Stanford sophomore cornerback Quenton Meeks picked off a pass intended for Irish sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown at midfield and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Cardinal their first points of the game and cutting the Irish lead to 10-7.
Kizer was intercepted once again on Notre Dame’s next possession, prompting Irish head coach Brian Kelly to make the switch to senior Malik Zaire. Kelly said he felt that the change was necessary in order to regain the energy his team had in the first half.
“[I] just felt like we needed to get some momentum back,” Kelly said. “I thought he could add some momentum. That was a head coaching decision. … We didn’t score the week before, and of course the weather conditions were awful the week before, and that’s not to put anything on DeShone Kizer, but I just was looking for maybe catch some lightning in a bottle. Malik is a really good quarterback. We really wanted to win, and I wanted to win for our guys, and I thought maybe that change up would get us the energy back that we had lost when Stanford put some points on the board. That was the intent in that situation.”
Zaire finished the game with a net three rushing yards, no pass completions and was sacked once. Despite his statistics, Kelly did not regret the decision to put Zaire in at the helm in the second half.
“Malik is a really good quarterback, and I just felt like at that time he would provide that for us,” Kelly said. “And it takes 11 guys, you know, to give you momentum, too, but I just thought he would be a catalyst in that situation. But in no way, shape or form would I regret ever going to Malik Zaire.”
Hunter said he trusted his coach’s decision and noted that his offense feels comfortable with either quarterback leading the team.
“We just trust whoever they put out there in the quarterback position,” Hunter said. “You know whoever they put out there is a quality guy and has prepared for that opportunity, so we’re behind whoever they put out there.”
Stanford quickly picked up two additional points with a safety off a bad snap with just over a minute left in the third quarter to get within one point of the Irish.
Love made the next move for the Cardinal with a touchdown that would be reviewed, Stanford’s first and only offensive score of the game. Love fumbled the ball as he crossed into the end zone, but the ball was recovered in the back of the end zone by Stanford sophomore receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. After a series of penalties on Notre Dame, the Cardinal were easily able to put up two additional points on their 2-point conversion attempt.
The Irish struggled offensively in the second half, failing to build up meaningful drives until the last minutes of the fourth quarter. Irish senior captain and left tackle Mike McGlinchey attributes this, not to Stanford’s ability to stop the run, but instead to Notre Dame’s inability to execute properly.
“I think there were certain things we didn’t execute as well, but we didn’t completely stop executing on the ground game up front at all, really,” McGlinchey said. “We just kind of, we got into some situations where we put ourselves behind the chains a little bit, whether it be a penalty or something like that that had happened in the game, so we couldn’t execute the running game as well as we would’ve liked. … And I don’t think that Stanford made too many adjustments out there. What you see is what you get with teams like that. They’re good at what they do and they’re gonna stick to it. It was just a matter of shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit and kind of putting ourselves in a bad position where we couldn’t control the flow of the game the way we would’ve liked to.”
As the game clock ticked down, the Irish defense was able to stop the Cardinal once again and prevent their drive from penetrating field-goal range.
The Irish got the ball back with a chance to tie with under four minutes on the clock at their own 25-yard line.
With Kizer back in the game under center, the Irish marched down the field in a series of completions to Hunter, St. Brown, freshman receiver Chase Claypool, sophomore running back Josh Adams and freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson.
With seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, the Irish looked poised to tie the game on Stanford’s 8-yard-line until Kizer was sacked for a loss of six and forced to spike the ball. On the final play of the game, Kizer’s only option was to try to rush, gaining three yards before Stanford forced a fumble. McGlinchey, who recovered the fumble as time expired, noted that, with time as a factor in the closing drive, it became more difficult to protect Kizer as the offense was forced to be more predictable.
“The Stanford rushers made some plays — they’re good players,” McGlinchey said. “When they know we’re throwing the ball, it makes our job a little bit harder. That’s when we’re defined, is through the obvious situations in the game and when everybody in the stadium knows you’re throwing the ball, we’ve gotta be at our best and protect. And we had some lapses there that we’ll get better at.”
Kelly felt that the loss was especially frustrating as it comes in a series of games that the Irish have dropped by a margin of one possession.
“This is a bitter pill to swallow, certainly,” Kelly said. “You know, losing our fifth game now by one possession, everybody is — I love those kids in there. They had great energy. They wanted to win. They did everything that they knew in terms of what they felt like they could do to win, and they just came up a little short again.”