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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Sep 25, 2010, 6:56 PM EDT

Van Morrison said it best: There’ll be days like this.

Stuck in neutral for much of the afternoon, Notre Dame’s took a large step backward as Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford squad easily defeated the Irish 37-14, dropping Notre Dame to 1-3 on the season.

The Cardinal physically dominated the game, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The revamped Cardinal defense was all that was advertised, holding the Irish to only 44 yards rushing and continuously taking Dayne Crist to the ground. On offense, Stanford put together a workman-like performance, getting 166 yards on the ground and giving Andrew Luck all day to throw the football. Even on special teams, Stanford had the upper-hand, limiting the Irish kick returners to meager gains and consistently dominating the field position battle.

With three losses in the first four games of the season, Notre Dame will have to reevaluate their goals for the season. Here are five things we learned during Stanford’s 37-14 win over Notre Dame.

1. Notre Dame’s offensive line was exposed.

Today was not a banner day for Ed Warinner’s crew. The three-man front of Stanford’s defense confused and dominated the Irish, keeping Notre Dame’s running game obsolete. More surprising, Stanford was able to pressure Dayne Crist with a three- and four-man pass rush, allowing Cardinal defenders to drop seven and eight men into coverage and clog up passing lanes.

Stanford blitzed early and often and drilled Dayne Crist just as much, continually putting the Irish quarterback to the turf. The first three weeks, Notre Dame’s inexperienced tackles looked up to the task at hand. This afternoon, they didn’t. No offensive line is immune to growing pains, but this afternoon’s performance was an ugly reminder that Notre Dame is breaking in three new starters up front. Expect an emphasis in practice this week to be put on the snap count, as Stanford took advantage of Crist’s predictable delivery and timed their blitzes perfectly.

2. The Irish special teams need to improve quickly.

There’s no excuse for Notre Dame not to be better on special teams, and this afternoon’s performance was mediocre at best. Earlier in the week, Brian Kelly put Cierre Wood on notice that his hesitance on kick returns wouldn’t be tolerated. Wood failed to answer the bell this afternoon, tip-toeing out of the end zone on the opening kickoff and failing to get past the 20 yard line multiple times. It’s not all on Wood either, as the blocking up front failed to create running lanes.

The hidden yardage battle was also becoming glaringly obvious, with punter Ben Turk only averaging 32 yards a kick on his five punts, including a massive shank when he tried to kick one rugby style. While the game was already out of reach, the onside kick attempt by the Irish was a triple-failure as well, with kicker Nick Tausch failing to kick the ball ten yards, Harrison Smith running offsides, and Stanford recovering the ball.

On Thursday, Kelly had this to say about the special-teamers:

“We’ve taken our lumps on some effort things, more so than we have
schematically, Kelly said. “Obviously one of things I mentioned earlier in the week,
I didn’t like the effort of some of the veteran players on special
teams… I’m not putting you on the bus —
if you’re the third string whatever position and you’re not giving us
great effort on special teams, then I’m just going to leave you home.”

Mike Elston’s a very good special teams coach and you can bet there will be plenty of time dedicated to fixing these problems. Now we’ll see if Kelly is true to his word when the travel squad is announced for next week’s game at Boston College.

3. Manti Te’o is a dynamic presence.

While it was in a losing effort, Manti Te’o was all over the field this afternoon, making a career-high 21 tackles this afternoon. Te’o runs sideline to sideline as good as any middle linebacker in college football, and the hit he made on the Stanford sideline is a great reminder that he’s a got knock-out power as well.

“He played with a will today,” Kelly said about Te’o. “He had a look o his face, a toughness to him that he hasn’t displayed since he’s been a player here at Notre Dame. Today is one of those watershed moments for a defensive plyer that we can model.”

If you’re looking for reasons to believe that Te’o’s becoming a complete player, don’t look at the stats he’s putting up. Instead, rewatch the great job he did in coverage, running stride-for-stride down the seam and making a great play on a well-delivered Andrew Luck pass for a pass break-up. Te’o is a true sophomore and still very much a work-in-progress, but Notre Dame has found the rock in the middle of its defense.

4. Dayne Crist is having growing pains.

Dayne Crist reminded us that he’s only making the fourth start of his career this afternoon. Even though he got off to a quick start, Crist once again hit a lull in the middle of the game, grinding the Irish passing attack to a halt as he missed on five consecutive throws and struggled making the correct reads. With the Irish ground game MIA, it was up to Dayne to carry the offense and the first-year starter just wasn’t able to get it done.

“Every day he’s growing,” Kelly said of Crist. “There’s new things he’s confronted with. He’s learning. But it is a process. This is the maturation of a quarterback right before your eyes.”

Stanford defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had Crist off-balance or in the turf much of the afternoon, giving the quarterback multiple looks and dropping as many as eight white shirts into coverage. Fangio also took away tight end Kyle Rudolph, and Crist was lost without his safety valve.

