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The good, the bad, the ugly: Stanford

Sep 26, 2010, 4:53 PM EST

After a evening of reflection and breaking down game tape, Brian Kelly said something incredibly interesting when discussing preparation for opponents.

“One of the unique things I’m learning at Notre Dame, early in the season, you’re not going to get great film sometimes,” Kelly said. “So you have to prepare for every eventuality. I put a lot of that on my shoulders.”

The Irish’s 37-14 loss to a now No. 9 ranked Stanford team saw the Irish take a large step back offensively, largely because of Dayne Crist’s confusion when Stanford dropped eight men into coverage in a three-deep zone.

“They were dropping a lot of guys. They had eight guys in coverage a whole bunch,” Crist said after the game. “They hadn’t shown it really at all in the film that we had. You don’t want to sit and make excuses, but tip your hat to Stanford.”

Stanford’s never dropped eight men into coverage this year because they haven’t had to yet. With convincing victories over Sacramento State, UCLA, and Wake Forest, Kelly admitted earlier in the week that he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and if Crist’s play and Kelly’s analysis are any indication, the Cardinal coaching staff won a key strategic battle yesterday, handling Crist just like defenses handled a young Jimmy Clausen during his sophomore season.

The game inside the game is what has me convinced that this Stanford team is a better version of last year’s squad — finally in possession of a defense that can slow teams down with a 3-4 system that’s highly versatile and capable of disguising schemes. (How long that lasts? We’ll see next weekend when the Cardinal travel to Eugene to take on Oregon.)

Before we turn the page to Boston College, let’s look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s 37-14 loss to Stanford.

THE GOOD

All good things must start with Manti Te’o’s performance yesterday. His 21 tackles against Stanford move him up in the statistical rankings to the top tackler in all of college football, averaging more than 13 tackles per game. He’s also giving his teammates a model of how to play the football game.

“One young man that played with that kind of intensity, if you will, we talked about that nastiness, was Manti Te’o,” Kelly said. “He played differently. I know he had a lot of tackles, but he played the
game differently. He’s a great model for us to have that we can point
to you defensively…Whether he knows it or not, he’s going to be pushed out in front quite a bit because of how he handles himself.”

Another group that should be highlighted were the cornerbacks. Darrin Walls, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton all played very good games, with Gray becoming a tackling force in addition to displaying great cover skills. The next step for the corners will be turning great positioning into interceptions. While the Irish got the first two interceptions of the year on Andrew Luck, they’re going to have opportunities in Chestnut Hill to pick on a very raw quarterback, as Boston College will be starting either Mike Marscovetra or Chase Rettig at quarterback, after head coach Frank Spaziani decided to bench incumbent Dave Shinskie.

THE BAD

The Irish couldn’t get their ground game on track, and it turned Notre Dame into a one-dimensional offense, something that Stanford capitalized on as the game continued. Kelly acknowledges the need for better balance.

“”I felt after the Michigan State game we established where we wanted to
go offensively,” Kelly said this afternoon. “We took a bit of a step back in this game. We’re in the
process of evaluating where are the things we were missing in this
ballgame. I’d like to have a little more balance. We’re 300-something (passing yards) to 110 (rushing yards), that’s not really where want to
be offensively, in terms of run-pass… We know we can throw the football provided
we’re prepared and put kids in a good position to succeed. We have to
evolve a little further in running the football.”

One of the biggest reasons that the Irish are struggling right now adapting to the new offense is their reluctance to use Dayne Crist as a running quarterback. The zone-read running game necessitates a quarterback that’ll sometimes keep the ball and run, and after the staff saw what was behind Dayne Crist on the depth chart, Kelly conceded that he could be protecting his quarterback too much.

“”You have to say that’s probably true. I don’t think that way, maybe. I
think it’s more towards, let’s make sure we do things that are his
strengths,” Kelly said. “Maybe there’s a little in my mind that we’re protecting Dayne. I don’t know that we can continue to do that.”

At 1-3, it might be time for Notre Dame to take their lumps and develop Crist as a complete quarterback for this system. If that means exposing him to a few more hits, then so be it.

