Highlights — Notre Dame 45, Stanford 14, including a final score for a dash of style points

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Notre Dame at Stanford
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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Brian Kelly spent last week downplaying the concept of “style points.” Notre Dame stuck to the talking points all week about not paying any attention to the Playoff rankings, junior running back Kyren Williams pointing out his lack of cable means he does not see the new rankings until checking social media later in the night each Tuesday.

But watching the No. 6 Irish (11-1) finish their 45-14 win at Stanford (3-9) on Saturday, a different reality was clear. Williams was openly showing frustration as Notre Dame struggled to close its final drive, needing a Cardinal offsides penalty to convert a fourth down and then still not getting plays off quickly as the clock ticked below a minute remaining.

Some on the sideline wondered if the Irish would kneel out the clock, after getting a first down that guaranteed they would not need to give the ball back to Stanford, but if that was the case, Jack Coan would not have come on for that one snap, only to return to the sideline for freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner to continue his extended second-half work.

It may have been a concerted effort to get Williams past 1,000 rushing yards for the season, making him the fifth player in Notre Dame history to crack four digits in back-to-back seasons, and four of the last five Irish plays did indeed feature handoffs to the offensive bellcow. He either needed to fall down at the two-yard line or score in order to reach that threshold, but a bowl game could (possibly) get Williams across that mark, as well.

His frustration seemed more palpable than a rushing mark, anyway. Williams’ gestures to the sideline were animated and clear, both a verbal and a nonverbal urge to get moving already.

Notre Dame wanted to score to end Saturday night, it wanted to score 100 points within two weeks, it wanted to display one final moment of “game control” for those who decide what comes next to ponder.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly had those thoughts front of mind as soon as he sat down to talk to the media after the season-ending win.

“We feel like we controlled the game from start to finish,” was his opening line.

“That’s 100 points now, if you guys weren’t counting, over the last two weeks, to 14,” was his next.

Suggesting Williams’ eventual 12-yard touchdown rush should be considered the play of Saturday’s game may take away from sophomore tight end Michael Mayer’s penalty-begging block or senior defensive end Justin Ademilola’s strip-sack and fumble recovery or Buchner’s 33-yard touchdown rush. But Williams adamantly wanted that score, and getting it may have meant more to Notre Dame’s season than any of the previous 416 points, game-winning scores against Florida State, Toledo and Virginia Tech perhaps aside.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
Kelly gave the game ball to Mayer, more a recognition of Mayer’s season than anything else, though the star did have nine catches for 105 yards at Stanford, his last grab being his 64th of the season, a record for a tight end at Notre Dame.

Since fifth-year receiver Avery Davis tore his ACL against Navy, Mayer stepped up more than any other Irish passing option. The immediate expectation was that freshman Lorenzo Styles would step into Davis’ role, but that may have been steeping too much onto the young talent.

“When we lost Avery, we had to rely on more balance throughout that entire receiving corps,” Kelly said. “It couldn’t just be ‘Lorenzo, hey, go be Avery Davis.’

“It had to kind of spread out, and that’s where it picked up a lot for us.”

Kelly was crediting senior receiver Braden Lenzy, who had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, but the truth of the matter is, Notre Dame turned to Mayer after losing the ever-reliable Davis.

In the three games since then, Mayer pulled in 19 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown. (Lenzy: 8 for 81 and one score. Styles: 7 for 48.) He kept the Irish offense moving.

“He’s one of the best, if not the best, tight ends that I ever coached,” Kelly said. “At Notre Dame, we’ve had some great tight ends. He’s complete in every facet. He’s a beast in line blocking, he’s a guy that (if) you double, he finds himself open. He’s a leader both on and off the field. He’s a difference-maker down the field, vertically, option routes. I don’t know what else to say.”

What Kelly could have said would be something to the extent of, “Mayer did this as a sophomore. He has one more year left. I’ll be pushing him to the NFL next year. But first, look out, because another offseason of development could make for a truly special junior season from him.”

ON MAYER
Consider, Mayer was flagged for blocking too aggressively, a flag then picked up because the officiating crew recognized no penalty had occurred. That kind of sentence used to apply only to Quenton Nelson, and that comparison may not be hyperbolic in this instance.

“I take tons of pride in my blocking,” Mayer said. “I’ve definitely upped my blocking since last year, 100 percent. It’s something I take pride in, something I’ve been working with [tight ends coach John McNulty] on, and (senior tight end) George Takacs, too.