5. Stanford is in a different class than Notre Dame right now.

At the quarter-mark of the season, it’s clear that Stanford is just a better football team than Notre Dame right now. Think about this: The Irish defense picked off Andrew Luck twice, held him below 250 yards passing, kept the vaunted Cardinal running game below four yards a carry… and Stanford still beat Notre Dame by 23 points.

“Begin by tipping my hat to Stanford, Coach Harbaugh,” Kelly said. “Well-coached football team. They were well prepared. It’s a fine football team. They deserved to win today.”

Harbaugh’s troops play an incredible effective brand of football, controlling the clock, the line of scrimmage, and never backing down from an opponent. We’ll find out if Stanford has a Rose Bowl worthy squad in the next two weeks, but Stanford’s last three wins — dominating UCLA, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame — certainly rank among the best in college football.

As for the Irish, they’re at a fork in the road and Kelly knows it.

“There’s going to be a lot of 1-3 football teams across the country,” Kelly said. “Some are going to finish 1-11, some are going to be 9-3. It’s what you decide to do from here on out.”

100 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. ndirishman - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:05 PM

    Notre Dame’s defense didn’t play that poorly. Forced a couple of turnovers and help a legit 1st-round talent to under 250 yards passing. Teo is an absolute beast. It’s just unfortunate that they’re on the field for about 59 of the 60 minutes of the game… look a little beat down by the end of the 3rd.
    Crist looks lost at sea unless the defense plays a vanilla zone coverage. The Irish o-line was a point of concern coming into the season and it was finally exposed today–on both pass and run blocking. Stanford is just better.
    Don’t hate on the Kelly-era just yet. He develops talent and he is implementing a completely new system. Must give him time.

  2. ndirishman - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    Crist is too inexperienced to bash too much. Have we already forgotten the debacle against Michigan when he was out of the game? He clearly is the best QB on the roster.

  3. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    The Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??? I always thought it was Japan?

  4. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    I think we can relate a lot of Dayne’s troubles to what he didn’t learn last yr and so on. Weiss had the same problem after Quinn left he never took the time for the backups and it has shown through the debacle of 07′ and this year thus far! If Weiss was here we would be back to 07′ difficulties! We are so much better with BK at the helm It’s not even close!!! GIVE ER TIME PEOPLE!!! GO IRISH!!!

  5. dan e - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:39 PM

    my thoughts….while kelly is in his first year i give him room to impose his will, but by no means give him a free pass
    1, first series..1st an goal, 3 wildcat formations? one, for the unexpected factor…ok, but the whole series? no wonder chryst has shaken confidence
    2, while only two scores down, 3rd and less than one, he goes for a rollout east/west pass play, and then fails on fourth with dive play. think ahead and pound the ball twice
    3, if i can see the pattern of blitzes from my tv at home, why cant the coaches. the middle of the feild was wide open for dayne to run for at least 10 yds. a couple of those runs would have forced stanfords backers to stay closer to the los thus opening the middle passing lanes. they cant keep throwing east/west.
    on closing…i never thought they were going to be undeafeted and i thought they had a chance of making some noise in the rankings..not anymore. now i will enjoy watching them put their nose to the grindstone and try to win A game and progress…that goes for coach kelly also…..

  6. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 26, 2010 at 6:41 PM
    As we all can see Cincy’s 07′ schedule a lil’ easier and he still lost the questionable games… give Brian a BREAK!

  7. terry - Sep 26, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    Good post.
    They did look whipped yesterday. That was a butt-whipping and they looked as if they knew it and just didn’t respond to it.
    Here’s hoping they take out yesterday on BC next week in Chestnut Hill.

  8. Patrick Mikes - Sep 26, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    Agree with you re: Mayock. Can’t stand him. Sounds like an effeminate know-it-all. Muted the sound for a few minutes because I got sick of listening to him.

  9. BryanW - Sep 26, 2010 at 9:55 PM

    Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma all run versions of the spread.

  10. Art Vandelay - Sep 26, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    Are you the only person alive that has never seen Animal House?

  11. olemantj - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:55 AM

    Finally. someone out there really gets it. Then the development will happen.