THE UGLY

Notre Dame’s 23-point loss was the first lopsided defeat since the end of the 2008 season, when USC trounced the Irish 38-3 to end the regular season. Since then, the Irish haven’t lost a game by more than one score, splitting the 16 games decided by a touchdown or less.

Obviously, the Irish losing nail-biters is far more gut-wrenching for players and fans, but a blow-out loss points to a larger issue and a team that’s just not close to getting back to the championship level they’d like to be.

While close losses sting, Kelly rightly understands the danger of blowouts on the psyche of a young football team.

“As it relates to our kids, as I told them after the game, if you break it down, it’s 19-6, fourth down and a foot and a half from midfield and we can’t convert,” Kelly said. “Then third-and eight we have a missed assignment where they pick up a first down. Really, a hard-fought game, those are the key plays that turned the game eventually to where it was finished.”

With three straight losses, the Irish will now recalibrate and get back to chasing a victory.

“We’re well past ‘we need a win,” Kelly said. “After the Michigan game, we needed a win. I don’t know that anybody goes around here saying, ‘Don’t worry, it’s okay, be patient.’ We’re at the point now, no question, we need a win. Our players will continue to show up and work. We need a win. There’s no question about it.”

  1. frank b. - Sep 26, 2010 at 7:40 PM

    keith, which darrin walls were you looking out, the one who could not make a direct on one tackle which gave stanford first down, negating the punt and led to a score? Walls does not have his head in the game, at all, got lucky catching the tip ball. He looks like the lost freshman instead of the senior.

  2. TLNDMA - Sep 26, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    Darrin Walls is sucking it up and playing hurt, basically with one arm, lay off.
    Mr. Arnold, do you really think it wise to expose our QB to more hits? I ask this knowing full well the value of running QB draws and Iso plays in Kelly’s offense. You remember the first half in the Michigan game, correct? A couple runs maybe, but teach him to slide.

  3. dan e - Sep 27, 2010 at 6:22 AM

    darrin walls is a sub-par defensive back boardering on terrible for his entire 5yrs. he is sucking it up and playing hurt, but i would start blanton even if walls were completly healthy. frank b. is not off-base in his assessment.

  4. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:21 AM

    nice try: I would like to see him do well also, you know the pittsburgh thing and all, but how bad did his arm feel when he caught the deflection. What about the rest of the game he played in, did his arm hurt only when he blew the tackle?
    get a grip, I would rather see Lo Wood running around back there!

  5. mrrandolph - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:23 AM

    The progress that Stanford has made under Harbaugh is the progress the Irish should have made under Weis. As I always say, either Charlie couldn’t coach or he couldn’t recruit.

  6. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    nice try: i would like to see him do well, he showed much promise as a freshman
    face it , his head is somewhere else. Did his arm hurt when he caught the tipped ball, how about the rest of the game? I guess the arm excuse is only good for the blown tackle
    I would rather see Lo Wood running around back there

  7. mrrandolph - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    The progress that Stanford has made under Harbaugh is the progress the Irish should have made under Weis. As I always say, either Charlie couldn’t coach or he couldn’t recruit.

  8. mrrandolph - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    The progress that Stanford has made under Harbaugh is the progress the Irish shold have made under Weis. Either Charlie couldn’t coach or he couldn’t recruit. Maybe both.

  9. mrrandolph - Sep 27, 2010 at 7:43 AM

    The progress that Stanford has made under Harbaugh is the same progress ND should have made under Weis. Either Charlie couldn’t coach or he couldn’t recruit or both.

  10. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    nice try: when was the arm not hurting? I guess during the interception of the tipped ball? How about the rest of the game?
    He is a major disappointment after 5 yrs. He should have stayed home, maybe he can try arena football when he is done.
    I would have rather seen Lo Wood running around back there

  11. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    so i guess when he intercepted the tip ball his arm was okay?
    get a grip….I would rather see Lo Wood running around back there

  12. Different opinion - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    All I’ve heard from the post game shows to all fans, is how ND’s defense took a step forward; they played better; they’re making good progress. Well I don’t see it! The reason Manti Te’o made so many tackles is because he had to. The defense couldn’t make a play when they needed it. Standford was 11 of 16 on 3rd down conversions and they kicked 6 field goals. The times they didn’t convert on 3rd down, they were already in field goal range and kept the pressure on.
    Stanford’s offense did to ND what ND use to do to other teams. Keep the power game going for 3 quarters and win it in the fourth quarter. If ND wants is going to win, they have to play tough physical football on offense (run the bal with Hughes)and unpredictable aggressive defense (stop the bend but don’t break stuff).