QUOTE OF THE GAME
“After each game I chug a fifth of Jameson.”

Kelly was joking. It was Gatorade. And the cheering from the Irish locker room was quite audible throughout the Stanford football facilities.

STAT OF THE GAME
Kelly’s point about Notre Dame outscoring its last two opponents 100 to 14 is notable. For that matter, the Irish have now beaten nine Power Five opponents by an average of 20.4 points per game, which should be the second-best mark in the country, though that claim is admittedly made without updating every single team’s numbers after this weekend. Beating nine Power Five opponents will also be among the country’s best, if not No. 2 behind only Georgia’s 10.

Cardinal sacrifice the last piece of Notre Dame’s Playoff push as Irish roll, 45-14

Notre Dame v Stanford
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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Notre Dame’s closing argument for Playoff inclusion could not have been much more thorough. If the Irish case was dependent on Stanford’s testimony, No. 6 Notre Dame (11-1) would undoubtedly be in the Playoff after a 45-14 laugher of a football game made the Cardinal mascot look respectable and courteous by comparison.

“We knew that we had to control this situation because we don’t control anything after this,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “It was control the controllables. That was the theme all week, because after today, we don’t control anything. We were going to make sure that today we were going to control the outcome. Whatever happens out there today, we made it happen. That was the sense that I had from our team all week.”

Notre Dame did just about whatever it wanted in front of a sparse crowd with more fans in green than in red, the 13 most important spectators watching from their televisions. That included sophomore tight end Michael Mayer blocking a defender so violently the officials initially thought a penalty must have occurred, and it included senior receiver Kevin Austin catching nearly anything Jack Coan threw his way, including a short crossing pattern that Austin turned into a 61-yard gain early in the third quarter. Austin finished with six catches for 125 yards, the leading receiver as Coan threw for 345 yards and two touchdowns on 26-of-35 passing.

The complete control of the game — one might even call it “game control” — even included Irish senior defensive end Justin Ademilola not only sacking Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee, but then also charitably letting multiple teammates try to recover the fumble he forced, doing so himself when they failed. If anything, Ademilola was so astonished the ball was loose for so long, he jumped on it rather than picking up to stroll to the end zone.

I was crawling to get to it,” he said with a smirk, the strip-sack one of his four tackles on the day.

That fumble awaiting a recovery was one of few Notre Dame mistakes in this final impression of the regular season. The Irish could not turn that short field into a touchdown, not that they really needed to. They already led 14-0 and would lead 24-0 at halftime.

“Certainly, one that we feel like we controlled the game from start to finish, 24-0 at the half,” Kelly said. “That’s 100 points now, if you guys weren’t counting, over the last two weeks to 14. It’s a really good football team. I think it’s one of the best four teams in the country.”

If anything, that two-week tally of 100-14 and Saturday’s scoreboard specifically were charitable to the Cardinal, particularly since its first score came off an interception of Coan that was returned to the 13-yard line, setting up the first touchdown Notre Dame allowed in November.

“We weren’t focusing on that (streak), we just knew that we wanted to dominate our opponent, and sometimes stuff is going to happen, but next play mentality,” Ademilola said. “That’s what we did, the next play we got better as the drive went on.”

It might be harsh to say the turning point of this game came at kickoff, but it would not be inaccurate by much.

Just as has been the case throughout the final month of the season, the Irish opponent was woefully overmatched. Notre Dame outscored its last four opponents 162 to 23. It outgained them 1,877 yards to 913. Those four teams — Navy, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Stanford — were within one possession of the Irish for a total of 64:56. Of course, Notre Dame never trailed in the month.

For every Austin sideline dash or Mayer seam route, the Irish defense provided its own style points. It never scored on Saturday, a nominal moral victory for the Cardinal, but it did score 16 points throughout the month, matching those opponents until a fourth-quarter touchdown from Stanford, the lone bright spot in quarterback Tanner McKee’s night.