  12. ND422 - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:48 AM

    Some of you on here amaze me. The one’s who are comparing Christ to Clausen or the one’s already bashing Kelly, etc, etc. Yes mistakes were made as in every game. But, the biggest problems with this team are not heart, coaching scheme, or whatever. It comes down to two important things that any team needs to perform well to win.
    1. Defensive Line
    2. Offensive Line
    NO team is successful and especially no championship caliber team is successful without strong offensive and defensive lines. That is a fact. You can win some, but you will struggle with or lose most games. You can have a Joe Montana, an Emmitt Smith, a Tim Brown on offense or a Ronnie Lott, a Mike Singletary on defense, and a Joe Gibbs as coach or whoever (I think you get the point). But without a strong O line and D line, you won’t be successful. You can talk about all of the other crap until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean squat without a good O and D line. That’s been ND’s problem for years.
    And those ND fans who come on here that don’t know that, well that’s your problem. All you had to do is look at the inexperience and youth coming into the season on that front and you would have known they were going to be an average team. You set yourself up for disappointment. The problem with youth on both sides of the line is that it takes alot of time to mesh. I just hope the talent is there (and coming in) and they will dramatically improve over time. ND always has had good RB’s, TE’s, WR’s, QB’s, etc. That is not the problem.
    Sorry but I do have one opinion on a specific player. I think Darrin Walls stinks (#2 D back). For four weeks he continously tackles like a girl and afraid to make a hit. Other than him, the rest seem to play hard….they’re just inexperienced.
    Finally, For the ND fans, take a look at Kelly’s recent recruits…..lots of lineman so far. Weiss’ big recruits were mostly skill players. That tells a story all by itself. It sucks to have to be patient after seasons of mediocrity (believe me, it drives me nuts). I’m waiting for a big year too but going into this year I knew it wasn’t going to be anywhere near one. I’m still going to enjoy every week (win or lose).
    Go Irish

  13. Everyman - Sep 27, 2010 at 3:11 AM

    A limerick scribe named Art Vandelay
    Hates typos, quotes Shakespeare and Joe Conroy.
    I doubt he likes sushi –
    He fancies Belushi!
    Thanks, Art, for some mirth on this blog today!

  14. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    What’s that got to do with the price of rice in China?? No I haven’t by the way, Why would I need to??

  15. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    What’s that got to do with the price of rice in China? No I haven’t by the way? should I? and why?

  16. msal711 - Sep 27, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    I think I could have passed for 250 yds on Saturday. No pressure on Luck, he had all day. For you old timers, we need Ross Browner and Willie Fry at the D ends. Even when we got in the back field, he got away. We only stop runs up the middle, go wide and we get killed. Every week we find ways to lose. Let me vent and name a few on Saturday.
    Stanford third and 3, short pass in the backfield, we have the guy stop, our D back can’t make the tackle.
    We have third and 2 and complete a 1 yd pass to our TE K.R.
    We have fourth and 1, come on O line, we have to get the first down there.
    We took a step back on Saturday, nothing positive but the field goal kicker who looks like a winner and Teo who played a great game.
    Let beat BC this weekend and turn around this year into something positive.
    I think Lou’s first year started the same way, lets hope Kelly can follow him.

  17. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    OK OK Just got that….I’m a little slow this morning! I reckon you were referring to Japan or German?

  18. nevegreg - Sep 27, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    What could I have possibly been thinking; suggesting that ND should join the Big 10 when they are still wanted. After losing to the middle of the pack teams like Michigan St and Michigan, I am sure they would bounce back against the likes of Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Oh, wait we are talking football here.

  19. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    Your right we should start out with the cupcake’s (preseason) !! I know I thought the same thing but dramatically came back to my senses also! 5 top 25 teams thus far on the schedule, and whoever beats us next will more than likely break in there also…..GeeWiz wish we could of had those easy games everyone talked about. SHUCKS

  20. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:26 PM


  21. Irish Fan - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    Another Saturday, another loss with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight.
    I am not ready to give up on Kelly yet, but 1-3…WTF!!!
    Of courwse, the losses are not all Kelly’s fault.
    Our W/L record is divine retribution for the priest/child sexual abuse scandal that continues to plague the Church.
    If those pedophiles would just learn to keep their hands to themselves, I am sure that we would more games.

  22. irishfanintx - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:39 PM

    nevegreg…You are right, the Irish couln’t handle the Big 10 after all they only have a .687 winning percentage against Big 10 teams. That would probably be like Ohio State moving to the SEC…oh wait, no, Ohio State is only something like 3-11 against SEC teams (.233). Appears ND would be significantly better in the Big 10 than Ohio State would be in the SEC.

  23. nevegreg - Sep 28, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Since when did a Notre Dame fan care about the SEC and or Ohio State? I thought this web site was about anything that affects ND? If you read between the lines, or could at least, then you would realize that the Big 10 still would like to have Notre Dame, and the way that realignment is progressing Notre Dame football needs a conference.

  24. #1 IRISHFAN - Sep 30, 2010 at 12:13 PM

    The only reason that I can see for the all the “WE WILL ALWAYS SUCK” banter running ramp-id throughout many blogs is PURE SELFISHNESS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now would I like to see ND win all their game? SURE WOULD But all the BOO HOOOOOOING over how much we suck and all the other crap is pure NARCISSISTIC Behavior and It’s a damn shame, hopefully when we get all of the pieces in place the ‘REAL’ fans can enjoy it without all the bandwagoneers jumping aboard acting like they knew it all along!!! GO IRISH!!!!! I WILL ALWAYS BELIEVE!!!!

  25. mikeford - Oct 2, 2010 at 12:42 AM

    Had to be the 100th comment for the 1st time!!! GO IRISH!!! 19 hrs till the beginning of our BOWL bid!!!

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