Another year, another 10-win season. There’s a sentence that Notre Dame fans aren’t used to seeing.
The Irish capped off a 10-2 regular season Saturday with a 45-24 win over Stanford that ended the way you want all ND games to end – with the biggest drama being whether the Irish give up too many points in garbage time.
Things weren’t so easy early on, as the Cardinal inexplicably were on fire on offense early in the game, jumping out to a 17-7 lead. But an Isaiah Foskey blocked punt (glad the Irish decided to play him today) turned the tide, and from there – and specifically from Ian Book’s clutch 3rd-down TD pass to Tommy Tremble – it was a dominant day by the Irish.
Let’s discuss the 10th Irish victory.
Once ND remembered where Claypool was, things went great in the passing game
I’m not…exactly sure where the Irish thought Chase Claypool was most of the first half, but when Ian Book hit him for consecutive passes late in the second quarter to give ND the lead and take a load off ND fans’ shoulders, it sparked the Irish offense. Claypool was only found one more time in the game – also a TD pass – but the threat of his existence made things easier on Book from then on.
No one player monopolized the target share in the game, which saw Book find seven different receivers (including a pop pass to Jafar Armstrong) on 17 completions. After a slow start, Book was very effective down the stretch, even with the poor field conditions and spotty weather.
Ian Book finally didn’t lead the team in rushing
A running topic of conversation this month has been that Ian Book led ND in rushing in four consecutive games, which was a good thing for Book and probably not the greatest thing for the Irish offense as a whole. That wasn’t the case today, as Book actually ranked fourth on the team behind Tony Jones, Braden Lenzy and Jafar Armstrong – the latter of whom looked like Jafar today for the first time all season.
Book did have a couple of big runs, the last of which was a key fourth-down scramble that enabled the Irish to punch in essentially the clinching score. Again, the ND quarterback was really good today.
Clark Lea finished strong
Dominant second halves on the defensive side of the ball have become a theme for ND most of this season, and DC Clark Lea will get some more deserved kudos this evening. The Irish assistant saw his unit start very poorly, like in the Louisville game, but just as in that matchup, the Irish defense locked down after that, as the Cardinal did essentially nothing until garbage time. And just for good measure, ND posted a defensive touchdown in the final moments to secure the cover. #GreatTeamsCover.
Hopefully it’s too early for Lea to garner head-coaching attention from the sorts of jobs that could compel him to leave South Bend, because we’d like him around a while, please.
Best thing about 10 wins is…
The word that keeps coming up for me when the streak of 10-win seasons, now three, comes up is ‘hollow’. (I promise this is going to a pretty good place.) The endings to 2017 and what happened on Oct. 26 of this year have soured a healthy portion of ND fans just a bit on this string of 10-win seasons.
The best thing about Brian Kelly at Notre Dame is that these 10-win seasons do in fact feel somewhat hollow. ND fans could, and practically did, throw parades for Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis when they had 10-win seasons (the latter, it must be said, against a schedule no better than the one these Irish faced this year). Kelly has made winning 10 common enough that just doing it, in and of itself, isn’t enough. There are plenty of negative things you would be justified in saying about Kelly’s time at ND, but in my view this is the best thing that’s come out of it. Just 10 wins isn’t enough. This fan base is now hungry for more, and that’s a credit to him. Whoever comes next will inherit high expectations as a result.
Bowl destination is…
We’ll find out officially next week where Notre Dame is headed for its postseason game, but Auburn’s victory over Alabama essentially ended ND’s chances at the Cotton Bowl. The Irish aren’t passing Bama, so there are too many teams in their way at this point to get to Arlington. Since the ACC seems content to send a low-rent team that ND already defeated to Miami’s Orange Bowl to get destroyed by (quite possibly) the Tide, that locks the Irish out of the big bowls. Whether it’s the Citrus or the Camping World, you can probably book your tickets to Orlando.
Then again, good things have happened there in recent years.
(Photo credit: Indy Star)