If Notre Dame does not end up in the Playoff, that momentary lapse from its defensive secondary will not be why. The Irish provided too much other evidence in a Cardinal sacrifice.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
9:39 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 16-yard pass from Jack Coan. Jonathan Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 0. (5 plays, 74 yards, 3:00)

Second Quarter
14:30 — Notre Dame touchdown. George Takacs 2-yard pass from Coan. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 14, Stanford 0. (9 plays, 69 yards, 3:40)
11:27 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 36 yards. Notre Dame 17, Stanford 0. (5 plays, 5 yards, 2:23)
4:07 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kyren Williams 1-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Stanford 0. (12 plays, 75 yards, 5:09)

Third Quarter
13:06 — Stanford touchdown. Austin Jones 5-yard rush. Joshua Karty PAT good. Notre Dame 24, Stanford 7. (2 plays, 13 yards, 0:39)
11:31 — Notre Dame touchdown. Coan 1-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 31, Stanford 7. (4 plays, 75 yards, 1:35)

Fourth Quarter
14:33 — Notre Dame touchdown. Tyler Buchner 33-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 38, Stanford 7. (3 plays, 72 yards, 0:35)
11:44 — Stanford touchdown. Benjamin Yurosek 49-yard pass from Tanner McKee Karty PAT good. Notre Dame 38, Stanford 14. (6 plays, 75 yards, 2:49)
0:58 — Notre Dame touchdown. Williams 12-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 45, Stanford 14. (9 plays, 77 yards, 5:26)

No. 6 Notre Dame vs Stanford: Time, TV, Preview & Prediction

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 20 Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
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SAN FRANCISCO — Notre Dame has been ending its scheduled regular seasons in California every year for 24 years now, a stretch beginning in 1998. Before that, the Irish headed west to end the year only in even-numbered years, on trips to USC. That habit traces back, with a few interruptions here and there, to that rivalry’s origin in 1926.

Doubling down on spending Thanksgiving in California eventually made sense, adding some consistency to Notre Dame’s annual itinerary and, more importantly in the modern era, allowing the Irish coaching staff to spend the following week recruiting the West Coast, an efficient use of time at a crucial point in the recruiting cycle.

Brain Kelly will spend all of next week checking in with expected early enrollees stretching from Washington to Arizona and then over to Dallas before they sign their National Letters of Intent in mid-December.

But before Kelly meets with his future players, No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1) will look to win its 11th game for the third time in the last four years. A win at Stanford (3-8) today will give the Irish 44 wins in the last four years, despite last season being shortened by a game, the most wins in a four-year stretch in Notre Dame history.

That may be partly a result of lengthened schedules — 12-game regular seasons becoming the norm only in the late 1990s — but that is still a 25-year stretch that cannot compare to the current one, not to mention the 2020 season was a shortened season and this one is not yet over but the record could already be set early in the evening along the Pacific coast.

TIME: 8:00 ET, 5 p.m. local time. Kickoff will come just a bit after the 4:52 p.m. PT sunset in Palo Alto, Calif., unfortunate for a broadcast that may be lacking in dramatic moments on this occasion.

It is only the sixth night game for the Irish this season, more than most teams but anecdotally fewer than most Notre Dame years feature, the result of a schedule lopsided not only with seven home games but also with one neutral site game with a noon kickoff. In that regard, the beat writers have appreciated this season a bit more, though more noon kickoffs would be always welcomed.

TV: FOX. And thus, the Fox Sports app should also offer a streaming option. It may be a somewhat anticlimactic rivalry week on paper, but Fox does have a strong lineup throughout the day, beginning with No. 2 Ohio State at No. 5 Michigan at 12 ET, followed by No. 14 Wisconsin at Minnesota at 4 ET, an underappreciated rivalry as it has been played more than any other matchup in the FBS at 130 times. If curious, the Badgers lead 62-60-8.

The point is, not much channel surfing should be needed leading into the Irish season finale.

PREVIEW: Diminishing this rivalry week tempts chaos, but it is hard to imagine that chaos finding Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal is in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Sure, Stanford beat then-No. 3 Oregon to start October, but that win came courtesy of a questionable officiating call as much as anything else. And the Cardinal has paid karmically for that robbery, doing nothing but losing since and losing ugly.

Stanford has been outscored 210 to 86 in those six losses, for the most part far from competitive.

If such a lopsided game unfolds this evening, do not look for the Irish to fully let up off the gas. As Notre Dame demolished Georgia Tech a week ago, 55-0, it brought in freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner for a significant portion of the second half. The Irish coaching staff very much sees Buchner as the program’s future, and that presented an opportunity to work in a game atmosphere. Rather than limit his exposure to the playbook to tone down the blowout, Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees saw future value in turning Buchner loose.

