Dominant Irish fourth quarter sparks a 38-17 Notre Dame victory

October 5, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 5, 2018

The late American comedian is supposed to have once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” When Notre Dame hosted Stanford last Saturday evening in a primetime battle of top-10-ranked unbeaten teams, both teams had plenty of chances to grab a win. Unfortunately for the road team, the Fighting Irish not only built a door but charged through it during a lopsided fourth quarter that saw Stanford repeatedly drop lumber on its toes and hammer its own hapless fingers and thumbs.

The Cardinal opened the game with a three-and-out that saw them gain no yards. The Irish drove 20 plays in response but saw running back Tony Jones Jr. turned away with one yard to go on third and fourth downs at the Stanford 47-yard line.

The ensuing play was a seven-yard Bryce Love run, his first gain after being held to no yards on two carries. But Stanford couldn’t convert third and 2 and had to punt.

After two opportunities to put their mark on their game, the Cardinal offense had come up empty twice.

Notre Dame then marched 85 yards in seven plays spanning two minutes and 20 seconds. The capstone to the series was a 45-yard touchdown run by Dexter Williams, who was given a huge opening by his offensive line and then outraced what seemed to be the entire Cardinal secondary.

Unlike a week before, when Oregon dominated the first half, Stanford’s offense promptly responded. Junior slinger K.J. Costello threw four straight completions, three of which went for first downs: A nine-yarder to a tightly covered J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a three-yarder to Trenton Irwin, another nine-yarder to Love and an 11-yarder to Irwin.

Stanford fans hoping to see their team use the pass to set up the run then got to enjoy a treat. Immediately after Irwin’s second catch, left offensive guard Brandon Fanaika, center Jesse Burkett and right guard Nate Herbig opened up a big hole for Love. (The Irish seemed to be blitzing on the play.) The white-clad senior out of Wake Forest, N.C., took maximum advantage, escaping the grasp of two Notre Dame defenders and zooming past the rest for a game-tying 39-yard touchdown.

The Irish offense were starting a new quarterback, but not until the hosts’ next possession, their third, did anyone start to get a good idea of his abilities. Junior Ian Book completed three of four pass attempts on the series, including a 19-yard connection with tight end Cole Kmet on fourth and 2 and a six-yard touchdown to tight end Nic Weishar on third and 2. The 11-play, 77-yard series ate up four and a half minutes and gave the hosts a 14-7 advantage with seconds left in the opening period.

Costello’s performance on the ensuing drive was outstanding. He completed five passes, including an on-the-money deep ball to sophomore receiver Osiris St. Brown that gained 45 yards. Costello’s only incomplete pass attempt, a shrewd throw to the end zone as Arcega-Whiteside was being mugged, was wiped out by a pass interference penalty on a navy-and-gold clad defender. Three snaps later, a patented K.J.-to-J.J. end-zone fade gave the senior receiver out of South Carolina his eighth touchdown catch of the year.

Notre Dame was unable to hold serve. Sophomore outside linebacker Gabe Reid sacked Book for a nine-yard loss on second and eight and the Cardinal defense forced a punt. After the visiting offense contributed its third three-and-out of the game, the Cardinal defense again held strong, and Costello and friends trotted back onto the field with a little more than three minutes until halftime.

In Stanford’s first three games of the season, Costello threw for a touchdown with less three minutes left in the second quarter. For a moment, it seemed he might repeat that feat, as the series began with another well-thrown pass that sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson caught for a 31-yard gain.

But Stanford stalled at the Notre Dame 45-yard line. On third and six, Costello overlooked a wide-open Kaden Smith and another open receiver, instead throwing a short pass to Michael Wilson that was too hot for the freshman wideout to handle. That enabled the hosts to retake possession with 2:03 on the clock.

This would prove to be a serious failure. The Irish, after having been stymied on two straight drives, easily advanced into the red zone, thanks in no small part to a 33-yard catch-and-run by senior receiver Miles Boykin. Two snaps later, Book eluded oncoming outside linebacker Joey Alfieri and was able to toss a 10-yard touchdown to wideout Chase Claypool.