  13. Different opinion - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    All I’ve heard from the post game shows to all fans, is how ND’s defense took a step forward; they played better; they’re making good progress. Well I don’t see it! The reason Manti Te’o made so many tackles is because he had to. The defense couldn’t make a play when they needed it. Standford was 11 of 16 on 3rd down conversions and they kicked 6 field goals. The times they didn’t convert on 3rd down, they were already in field goal range and kept the pressure on.
    Stanford’s offense did to ND what ND use to do to other teams. Keep the power game going for 3 quarters and win it in the fourth quarter. If ND wants is going to win, they have to play tough physical football on offense (run the bal with Hughes)and unpredictable aggressive defense (stop the bend but don’t break stuff).

  14. Different Opinion - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    All I’ve heard from the post game shows to all fans, is how ND’s defense took a step forward; they played better; they’re making good progress. Well I don’t see it! The reason Manti Te’o made so many tackles is because he had to. The defense couldn’t make a play when they needed it. Standford was 11 of 16 on 3rd down conversions and they kicked 6 field goals. The times they didn’t convert on 3rd down, they were already in field goal range and kept the pressure on.
    Stanford’s offense did to ND what ND use to do to other teams. Keep the power game going for 3 quarters and win it in the fourth quarter. If ND wants is going to win, they have to play tough physical football on offense (run the bal with Hughes)and unpredictable aggressive defense (stop the bend but don’t break stuff).

  15. Different Opinion - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    All I’ve heard from the post game shows to all fans, is how ND’s defense took a step forward; they played better; they’re making good progress. Well I don’t see it! The reason Manti Te’o made so many tackles is because he had to. The defense couldn’t make a play when they needed it. Standford was 11 of 16 on 3rd down conversions and they kicked 6 field goals. The times they didn’t convert on 3rd down, they were already in field goal range and kept the pressure on.
    Stanford’s offense did to ND what ND use to do to other teams. Keep the power game going for 3 quarters and win it in the fourth quarter. If ND wants is going to win, they have to play tough physical football on offense (run the bal with Hughes)and unpredictable aggressive defense (stop the bend but don’t break stuff).

  16. different opinion - Sep 27, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    All I’ve heard from the post game shows to all fans, is how ND’s defense took a step forward; they played better; they’re making good progress. Well I don’t see it! The reason Manti Te’o made so many tackles is because he had to. The defense couldn’t make a play when they needed it. Standford was 11 of 16 on 3rd down conversions and they kicked 6 field goals. The times they didn’t convert on 3rd down, they were already in field goal range and kept the pressure on.
    Stanford’s offense did to ND what ND use to do to other teams. Keep the power game going for 3 quarters and win it in the fourth quarter. If ND wants is going to win, they have to play tough physical football on offense (run the bal with Hughes)and unpredictable aggressive defense (stop the bend but don’t break stuff).

  17. orrsra - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    I am tired hearing about what should have been. The fact is ND has not shown any improvement in several years. They have been out coached and out played the last three games. Coach says Crist is growing, well he still looks like a he is in a daze with no fire in his belly. One game he runs the offense another he is in the pocket, what kind of coaching is that. Maybe he is hurt, if so pull him. If coach wants his offense to work he needs to stick with it win or loose. Lets run it with another QB if Crist can’t do the job. This is a team. The strength coach has done the best job, now it’s BK’s turn. If we do not kill BC (3TDs or more) we need to look else where. Coach reminds me of J.Faust all talk and no show. He wears a different outfit every game, well put one on get it dirty and wake up.