“Just the way to play the game for me has always been about, we’re going to play it the right way,” Kelly said Monday. “From our standpoint, we wanted our quarterback Tyler Buchner to be in the game, regardless of what the score was, to run the offense. If that meant throwing the ball and we were up 35 points, it was important that we played the game the right way for us.”

Buchner finished with 17 yards on 3-of-6 passing with 67 rushing yards on five carries, not exactly an offensive explosion but still more than idling the offense in neutral.

PREDICTION: The sun is not far from rising on the Eastern seaboard, and Notre Dame remains a 20.5-point favorite, per PointsBet, with a combined point total Over/Under of 53.5. While that spread has risen four points since it opened on Sunday, it remains bafflingly low.

Pride can go only so far, and that is all Stanford has left to play for, while putting up another score in the ilk of 55-0 could help propel the Irish to the College Football Playoff for the third time in four years.

Furthermore, Notre Dame has not given up a touchdown in its last three games. Perhaps the Cardinal finds the end zone in the first half and the Irish ease up in the second half to allow another 10 points in a ho-hum win. But if Stanford does not break the goal line before halftime, there should be every expectation that Notre Dame defense plays through the second half intent on upholding this streak.

Keeping opponents out of the end zone for all of November will not get the Irish into the Playoff all on its own, but it would be an easy talking point to lead that sales pitch with for the next week.

Notre Dame needs to make that sales pitch, while the Cardinal simply needs to stay healthy enough to end the season, go home and wait for Christmas.

If that all sounds dismissive, then here is one more pair of statistics to consider: The Irish have averaged 6.01 yards per rush (sacks adjusted) in their last six games, while Stanford has given up 6.2 yards per carry this season.

Notre Dame 38, Stanford 3.
(Straight up — 10-1; Against the spread — 9-2; Over/under — 8-3.)

SOME OTHER NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
40: The Irish have won 40 straight games against unranked opponents, the longest active streak in the country.
34: The Irish have won 34 straight games in which they were favored, tracing back to the end of the 2017 regular season at Stanford.
7: The Irish have covered the spread in seven of their last eight games, the exception being their sole loss this year, to now-No. 4 Cincinnati.
6: The Cardinal has not covered the spread in six straight games.
3: Notre Dame last won three straight games against Stanford during its seven-year winning streak in this matchup from 2002 to 2008.

INSIDE THE IRISH
While Playoff hopes remain, Notre Dame’s 2022 recruiting takes on double the importance
And In That Corner … The reeling Stanford Cardinal closes Notre Dame’s Playoff push
Things To Learn: Stanford no longer the Playoff vault Notre Dame needs
The long road on Thanksgiving nothing new for Notre Dame equipment truck drivers
Friday at 4: 40 Thanksgivings as Notre Dame’s ascending season comes to a close

OUTSIDE READING
‘Divine intervention’: Notre Dame captain Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa finds a reason to celebrate, even amid tragedy
Notre Dame’s offensive line can finish the regular season with a statement at Stanford
Isaiah Foskey’s self-made education: Notre Dame edge rusher charts his own course into backfields, up NFL draft boards
How a Notre Dame quarterback helps families of troops every Thanksgiving

Things To Learn: Stanford no longer the Playoff vault Notre Dame needs

Notre Dame v Stanford
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SAN FRANCISCO — Notre Dame used to measure itself against Stanford. Of all the Irish rivals, the Cardinal was the opponent Notre Dame most saw as a peer. And early in the Brian Kelly era, that comparison was an unfavorable one.

Including Charlie Weis’ last year with the Irish, Stanford won seven of nine games in the annual matchup. Furthermore, the peak Cardinal years, namely 2015, looked to be closer to a national championship than the peak Notre Dame years did. That year, the then-No. 6 Irish could at least think, with reason, a win at No. 9 Stanford would vault them into the College Football Playoff, anyone shutting down Christian McCaffrey deserving such a boost in the selection committee’s eyes. That loss instead catapulted the Cardinal toward a No. 3 ranking at season’s end.

Even in 2017, though Notre Dame was ranked No. 8 entering the season’s final week and already had two losses — a nailbiter against eventual national runner-up Georgia and the calamity Irish fans wish they could forget at Miami — there was pregame debate in the press box if a win at No. 21 Stanford could elevate Notre Dame into the Playoff. Again, of course, the Irish fell short against their then-most frustrating rival.

