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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Irish chop through Stanford in regular season finale

On a truly wild day in the college football world, Notre Dame made the trek out to the west coast to cap off their regular season. The shakers and movers of the CFP discussion had Irish eyes watching carefully.

Michigan started the day with a statement 42-27 win over Ohio State. As senior placekicker Johnathon Doerer took to the field to start his pregame warmup with a little less than an hour till kickoff, Alabama would stroke through an extra point to force overtime in Auburn. It would take them 4 overtime periods to do it but a half-hour later Alabama had swept the rug out from under an Auburn team that seemingly had the game in their hands. The collective groans rang out in Palo Alto, over 2000 miles away from Jordan-Hare Stadium, as the Irish faithful who had descended upon Stanford Stadium realized that their playoff hopes may have just been erased.

For the Fighting Irish, this was just a mere blip in the rearview for them that they encountered during their warm-ups. Notre Dame had the mentality of a veteran quarterback who just gave up a pick-six. Even though Auburn’s heartbreaker against Alabama didn’t say anything about how this Notre Dame team has played up to expectations for this season, it could’ve been the nail in the coffin for any playoff hopes that they had. The Irish, who have been trending up in the past few weeks, wanted to give the CFP committee something to chew on as they chiseled in their rankings. 

The Irish would get off to a fast start as the Cardinal went three & out and punted on their first drive. Then, they committed two offsides penalties. The Irish took advantage of the flags and a 33-yard reception from senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. set up the first touchdown. Graduate student quarterback Jack Coan delivered a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy. The ball would switch possessions a couple of times with little chances on either side.

It was almost beginning to look like it would need to be the Irish defense to show up in the matchup that Vegas had favored Notre Dame in by more than 20 points. Up just 7-0, the Irish would conclude the first quarter driving into Stanford territory. They would open the second quarter with a 15-yard reception to Lenzy that would put them on the Cardinal doorstep. Coan would find senior tight end George Takacs in the endzone to cushion the Irish lead, 14-0.

Then it would in fact be defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman’s defense who would come up big. Senior vyper Justin Ademilola would strip the sophomore Cardinal quarterback Tanner McKee. Ademilola fell on the ball and set up the Irish with prime field position. Unable to fully capitalize, the Irish would settle for a 36-yard field goal off the boot of graduate student kicker Johnathan Doerer, adding to their growing lead, 17-0.

Irish senior vyper Justin Ademilola blitzes the opponent during Notre Dame’s 45-14 win over Stanford on Saturday at Stanford Stadium.

The Irish would get the ball back after forcing another three and out. Junior running back Kyren Williams punched it in for the Irish to boost the margin to 24-0. By the end of the first half, Stanford had accumulated four first downs to Notre Dame’s 15. The Irish had put up 234 total yards of offense to the Cardinal’s 47 at the end of the first half. Stanford had also accumulated 44 yards on their six penalties. It seemed like it was all downhill sledding for the Irish from here on out. 

However, a Jack Coan interception set up the Cardinal inside Irish territory. With only 13 yards of field to work with, Marcus Freeman’s defense surrendered a touchdown from junior Cardinal running back Austin Jones. This would give the Cardinal a bit of life at 7-24, but it was too little too late. The veteran quarterback, Coan would answer the bell on the very next possession rocketing a ball through a narrow window to find Austin Jr. for the biggest play of the evening, a 61-yard pass that was mere inches from turning into a touchdown. Coan would finish the job on the ground with a QB sneak that brought him into the endzone, restoring the domineering Notre Dame lead to 31-7.

The Stanford offense could just never seem to get it going. Through the whole game, the Cardinal’s longest drive consisted of 7 plays good for 24 yards that ate up 3:44 of clock and resulted in a punt. The Cardinal finished the game with 11 possessions of four plays or less, 5 of which were three and outs and two of which were turnovers. 

On the contrary, the Irish offense flowed through the hands of the veteran Coan. Coan would finish the evening 26-35 for 345 yards with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score to boot. With 0:08 remaining in the third, however, freshman QB Tyler Buchner would take the field, replacing Coan for the first time in the game. Buchner’s presence was felt right away. Sophomore running back Chris Tyree churned out a 33-yard gain after the Cardinal were forced to respect the opposing quarterback’s legs as well as his arm. A couple of plays later the freshman would find green. The field opened up in front of him allowing him to scramble another 33 yards into the endzone for a cozy 38-7 lead heading into the home stretch. 

The Cardinal would be able to strike the end zone again as the Irish defense gave up a 49-yard strike from McKee to sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek. This would bring the Cardinal closer to the line Vegas drew, but still pretty far from within striking distance of the Irish at 14-38. A late-game strip by sophomore cornerback Clarence Lewis after a completed pass all but sealed the game for the Irish. Senior safety Houston Griffith notched the recovery. Kyren Williams would find the end zone one more time late in the fourth to seal up the Irish victory, 45-14. The dominant performance put the Irish in a sound position heading into the bowl season. 

The Irish were able to end their season on a strong note and were able to outperform the vast number of critics. When asked how he was able to flip the trend of his team, head coach Brian Kelly got serious. 

“Trust in them and then they have to trust in themselves. So building that trust in practice, that confidence that we believe in them and that we’ll put them into the game and say ‘you’re ready for this, you’re built for this.’ I think that’s probably the most important thing that we make them know that we believe in them, then they'll go out and compete for you.”

When Kelly was asked what was up with the cheers and ‘chug’ chants that were coming out of the visitors’ locker room at Stanford Stadium, Kelly was a little less serious. 

“Yes. So after each game, I chug a fifth of Jameson Irish whiskey. You guys didn't know this? More folklore. We put some Gatorade in the Legends trophy, we started doing that a few years back and I like to chug the Gatorade out of the Legends trophy after we win. So you guys are now up to date.” Kelly said, slapping the table and ending his postgame conference.