  18. orrsra - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    I am tired hearing about what should have been. The fact is ND has not shown any improvement in several years. They have been out coached and out played the last three games. Coach says Crist is growing, well he still looks like a he is in a daze with no fire in his belly. One game he runs the offense another he is in the pocket, what kind of coaching is that. Maybe he is hurt, if so pull him. If coach wants his offense to work he needs to stick with it win or loose. Lets run it with another QB if Crist can’t do the job. This is a team. The strength coach has done the best job, now it’s BK’s turn. If we do not kill BC (3TDs or more) we need to look else where. Coach reminds me of J.Faust all talk and no show. He wears a different outfit every game, well put one on get it dirty and wake up.

  19. orrsra - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    I am tired hearing about what should have been. The fact is ND has not shown any improvement in several years. They have been out coached and out played the last three games. Coach says Crist is growing, well he still looks like a he is in a daze with no fire in his belly. One game he runs the offense another he is in the pocket, what kind of coaching is that. Maybe he is hurt, if so pull him. If coach wants his offense to work he needs to stick with it win or loose. Lets run it with another QB if Crist can’t do the job. This is a team. The strength coach has done the best job, now it’s BK’s turn. If we do not kill BC (3TDs or more) we need to look else where. Coach reminds me of J.Faust all talk and no show. He wears a different outfit every game, well put one on get it dirty and wake up.

  20. orrsra - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    I am tired hearing about what should have been. The fact is ND has not shown any improvement in several years. They have been out coached and out played the last three games. Coach says Crist is growing, well he still looks like a he is in a daze with no fire in his belly. One game he runs the offense another he is in the pocket, what kind of coaching is that. Maybe he is hurt, if so pull him. If coach wants his offense to work he needs to stick with it win or loose. Lets run it with another QB if Crist can’t do the job. This is a team. The strength coach has done the best job, now it’s BK’s turn. If we do not kill BC (3TDs or more) we need to look else where. Coach reminds me of J.Faust all talk and no show. He wears a different outfit every game, well put one on get it dirty and wake up.

  21. New Jersey Irish - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    The defense can’t get stops.Did anybody else get the feeling on Saturday that every Stanford 3rd down and whatever was inevitably going to be a first down? Crist looks dazed and confused out there. Has the playing fast, quick hitting no huddle been abandoned?

  22. TLNDMA - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    Nice try? The guys hurt. Tryin what? You have never seen Lo Wood play, yet you’d rather see him. Evidently the coaches don’t agree. If Wood fails your eye test then what, a band member?
    Think back a couple games and the coaches were praising Walls. Then he gets hurt and struggles, you don’t see a parallel there? I don’t know how much he is hurt but, it was obvious to see on a couple of plays that he was playing through some pain. His head is somewhere else? He should have stayed home? Egads.

  23. peter rumsey - Sep 27, 2010 at 1:34 PM

    i agree that nd’s defense is not very good; they are very inconxsistent. teo played well but he lost track of a receiver giving stanford a first down. in other words, he too was inconsistent.

  24. Dan - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:14 PM

    Dear ND fans – quit complaining! Whah, whah, wah! Did you cry and throw a tantrum during Holtz’s first 4 games (I’m thinking yes)? Davie, Wilingham, and Weis all started with great records – Wilingham went 8-0 his first year – WHAT DID THOSE GREAT FIRST YEAR GET US? Years of crappy football. Holtz started poorly and ended his first year 5-6.
    These kids playing football for the Irish have one thing in common – no killer instinct – that cannot be changed overnight or one game.
    Some of you fans seem to think you know more than Kelly or Crist or Walls – you don’t. Kelly didn’t tell Montana to throw the ball into the 8th row before halftime against Michigan – if the pass was true – TOUCHDOWN! You all would be talking about how genius Kelly is. Kelly’s job is hard, he knows what he has to do – will the players buy it? After a few years we will see. I’d like to see some mea culpas if we win the big one but do not say “I told you so” if they don’t – you don’t know. Go Irish – I’m a faithful fan! Build the program Coach Kelly! (Saw Clausen’s first start!)

  25. frank b. - Sep 27, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    I’d rather see you in there, stop backpedaling, first the guy is hurt and then you dont know how bad he was hurt. Do you talk to ND coaches on a personal basis. The point on Lo Wood is I would rather see the unknown then try and figure out what is in Walls’ head right now after five years he is terrible….end of story.

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