None of that is the case anymore. The northern California measuring stick has fallen short, to say the least. No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1) cannot gain points in anyone’s eyes with a win at Stanford (3-8), no matter how many points the Irish score. The Cardinal is suddenly a mere speed bump rather than a roadblock.

Kelly has never been one to aggressively abuse the scoreboard against an overmatched opponent — even last week’s 25-year-best rout of Georgia Tech included a tapping of the brakes in the fourth quarter — and he recognizes there would be little point in doing it this weekend (8 ET; FOX), even if this may be one of two opponents he would not mind trouncing a bit.

“I don’t think it really matters,” Kelly said Monday. “… Adding a few points against Georgia Tech (or another team) is not simply changing their point of view. It’s really, for us, to continue to play solid on both sides of the ball and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

If Notre Dame has a Playoff claim — and while it does, it simply is not as strong of one as other contenders’ — it has been the development of both sides of the ball. The defense was widely panned after giving up 67 points in the first two weeks of the season, but it quickly found its footing with back-to-back 13-point allowances after that, impressive efforts overshadowed by the Irish offense’s struggles. Eventually, that offense found its rhythm, now averaging 37.3 points per game in its last six contests.

“When you talk about game control, you gotta bring in your defense and your offense,” Kelly said. “A balanced football team is just as good.”

Showing a balanced football team at The Farm will start with the ground game, specifically offensively.

Notre Dame’s offensive line was expected to be a strength in 2021. It instead began the year as a weakness, yet that recent scoring surge has been led by the offensive line’s cohesion.

“As the season progresses, and it’s coming to an end here pretty soon, we’re all communicating with each other and seeing things through one set of eyes better,” fifth-year right tackle Josh Lugg said Monday. “Those details that we really wanted to clean up are getting cleaned up. … Just being able to clean up some of those details as the season progressed, we’ve been able to play better ball.”

It should now end on a high note. The Cardinal has given up 6.2 yards per carry (sacks adjusted) this season, and in their last six games, the Irish have averaged 6.01 yards per rush attempt. Notre Dame’s strength is seemingly tailor-made to expose Stanford’s weakness.

“There’s no doubt about it, running the ball is going to be part of the outcome here,” Kelly said. “… Clearly our offensive line is geared toward finishing the season with another good performance.”

Typically, yards per carry can be too surface-level a statistic to truly forecast a game, and from that forecast, predict the national reaction to its outcome and its effects on the Playoff race. But, coinciding averages both north of 6.0 is a complementary enough pair of extremes to trust. The final impression the Irish will give the Playoff selection committee is that of an improved offense running through Stanford.

But it is not the Stanford of old.

No matter how much deference Notre Dame may offer the Cardinal, no impartial observer will mistake this rendition for anything resembling those teams that so plagued the first half of Kelly’s tenure.

“They’re a good team, just a good football club,” Irish senior cornerback Tariq Bracy said. “Have to take each week as a new opponent and a new challenge. Have the most respect for Stanford.”

Crash Davis would be proud. A nitpicking eye could justifiably focus on Bracy’s usage of “just.”

Pick your defensive statistic, and the formerly stout and physical Cardinal are low in the national rankings.

Scoring defense: No. 97 in the country with 31.3 points allowed per game.
Rushing defense: No. 126 in the country in yards allowed per carry, not adjusting for sacks, at 5.83.
Passing defense: No. 61 in the country in opposing passing rating.
Red-zone defense: No. 74 in the country, allowing touchdowns on 61.2 percent of red-zone possessions.
Third-down defense: No. 117 in the country, allowing conversions on 45.6 percent of third downs.

Notre Dame still needs to win to preserve its Playoff hopes, but little else can be accomplished Saturday.

“We have to beat Stanford,” Kelly said. “Regardless of what that looks like, it’s not going to be played as, ‘Oh, that was a signature win.’

“We think a lot of Stanford. We know their personnel, but it’s not going to be perceived that way.”

Never before has the adage — usually applied after hard-fought victories — been truer, “A win is a win is a win.”

Friday at 4: 40 Thanksgivings as Notre Dame’s ascending season comes to a close

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SAN FRANCISCO — This space has no Black Friday discount to offer. Free cannot get cheaper. Inside the Irish can, however, offer its usual listing of 40 things Notre Dame fans should be grateful for this year, with a number of personal pieces of appreciation from your resident rambler.