Stanford got the ball back with 39 seconds, but the offense netted one yard on three plays while losing 10 yards on delay-of-game and false-start penalties. Notre Dame held a 21-14 lead at halftime.

To that point, Book had turned into Justin Herbert–like numbers: 12 completions on 14 attempts, 149 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. The Irish had significantly outgained Stanford on the ground, 158 yards to 68, but there was come consolation for Cardinal nation in their team’s yards-per-carry average of 4.9 — not too far behind the Irish’s 5.4 ypc.

Thirty minutes of football remained, and despite the Irish’s numerical advantages, each team remained capable of writing its own ending. Coming out of the locker room, however, neither one showed much talent for carpentry, as Milton Berle might have said: The teams exchanged three-and-outs that saw a cumulative two yards gained from scrimmage.

The Irish offense started finding its groove on their second series after halftime, however, driving 56 yards on 11 plays spanning more than four minutes. But on third and 10 at the 28, the Cardinal shut down a Book run two yards shy of a conversion, and Justin Yoon came on to kick a 37-yard field goal.

After an exchange of three-and-outs, Stanford mounted a drive that was mainly powered by a 29-yard connection between Costello and Irwin. But the offense couldn’t advance past the 28-yard line, so Jet Toner booted a 46-yarder. That made the score 24-17, resetting Stanford’s deficit to a touchdown.

The third quarter closed in the middle of a 10-play Irish series that stalled outside of the Cardinal 32. Yoon came out again, but his 50-yard attempt went wide left.

The visiting offense got the ball back with a chance to tie with most of the fourth quarter left to go. But the Stanford series began with a holding penalty on a pass play to Love, and the offense never even came close to recording a first down. Jake Bailey, who was called upon eight times against the Irish, booted a 39-yard punt that was caught at the Notre Dame 42-yard line without a return.

Book and his compatriots came out again, and this time, they would not be denied. The quarterback converted a pair of third downs through the air before finding Boykin in the backfield on second and one from the Stanford 8. The wide receiver took it from there, reaching the end zone with minimal interference from the defense and putting the Irish ahead, 31-17, with 8:16 to play.

Stanford was rapidly running out of opportunities. That issue suddenly became far more dire when, on the first play of the series, Costello tried to throw a quick out to a tightly covered Smith. Linebacker Te’Von Coney anticipated the throw, probably helped by Costello’s unhelpful habit of locking onto a single target and never looking away or even pump-faking. Whatever the cause, the Notre Dame senior intercepted the pass, quashing Stanford’s comeback attempt moments after it had begun.

Matters devolved from there. On the ensuing play, Book rolled out right before turning around and firing a short pass to wide-open Alizé Mack near the far sideline. The tight end continued untouched for a 35-yard touchdown reception that made the score 38-17.

Stanford still had a glimmer of light left, but Notre Dame wasted no time in quashing it. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery sacked Costello for an eight-yard loss on both first and second downs. On third and 28, Trevor Speights ran for eight yards, leading to a punt that represented the last time Stanford would control the pigskin in the game.

The Irish offense returned to the field with 5:57 on the clock and began the countdown to triple-zeroes. Both Jordan Fox and Alijah Holder managed the knock the ball loose on two rushes early in the drive, but Notre Dame recovered in both cases. Shortly afterward, Notre Dame kneeled out a 38-17 victory.

The result was a deeply disappointing follow-up to the exhilarating comeback again Oregon, but Stanford won’t have time to sulk. A physical Utah squad awaits this weekend, and as the visit to South Bend showed, the Cardinal have plenty of things to fix.


Helpful links

Stanford-Notre Dame team statistics — ESPN
Stanford-Notre Dame box score
Stanford-Notre Dame play-by-play
Stanford-Notre Dame interactive box score —
Stanford-Notre Dame static box score —
Stanford 2018–19 football roster
Notre Dame 2018–19 football roster
Game (and some other) tweets — @memomoment
Highlight video — NBC

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