Irish clobber Stanford, 45-24

December 3, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 3, 2019

Notre Dame rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit for a 45-24 over host Stanford in the finale of the worst Cardinal football season in more than a decade.

The Irish finished 10-2, with its only losses coming on road clashes at Georgia and Michigan, then ranked third and 15th, respectively. Stanford, condemned to its first losing season since a 4-8 finish in 2007, closed out a 4-9 campaign that saw the Cardinal go 3-6 in Pac-12 games.

The game turned with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. After Stanford junior quarterback Davis Mills was only able to run for three yards on third and four, freshman kicker Ryan Sanborn was summoned to punt with the line of scrimmage at the home 24. Freshman defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey blocked the ball, which Notre Dame freshman punter Jay Bramblett recovered at the 1-yard line.

After two unproductive rushes and a false start penalty set up third and goal from the 6, senior quarterback Ian Book dropped back and threw to the end zone. Senior inside linebacker Curtis Robinson, recovering from a slip on the wet turf, made a diving attempt to knock the ball away, but sophomore tight end Tommy Tremble made the catch to close the Irish deficit to 17-14 with 3:01 to play before halftime.

The visiting defense held Stanford to a five-play, 18-yard series, giving Notre Dame the ball back on their 24 with 1:41 left to take the lead. That’s exactly what they did in just three plays.

After Book threw to junior tight end Cole Kmet for 21 and senior wideout Chase Claypool for 14 yards, he unleashed a 41-yard pass that Claypool caught just before crossing the goal line. Freshman cornerback Kyu Blue Kelly, who was spotting three inches and 50 pounds to the Irish receiver, ran step for step with Claypool but was unable to make a play on the ball.

The score was 21-17 going to the locker rooms. It stayed that way after the visitors opened the second half with an 11-play, 51-yard possession that saw junior kicker Jonathan Doerer’s unsuccessfully attempt a field goal from 43 yards out.

If Stanford had been able to score after the blocked punt that led to an Irish touchdown — even if only with a field goal — then the game might have taken on a different complexion. Maddeningly for fans of Farm-based football, however, the Cardinal was mired in a sequence in which seven of its eight offensive possessions ended in a punt. This dry spell extended from midway through the second quarter through early in the fourth. (More about the exception in a moment.)

The home defense held Notre Dame scoreless on the Irish’s first two possessions of the third quarter. But that would not — indeed, could not — last.

With less than 22 minutes to go in the game, offensive pass interference set up first and 17 for Notre Dame at their 7. But the Irish immediately escaped from the situation, as Book found sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy for a 43-yard pickup.

Senior running back Tony Jones Jr. then carried two times; on his second attempt, he reversed field for seven yards after running right and finding a wall. An eight-yard strike to Kmet followed, after which Book was stopped at the line of scrimmage on third down. Head coach Brian Kelly elected to go for it at the Cardinal 29.

The play started off well for the Carinal. Book was flushed from the pocket by senior defensive end Jovan Swann with sophomore end Thomas Booker in pursuit. But the quarterback turned the corner and ran past the first-down marker to set up goal to go at the 3. After a penalty on the visitors, Book threw an 8-yard touchdown to Claypool, who got wide open while running over the middle. That put Notre Dame ahead, 28-17, with 18:10 remaining in the contest.

As I wrote on Twitter, “This puts so much pressure on Stanford. The offense needs a touchdown; the defense can’t allow another score.”

Reader, the Cardinal went three and out. The home defense forced a quick punt — but as happened time and again in 2019, Stanford squandered this opportunity.

Bramblett got off a 33-yard punt, but sophomore receiver Michael Wilson was unable to field the ball at his own 49. senior long snapper John Shannon recovered it for the Irish. That led to Doerer kicking a 42-yard field goal to give the visitors as 31-17 lead with 13:36 to go.

Stanford had scored more than 27 points just twice in 2019, but the game was still in reach. However, the offense turned in its seventh punt in eight possessions.

As I wrote in my Big Game recap, “Offenses on great teams make important plays in the fourth quarter.” This Notre Dame club isn’t among that school’s best, but it is pretty good — and by this point, it was too much for a tired Cardinal defense to handle.

Armstrong ran for 28 on second and 16 at the visitor 22. Lenzy gained five on fourth and two and the home 31. Two snaps later, his 24-yard carry brought about goal to go at the 1. Sophomore runner C’Bo Flemister took the ball in, making the score 38-17 with 5:10 left.

Finally the Cardinal offense came to life — although to be fair to the Irish, they had likely rotated in at least a few second- and third-stringers. Mills completed three straight passes, to Wilson for 14, to junior tight end Coly Parkinson for 12 and to sophomore wideout Simi Fehoko for 11. Mills’s nine-yard run from the 18 cued a nine-yard touchdown rush by Cameron Scarlett. That gave the redshirt senior, who finished the day with 43 yards on 13 carries, his team-leading seventh running score of the year.

Trailing 38-24 with 1:54 on the clock, the Cardinal needed a lot to go right just in order to tie. The defense forced a punt in little more than a minute, thanks in part to Cardinal head coach David Shaw calling a pair of timeouts.

For one final time in 2019, the offense failed to produce when success was critical. As Mills dropped back into the end zone and looked in vain for an open man, senior lineman Adetokunbo Ogundeji knocked the ball away (getting credit for a sack). Khalid Kareem, another senior Irish lineman, covered the pigskin for a defensive touchdown. With 41 seconds left in a lamentable season, that forged what would become Stanford’s last final score of 2019: Irish 45, Cardinal 24.

While the point totals weren’t that different from the 45-27 loss in Orlando in week three, the game was more reminiscent of the Cardinal’s 45-20 loss at USC the previous week. As against USC, Stanford had a two-score lead in the second-quarter but was trailing at halftime.

This time around, the Cardinal opened the game with an efficient seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that saw Fehoko, Parkinson and freshman running back Austin Jones all catch balls for pickups of at least nine yards. Mills, who went five for five on the series, capped the possession with a five-yard scoring throw that allowed freshman receiver Brycen Tremayne exploit his size advantage over an Irish defensive back.

The Irish came back with an 80-yard series capped by Book’s 16-yard touchdown toss to Jones. Stanford responded with a muscular 16-play, 82-yard sequence that ate up eight minutes and 15 seconds. Sanborn’s kick from 24 put the Cardinal ahead 10-7.

Early in the second quarter, Mills converted second and 10 at the ND 46 with a 17-yard scramble. On third and eight, the junior threw to Wilson for a 27-yard touchdown, the sophomore’s fifth of the year. That gave the Cardinal a 17-7 lead at the 9:29 mark of the second quarter.

Unfortunately, that was Stanford’s last scoring drive for the next 30 minutes and 23 seconds of game time. And on the Cardinal’s next series, Sanborn’s punt attempt was blocked, launching a chain of events in which Notre Dame score the next 31 points in the contest.

Helpful links

Notre Dame-Stanford team statistics — ESPN
Notre Dame-Stanford box score
Notre Dame-Stanford play-by-play
Notre Dame-Stanford video highlights
Notre Dame-Stanford interactive box score —
Notre Dame-Stanford statistics (PDF) —
Stanford 2019–20 football roster
Notre Dame 2019–20 football roster
@memomoment game tweets

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