And, undoubtedly, as the No. 6 Irish (10-1) are one win at Stanford (8 ET; FOX) away from cementing a reasonable Playoff hope, there is plenty for their fans to be thankful for …

1) Those Playoff hopes almost died before they could begin when Notre Dame squandered an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter at Florida State in the season opener. Fifth-year kicker Jonathan Doerer, however, hit a walk-off game-winner in overtime, the first game-winning kick in overtime or the final minute of regulation for the Irish since the 2016 season against Miami, then a Justin Yoon boot.

Doerer was only on the field at all due to the pandemic eligibility waiver, and even with that option, his return in 2021 was never a sure thing.

Before Notre Dame’s idle week, Doerer doubled down on his impact, making a game-winner at Virginia Tech with only 17 seconds left.

RELATED READING: Pair of game-winners steady Doerer in uneven final season

2) Then the Irish Playoff hopes almost died in week two against Toledo. Trailing in the final minutes, quarterback Jack Coan dislocated a finger on his throwing hand. Notre Dame needed its veteran starter, and neither Coan nor trainer Mike Bean flinched at the idea of popping that finger back into place along the sideline between plays.

“It wasn’t sideways,” Coan said the next week to Jac Collinsworth on the ND on NBC Podcast. “It was sort of, the top part was popped up and back. It wasn’t sideways. Definitely didn’t look right.”

Football programs are more than the coaches and players, and never was that more readily apparent on a Saturday than in Bean’s composure.

3) Along with Bean, some credit should go to adrenaline.

“You kind of just feel it go back into place and it felt like normal,” Coan said. “I’m sure if my adrenaline wasn’t going so fast, probably would have been a lot more painful. But it didn’t hurt too bad at the time.”

4) More than 95 percent of the Irish roster received the coronavirus vaccine, protecting the locker room from both an outbreak and from extensive testing throughout the season, some of them receiving the vaccine despite some likely hesitation. Thank you to them for leading by example.

5) Thank you to all others who have also received the vaccine despite their own hesitations.

6) Some question if the need for “style points” and “game control” has rendered sportsmanship a memory of the past, but the scoreboard has never been the true barometer of sportsmanship. Rather, it lies within the, well, the sporting man, if you will. Consider Notre Dame junior safety Kyle Hamilton immediately after the Irish victory against Purdue, when he was asked about Boilermakers star receiver David Bell. Hamilton quickly praised Bell and offered concern for him after an unfortunate and unavoidable ugly hit from Hamilton in the closing moments of that game.

“He’s a really good player, he was a focal point of our game plan this week,” Hamilton added. “I think we did a pretty good job of shutting him down to the best of our abilities.”

7) On the other end of the spectrum may be junior running back Kyren Williams’ ever-running mouth. Irish head coach Brian Kelly insists Williams’ trash talk remains within the bounds of what the coaching staff encourages, but it is not hard to think the most energetic player in recent Notre Dame history might cross that line on occasion. He may not be alone.

“We have some other guys that you’d be surprised that don’t fit that mold and if you watch carefully, you know who they are,” Kelly said this week. “I don’t need to be pointing them all out at this point, but we have some guys that, because they’re mature enough and they handle themselves the right way — we don’t need to be throwing hand warmers into the front row after an extra point and getting 15-yard penalties — but other than that, we’ve done a good job.”

Kelly was exaggerating a personal foul flag drawn by junior left guard Andrew Kristofic against Georgia Tech, but there may even be value in that kind of mentality.

8) Personally, this season really got started at an Indianapolis tiki bar, the Inferno Room, that not only had rum selections that would make a pirate blush but also sweet’n’sour noodles with pork belly.

9) Not only am I thankful for that occasion, but also for the friend who recommended and joined there, only to then quote an article I wrote, quite literally, four years ago. That’s a rare level of retention of these ramblings.

10) It took the Irish about half the season to figure out its offense. Notre Dame fans still lament that, given that slow start played a key part in the loss to Cincinnati, but they overlook the fact that Wisconsin suffered the same delay, which is essentially why the Irish won in Chicago. If the Badgers had already figured out they should never throw the ball, Notre Dame would not have been gifted that rout of a fourth quarter.

Consider, Wisconsin is on a seven-game winning streak and covered the spread in five of those seven games, including four straight beginning the week the NBA season started.

