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.
The end of the season vibes, right after that final whistle, are always interesting.
I would describe #NotreDame as currently relaxed but also a version of uneasy or restless. Sure, any celebration is muted in a rout, but there was hardly any at all on the Irish sidelines.
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) November 28, 2021
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)
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)
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)
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)