Notre Dame’s second-half mistakes prove costly in loss at Stanford
Tobias Hoonhout | Sunday, November 26, 2017
STANFORD, Calif. — For a moment, it seemed like Notre Dame had Stanford on its heels.
After a back-and-forth first half that saw both the Irish (9-3) and the Cardinal (9-3, 7-2 Pac-12) struggle to establish the run game — and instead turn to their quarterbacks for an offensive spark — Notre Dame came out swinging.
On the first play of the second half, junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush found fellow junior Equanimeous St. Brown on a simple slant route, and the wideout raced past Stanford senior linebacker Jordan Perez and down the sideline 75 yards for the score. The Irish defense then managed to halt a Cardinal drive and force a field goal, as Stanford pushed all the way to the Notre Dame 7-yard line but couldn’t punch it in.
While the Irish pushed down the field on their next drive, the offense stalled and was before forced to punt. But senior punter Tyler Newsome’s kick was downed at the 1-yard line to put Stanford right back on its heels. The Cardinal survived the safety scare but were forced to punt in a three-and-out, and junior wide receiver Chris Finke promptly brought the punt back 41 yards for his longest return of the season all the way to the Stanford 19-yard line — giving Notre Dame an excellent opportunity.
But that’s when it all started to fall apart.
In great field position with a chance to go back up a touchdown, the Irish recorded two costly penalties in a row to push them back 10 yards. The offense couldn’t recover, and a four-play drive which netted -2 yards ended in a field goal.
“Just dumb penalties,” graduate student offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said of the drive. “It can’t happen, that’s the only thing you can say about that.”
Stanford suddenly seized back the momentum, and moved 39 yards on two plays, thanks to a 15-yard facemask call against sophomore cornerback Julian Love on a tackle of Stanford junior running back Bryce Love. Five plays later on a third-and-eight, Cardinal sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello — who threw for a career-high four touchdowns in the win — found his roommate, sophomore tight end Kaden Smith, on a perfect strike in the back of the end zone to put Stanford up 24-20.
Down four, the Irish came out looking to punch right back. On the first play, Notre Dame went right back to the air, and Wimbush stepped confidently into a throw to graduate student tight Durham Smythe on a short curl. But the junior didn’t notice Stanford sophomore linebacker Curtis Robinson tracking back in coverage, and fired the ball right to the sophomore, who made no mistake and snagged the interception for the first turnover of the night for either team.
“I just didn’t see the defender, and he made the play on the ball,” Wimbush said of the play.
Stanford wasted no time in capitalizing on the Irish mistake, as it took the Cardinal offense all of three plays for Costello to float a pass to a wide-open Dalton Schultz, and the senior tight end fell back into the end zone to make it 31-20 Stanford.
On the ensuing kickoff, Irish return man C.J. Sanders tried to make a play out of the end zone to give Notre Dame some life. But the junior only made it to the Irish 18-yard line before a hit from Cardinal sophomore linebacker Jordan Fox jarred the ball loose, and sophomore corner Malik Antoine recovered for Stanford to suck any air out of an Irish comeback.
The Cardinal and Bryce Love subsequently powered their way to the Irish 3-yard line, where junior back Cameron Scarlett punched in the score to put Stanford up 18 with 10:10 left.
In just a span of 3:36 on the game clock, Stanford went on a 21-0 run to go from down 20-17 to up 38-20.
Notre Dame pushed to try and mount some sort of comeback on the following drive, but by the time Wimbush threw another interception — this time on a pass intended for St. Brown that was cut off by Cardinal junior safety Frank Buncom in the end zone with five minutes left — the winner had already been decided. Although it wasn’t a collapse as epic as the one in Miami two games earlier, the impact of Notre Dame’s errors was just as costly.
“We lost the football game,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said postgame. “Stanford made more plays than we did. We turned the football over late in the game. Each game that we’ve lost this year, we’ve turned the football over against quality opposition, against good football teams. Stanford is clearly a good football team. Did that against Miami, did that against Georgia. You can’t turn the football over against really good football teams. Then, you got to make some plays. We got to coach better. Got to play better, got to coach better. Stanford made the plays when they needed to.
“ … We didn’t play bad football teams and turn it over, we played really good football teams and turned it over. If you’re going to do that, you’re going to put yourself in a bad situation. There’s not that guys were tired, not mentally sharp, they didn’t come ready to play. They came ready to play. They were ready to win today. Got to hold onto the football. Can’t turn it over.”