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Dexter Williams returns as Notre Dame topples Stanford in extensive offensive showing

| Monday, October 1, 2018

No. 8 Notre Dame broke its three-game losing streak to No. 7 Stanford on Saturday night in dominant fashion as the Irish beat the Cardinal 38-17.

Coming in hot off a miracle come-from-behind win at Oregon, Stanford (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) was hoping to repeat some of the magic in South Bend, but was unable to get much going in the second half against a solid Irish defense. Offensively, junior quarterback Ian Book and Notre Dame’s offense, which combined for 550 yards, nearly twice as much as Stanford’s 229 yards, were just too much for the Cardinal to handle.

The Irish defense looked to set the tone early, holding Stanford  to a three-and-out on the first possession. Stanford would respond on the ensuing Irish drive however, forcing a turnover on downs after the Irish (5-0) were unable to convert on a fourth-and-inches play at the Stanford 47-yard line.

Despite the strong field position however, the Cardinal were unable to cash in and were held by the Irish defense to another three-and-out. Irish junior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem hobbled off the field, but would later return.

Following the game’s first three drives, both teams got into a back-and-forth fight as Stanford kept answering all of Notre Dame’s scores. It all started with Notre Dame’s second drive of the game, as Book found senior wide receiver Miles Boykin for a 19-yard pass to set the tempo. Two plays later, senior running back Dexter Williams sprinted a 45-yard rush on his first carry of the season. Williams’ run — his first appearance of the season — capped off a seven-play, 85-yard drive by the Irish.

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish senior running back Dexter Williams rushes into the end zone during Notre Dame’s 38-17 win over Stanford on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Book had a lot of praise for the running back, who ran for a game-high 161 yards.

“Dexter’s such an explosive guy who brings a lot of emotion to the game, and he loves football. I just knew coming back, this couldn’t be a better week for him to come back,” Book said. “And I’m just excited for him. That first touch was just great to see him go score.”

Stanford’s junior quarterback K.J. Costello would get to work on the next drive, getting three first downs from pass plays. An 11-yard pass put the Cardinal at Notre Dame’s 39-yard line. The next play, senior running back Bryce Love showed off his athleticism with a 39-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game at 7, the first touchdown allowed by Notre Dame in the first quarter all season.

The Irish would start their next drive at their own 18. Following a nine-yard rush by Book and a six-yard run by Williams, the Irish took a shot at the endzone. Book found a leaping Chase Claypool, and the sophomore receiver initially hung on to the ball but lost control as he fell to the ground. Nevertheless, Notre Dame and Book would convert on a fourth-and-2 with a 19-yard pass to sophomore tight end Cole Kmet. Book then continued his distribution of the ball, finding graduate student tight end Nic Weishar wide open in the end zone to put the Irish back on top.

Stanford started the second quarter with the ball and opened the drive with a huge 45-yard connection to sophomore wide receiver Osiris St. Brown. A defensive pass interference call against Notre Dame junior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. would then put the Cardinal at the Irish 2-yard line, and Costello found senior wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to once again tie up the game.

After both teams traded several drives, with two minutes left in the first half Notre Dame had a chance to put some points on the board before getting the ball back to start the second half. The Irish flaunted the connection between Book and Boykin, as the two connected for three straight plays, culminating in a 33-yard pass that moved Notre Dame to Stanford’s 12-yard line. Book then found Claypool in th end zone, and the Irish were back on top with a just under a minute left. In just seven plays and 1:24, the Irish offense marched 80 yards for the score.

Stanford head coach David Shaw was critical of his decisions in the ending of the first half, saying that the team should have been wiser with the ball instead of letting the Irish mount a drive.

“Critical part of the game was the end of the first half, and [I] take full credit for that. Great opportunity for us to go down and score. Took a chance on a third down. Shouldn’t have done it. Should have gotten in position to get points, like we always do,” Shaw said. “It was my fault. Tried to do something we shouldn’t have done. Great opportunity for us to get points before the half is over, hopefully run a little bit more clock and go into the halftime ahead. Instead, gave the ball back to them, and they went down and scored on us.”

In the second half, the third quarter started slowly, as both teams managed a field goal. Notre Dame senior kicker Justin Yoon kicked a 37-yard field goal with 8:07 left, and Stanford’s junior kicker Jet Toner responded in kind by nailing a 46-yard field goal with 2:16 to go.

Notre Dame started the fourth quarter with a missed 50-yard field goal attempt by Yoon. Stanford got the ball back looking to score, but a sack by senior defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and a tackle by junior defensive lineman Julian Okwara on Love forced the Cardinal to punt yet again.

On the ensuing Irish drive, Book found Boykin for a 10-yard gain that was initially ruled a fourth down but then overturned after review, giving the Irish an extra set of downs. Next, a screen pass to senior wide receiver Chris Finke moved the chains up 14 more yards, and Book then found Claypool for a catch in traffic that moved the Irish up seven yards into the redzone. Two plays later, Boykin caught a pass and went eight yards to the house, thanks to some key blocks from Finke and Claypool.

Boykin finished the night with a game-high 144 yards on 11 catches and one touchdown. He also became the first Irish player since 2011 to have 10 or more receptions in one game. Boykin noted after the game that his chemistry with Book “is always clicking.”

On the following Stanford drive, senior linebacker Te’von Coney beat his matchup to the ball and intercepted a pass from Costello at the Stanford 35-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing Irish drive, Book found senior tight end Alize Mack wide open on the left side of the field. Mack ran easily into the endzone to put the Irish up 38-17 with eight minutes left in the game.

Stanford’s next drive was nearly singlehandedly stopped by Tillery, who had back-to-back sacks, causing a loss of 18 yards over the two plays. Tillery won the game ball for his four sacks on the night. Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised the play of his defensive lineman.

“You can’t block [Tillery] one-on-one,” Kelly said. “He showed that tonight. He was outstanding. He got the game ball tonight. He had four sacks. So anytime you have that kind of performance that just says about his development.”

Notre Dame held Stanford’s Love to 73 yards on 17 carries and 80 yards of total offense. Kelly said the game plan was to make sure the Irish tracked Love because of the threat he posed.

“We talked about it all week. We were going to play with a sense of urgency, one play at a time and the play didn’t end until at least two players had him on the ground,” he said. “Because that’s where he was so difficult is that you thought he was down and then he goes. And our guys were committed to that end in terms of making sure he was on the ground.”

Book finished with 278 passing yards and four touchdowns. Shaw said the Cardinal was unprepared for the junior’s quickness and mobility.

“The quarterback has got a quick release. He’s got great feet. He’s athletic enough to get himself out of trouble. We had him in trouble a couple times and didn’t bring him down,” Shaw said. “Quarterbacks like this, if you don’t bring them down, they can get first downs with their legs, they can get first downs with their arms.”

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