11) Speaking of spreads, the haphazard state-by-state legalization of sports gambling has created many headaches, but it is also the reason promotional signup offers exist in a similar, haphazard, state-by-state manner. Using some logic to attack that capitalistic generosity can yield enough profits to pay for a new (to you) car.

12) Why need a new (to you) car? Let’s just say we should all be thankful for airbags and seatbelts. We never quite realize how effective they are until we need them, like when a seemingly indestructible Ford Ranger is proven destructible on the side of the interstate.

13) And in moments like those, having a best friend who will not hesitate to speed 20 minutes to the scene of such an accident to get you and your belongings off the side of the interstate is a blessing that cannot be overstated.

14) Sometimes the writing helps itself. This is vaguely intended to go chronologically, and only now do I remember that accident — that frustratingly led to a couple days of in-season silence around here, the likes of which not seen since 2018’s idle week after that same best friend’s bachelor party — occurred the day after the Irish lost to Cincinnati.

It’s nice when the writing helps itself.

15) Notre Dame’s defense continued to be publicly criticized, terribly mistakenly so, throughout October. The casual observer missed that the defense had already flipped from its opening two weeks of struggles. The transition to Marcus Freeman from Clark Lea was pulled off quicker than many realized.

Recognizing that as the Irish have not given up a touchdown in the last three weeks is understandable, though.

16) Senior linebacker Bo Bauer may have been the biggest beneficiary of that transition, shining with 18 tackles in the last two weeks.

“Coach Freeman is a great coach,” Bauer said this week. “He always says we’re going to work with who we have and what their strengths are. He’s just tailored the defense to things I do well and I think our defense is inherently aggressive, so I think that plays to my strengths.”

17) Yes, Bauer could return in 2022. No, he has not decided if he will.

“Obviously it’s something I have to consider, but right now, I just love my team and my teammates and I want to be where my feet are, so I just want to focus on being the best teammate I can be, trying to push this team to be its best.”

18) Another beneficiary? Ohio State grad transfer Isaiah Pryor could not get into the linebacker rotation under Lea, but he has become a key piece of Freeman’s scheme, with 37 tackles this year in a safety-linebacker hybrid role, compared to the usual linebacker-end hybrid of Notre Dame’s rover.

19) Yes, Pryor could return next season, thanks to the pandemic eligibility waiver, but at some point, players have to move on to the next step in their lives, and logic suggests that time may have come for Pryor.

20) One of the joys of travel lost during the pandemic? Trying a dozen different beers throughout a football season. Beers like a Mai Tai PA in the corner of your favorite South Bend bar, or an oak and orchard ginger lemongrass sour beer at your favorite brewery in Denver, or a raspberry sour at a riverside brewery in Minneapolis.

21) Shouts to the entire staff at the LaSalle Kitchen & Tavern. Missed y’all these last two years.

22) Shouts to Parker, for joining for one at Epic Brewing in Denver, though that one became more than one, always a risky choice during the season.

23) But no shouts to the drinking relief in Minneapolis who pointed out this and led to a personal identity crisis.

24) Speaking of Parker, a better understanding of his work with EPA (expected points added) at cfb-graphs.com has led to a better understanding of this sport. That might be the best thing gained this season, a few points on the college football IQ.

25) But not all college football IQ points come from advanced metrics. Never underestimate the joys of working through winsipedia.com. For example, a comprehensive look at the Notre Dame-Stanford series history.

26) Back to the look at the season, that’s the intention here, right?

Losing Hamilton for half of it has not been the calamity immediately assumed, and particularly dreaded by those closest to him on the sideline as he went down awkwardly in the first quarter against USC, lest his injury be misconstrued as somehow their doing.

While it has robbed the Irish of the joys of watching a unanimous first-team All-American, as Hamilton was going to be, it has given them a look at something unexpected and somewhat delightful: Hamilton the coach. When sophomore cornerback Ramon Henderson moved to safety a few weeks ago, he turned to the star for help.

“He’s more so like a coach now,” Henderson said. “He’s telling me what to do, what to take away, what I should be looking at on this play, what I should be looking at on that formation.”

Henderson then revealed some of what made Hamilton so good on the field.

“He’s a good eye guy. He’s very good at recognizing formations, recognizing tendencies really quickly. I wouldn’t say I have the necessary hang of that while playing, but on the sideline, he is like, ‘Yo, if he comes out here this way, he’s going to do this.’

