All week, ND players and coaches basically apologized for what happened in Miami 2 weeks ago. They swore up and down that this week of preparation went better leading up to a game the Irish had to win to make a New Year’s 6 bowl.
It seems pretty clear they were just trying to convince themselves. The Irish lost to Stanford 38-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. If not for 2 long catch and run TD passes that weren’t earned by ND as much as surrendered by Stanford, this game would’ve been a complete blowout – again.
Obviously, the 4th quarter sequence that saw ND allow 21 points while running one (1) offensive play was the key one. Brandon Wimbush threw a horrendous interception on the first play after Stanford went up 24-20. After they turned that into a score, CJ Sanders fumbled the kickoff. And then another score. What sparked all of it was ND’s failure to capitalize on a Chris Finke punt return to the Stanford 19 with the game tied at 17. Two dumb penalties (a running theme of the evening) ended the drive before it could begin. ND kicked a field goal, their final points.
This leaves ND at 9-3, and as our own Twitter account said, it couldn’t have been a worse 9-3 if you wanted an uneventful offseason for a change. A run of the mill 9-3 in which ND looked like the same team all year could’ve been sold as progress. One in which they roared to an 8-1 start and looked every bit the playoff contender that the #3 ranking said they were followed by a giant crash to Earth… I’m not sure what you sell that as. You can call it progress, but no one really wants to hear it. Everyone will likely head to their camps. They’ll both be right and they’ll both be wrong, just like a year ago at this time.
Brandon Wimbush and Josh Adams haven’t been healthy all month. That much is obvious. The question of why ND has made plenty of effort to tell the fan base otherwise is probably less important, but one that will be asked anyway. Adams was a non-factor today, and Stanford’s defense deserves credit for it, but the burst isn’t there and hasn’t been there for weeks. The difference between him and Wimbush when running the ball was very obvious.
Wimbush, meanwhile, is just plain not good enough when throwing the football. It’s his 3rd year in the program, so it’s an open question how much better he can get in year 4 – and what happens if he doesn’t get a lot better, now that talented teams have made clear they can stifle this offense.
Props to Equanimeous St. Brown for gutting out a good performance today a week after the scary looking injury against Navy.
Next for ND: Probably the Citrus Bowl. LSU maybe. Or Mississippi State. Peachy. (Puns.)