Notre Dame-Stanford football

Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery (99) chases down Stanford’s Bryce Love (20) during the ND's 38-17 romp, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

SOUTH BEND — Perhaps lost in the very real big-picture implications and some glimmering historical footnotes was the real beauty of the first takedown of a top 10 opponent in a top 10 showdown in Notre Dame Stadium in 25 years.

Style points.

Not in the traditional sense. But in the way Irish coach Brian Kelly has always wanted his teams to look.

Saturday night eighth-ranked Notre Dame was not only the decidedly better team in 38-17 defrocking of No. 7 Stanford, it was the team that bullied in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

When pressed about how big that gap might be between the lines, Stanford coach David Shaw — accustomed to having the edge in these matchups — shrugged.

“That is a question, isn't it?” he said. “I don't have an answer.”

Neither did the Cardinal (4-1), especially in the second half.

The burgeoning Irish defense smothered an offense that features the reigning Heisman Trophy runner-up, running back Bryce Love, and perhaps the best quarterback, in K.J. Costello, that ND (5-0) will face this season to the tune of 31 total yards and two first downs after halftime.

In the fourth quarter, the Cardinal went backwards — logging minus-13 total yards.

“We started fast, but we finished,” said Kelly, whose team had been outscored cumulatively 31-13 in its first four games but concocted a 14-0 finishing flourish Saturday night.

“And that's where you, as a football coach, when you're looking at your team, you see a resolve, a mental toughness that you're really trying to build with your group. And we saw that today.”

He also saw the dramatic re-emergence of previously suspended senior running back Dexter Williams during the first visit by a top 10 team to Notre Dame Stadium in the nine-year Kelly Era.

That gave the Irish an early 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter and set the tone for a 272-55 command in the run game by game’s end.

Williams, who had never carried the ball more than eight times in a game or 39 times in a season, amassed 21 attempts against the Cardinal for a career-high 161 yards.

“I'm really proud of his growth and his maturity,” Kelly said. “Those come first. If he wasn't growing as a young man, as a student-athlete here at Notre Dame, he wouldn't have the chance that he got here tonight.

“It's a privilege to play here, and he recognizes that. And when he got his chance, he made the best of it. And we needed him.”

Indeed. Converted wide receiver Jafar Armstrong, ND’s second-leading rusher, missed the game after suffering an infection in his left knee late this week, and likely won’t be back until after the bye week for an Oct. 27 matchup with Navy.

Kelly said the healing process required surgery.

Leading rusher Tony Jones Jr. left late in the third quarter with an ankle injury after picking up 40 yards on 10 carries.

Quarterback Ian Book was actually ND’s second-leading rusher on the night (47 yards on 15 carries), mixing those carries in around an impressive passing performance against statistically the best pass-efficiency defense the Irish will face the rest of the season.

In start No. 2 of the season and No. 3 of his career, the junior completed 24 of 33 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns, with senior Miles Boykin on the receiving end of 11 of those completions for 144 yards and a score.

Book was particularly impressive when Stanford dropped eight defenders in coverage and rushed three, a look that confounded demoted starter Brandon Wimbush — and Book himself, last week against Wake Forest.

“When they drop eight like that, we always talk about it, as the quarterback you gotta be able to go outside or use your feet,” Book said. “So it's something we worked on all week, and it's something I try to take pride in.”

The Irish finished with a 550-229 advantage in total yards, went turnover-free against the team that was seventh-best nationally in coaxing them, and put up 38 points on a team ranked 10th in scoring defense.

Senior Trevor Ruhland was part of the domineering Irish offensive line performance once standout left guard Alex Bars went down with a knee injury midway through the third quarter. Kelly said he won’t know the extent of the injury until Bars has an MRI.

Where Stanford has really had the edge in these Shaw-Kelly matchups is against the Irish defensive front. And the ND pass rush that had been chipping away with hurries and pressures this season, finally put up a big sack number — five.

Senior Jerry Tillery had four solo sacks himself, tying the school record in a game with Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri. To put that in perspective, Tillery had more Saturday night against a vaunted Stanford offensive line (and now has seven for the season) than the ND defensive line corps amassed collectively in 2016 for the entire SEASON (3).

“You can't block him one-on-one,” Kelly said. “He showed that tonight. He was outstanding. He got the game ball tonight.”

It might not have been an easy choice.

Also standing out for the defense was cornerback Julian Love, with two tackles and the record-breaking 33rd pass breakup of his career; rover Asmar Bilal, who had six tackles, a pass breakup and was stout in coverage; and linebacker Te’von Coney, with a team-high seven tackles and an interception to set up ND’s final points of the game on a 35-year Book-to-Alizé Mack scoring strike.

Bryce Love finished with 73 yards on 17 carries. Take out his 39-yard scoring run on a “structural mistake” and the Stanford senior averaged 2.1 yards a carry.

“We put them behind the chains and made them predictable,” marveled Kelly.

And because of all that, the 35th top 10 matchup in Notre Dame Stadium history became one of the more lopsided ones — certainly more so than the last time one of them went Notre Dame's way, the 31-24 upending of No. 1 Florida State by the No. 2 Irish in 1993. 

“We're dominant and we're going to continue to get better,” Coney said. “We're not a finished product yet. We have a lot more work to do. We're going to go back and watch film and fix some mistakes and keep getting better each week."

ehansen@sbtinfo.com

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

(3) comments

Doc Savage

Great Game tonight congrats to the Irish. Next week ND faces VT who is now 3-1 or something like that! Some sports writers have said that ND will have to face Bud Fosters defense next week and I was just wondering what they meant by that. His defense has only allowed about 11 points per game and they have scored an average of 39 pts per game. Now lets see who they played. Week 1 (Florida State) a weak recovering team and not much of a match at all. Week 2 (William & Mary) which I suppose was a cupcake game for them. Week 3 (Old Dominion) and we all know what happened there. Guess Bud Foster's defense forgot to show up. And week 4 (Duke) not exactly a top 10 team. I don't think that VT has faced an offense or defense yet the likes of ND but next week they will and I think the outcome will be a far cry different for them then it has been with those cupcake games they've been playing. But then again, ND should not take them lightly!

Bernard12

ND football rocks--once more the sun, moon, and stars are in perfect alignment...What happened to David Shaw's sarcastic smirk?...What happened to Stanford QB Abbott N. Costello?...Is it true that ex- Stanford football player, Sen. Cory " Spartacus " Booker, the Obama 2.0 wannabe, left the game in protest when he saw his beloved Indians getting scalped?...Did the Stanford team run back to Silicone Valley with their tails between their legs?...Will their goofball band greet them with songs that mock their touchdown famine?...'Twas a fine night indeed for the lads from Our Lady's school!

RWsportydog

Didn’t feel like a “romp” to me until ND got rolling in the 4th quarter. Costello seemed too comfortable in the pocket, and Stanford’s defensive schemes were putting a lot of pressure on Book. Very happy to see the team finish VERY strong. Very happy this team is changing my expectations. Verily.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.