“With him, just watching everything I do, and critique it to the fullest so I can not mess up the next time they come at me with it, that’s a major blessing. It’s the best to have a guy like that in your corner. He’s trying to get me to where he is at this point. I thank him for it a lot.”

27) Hamilton has made more of name, image and likeness opportunities than anyone else on Notre Dame’s roster, expectedly so given he is a certain top-10 draft pick this coming spring, but that is also somewhat a result of his personality. Others would rather not deal with it as much as possible.

No one would describe Williams as modest — see the above thoughts regarding his on-field demeanor — but his prioritization of social media and pizza is something more people should hold.

“I don’t like posting on social media,” Williams said Monday. “When I gotta post a picture of me with some pizza, I’m like, ‘Come on, really, do I have to do this? I’m just trying to enjoy my pizza.’”

28) Do not for a moment think the media overstates Williams’ personality. Fifth-year right tackle Josh Lugg found the tone of an exasperated parent when discussing Williams this week.

“You want to talk about someone who has energy every — single — day, it’s Kyren,” Lugg said, those dashes intended to mimic his emphatic pacing.

“On Saturdays, it’s pretty rewarding to run 16 yards and pick him up and be like, ‘Great run man,’ and some other expletives in there. To be able to be like, let’s get the next play call, and oh, it’s the same play call, let’s do it again.”

29) That has been the story of the second half of the season for the Irish, a dominant running game and an even more dominant defense. Development through the year makes finding storylines easier.

30) Speaking of infectious attitudes, here’s to Anthony Edwards, and we are not talking about the lead actor from “E.R.”

31) And speaking of promising young talents — no, this is not to put her on the same plane as Anthony Edwards but the transition otherwise worked — Caroline Pineda has made life easier in these parts the last two years, and for that, the greatest of thanks. When you read her story on Notre Dame’s equipment truck and its annual drive to California, you should realize not only did Caroline write that story and write it cleanly, but she thought of it on her own, pitched it and then pursued it.

All her editor had to do was slap a headline on it.

32) She also works thoroughly enough to send unused quotes for any future purposes, things like how junior linebacker JD Bertrand views his Oura ring as proof of what was already his lifestyle. The Oura ring tracks a player’s sleep, quality of sleep and other various health items that most of us assuredly neglect.

“It’s always been a thing for me,” Bertrand said last month. “But the Oura ring just allowed us to kind of put a number to it, and so you can see if you need to just put a bigger emphasis on sleep for that week or that day just because you’re behind or something like that.”

33) Bertrand’s habits rubbed off on roommate Isaiah Foskey, helping the junior defensive end become a possible first-round draft pick already.

“Luckily, I also have roommates that are trying to prioritize, so our lights are out almost every night by like 10, 10:30,” Bertrand said.

The two compare Oura stats “like four or five times a week,” per Bertrand.

34) Dry rub chicken wings. That has nothing to do with Notre Dame or Oura rings or sleep, but they are underappreciated and thus, we should be more grateful for them.

35) The Irish recruiting class of 2017 should go down as one of the most crucial in program history. It may not have been ripe with clear NFL talents, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah aside, but it stayed committed through the 2016 faceplant and then led the way to 53 wins, and counting, in five years with two, perhaps three, Playoff appearances.

36) Of that group, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa may be one of the most special and deserving players I have covered in a dozen or so years on this beat. That young man has gone through the worst parts of life and some of the best this fall, and he has never been anything but a kind soul in the process.

37) Friends who understand they will not see you for most of the fall, stay in touch as they are able and do not hold that absence against you. Not everyone understands dropping off the social map for 13 or 14 weeks, but those that do, please know it is appreciated.

38) PointsBet had no reason to reach out about making a weekly Notre Dame prediction, but it was a welcomed opportunity.

39) The Irish home finale represented 25 years of yours truly going to games at Notre Dame Stadium, and it hasn’t lost all its appeal just yet. After the 55-0 Irish win against Georgia Tech, a few extra minutes were intentionally spent on the field, lest six-year-old Douglas find a time machine and express displeasure at taking such a luxury for granted.

40) Lastly, I’m still thankful for all you readers, even when you get angry at me for insisting 11-2 Alabama will have a better Playoff claim than 11-1 Notre Dame.