Mistakes pile up to spoil Notre Dame road show

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Amir Carlisle dropped what would have been a sure touchdown.

DeShone Kizer lost his first fumble of the season inside the Stanford 30-yard line.

Isaac Rochell was flagged for a facemask penalty on the first play of what turned out to be the Cardinal game-winning drive.

Pick the worst mistake. They all added up to a 38-36 loss for the Notre Dame football team Saturday night.

Of course, without a defense that could play at a championship level, the Irish were taking on Stanford with one hand tied behind their back.

It ultimately cost them. Dearly. Notre Dame couldn’t contain Stanford for 30 seconds. The 45-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina as time ran out changed the trajectory of the Irish season.

Thousands of Stanford students streamed onto the field to celebrate the end of Notre Dame’s bid for a spot in the playoffs. All that’s left is time to assess the collateral damage for the Irish.

How badly will losing a shootout with the No. 9 team in the country impact Notre Dame’s postseason plans? Will the 10-2 Irish drop out of the elite group selected for the New Year’s Six?

The offense deserves the spot. The defense, which yielded 8 of 12 successful third-down conversions, not so much.

It was a game filled with twists and turns. Comebacks and letdowns. Amazing strategy and head-scratchers.

And plenty of mistakes, which will be lamented between now and next August.

Midway through the third quarter, Irish coach Brian Kelly did it again.

Every point matters in a shootout like this. Josh Adams had just zigged and zagged his way through the Stanford defense for a 62-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 29-28 lead. Instead of just taking the point, Kelly — like in the Clemson game — panicked a bit and went for a two-point conversion.

Like twice in the Clemson game, the Irish came up empty in the try for two points when Kizer sailed the ball out of the end zone.

Why rush? It’s not like both teams weren’t going to score again. Both defenses were porous. Points were plentiful. Take every one you can get.

Stanford’s return volley after Adams’ touchdown got a lot of help. On third-and-long, Cardinal tight end Devin Cajuste, a pain in Notre Dame’s backside all night, had what appeared to be some insignificant hand-to-hand combat with Devin Butler, who was filling in at cornerback for KeiVarae Russell. The pass fell incomplete, but Butler was called for interference.

Shortly thereafter, Stanford Bryce Love busted the first “explosive” run against the Irish defense, 21 yards, to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

Defense had no place in Stanford Stadium through the first half. The two teams combined for 526 yards — not counting C.J. Sanders’ 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — and 41 points.

Notre Dame’s only major goof of the first half was Kizer’s first fumble of the season, inside the Cardinal 30-yard line with 12 seconds left before intermission. The fumble happened when he ran into center Nick Martin.

Notre Dame’s defense, which has given up more than 20 drives of 75 yards or more this season, gave up two more in the first half.

While McCaffrey was the prime target for the Notre Dame defense, it was tight end Cajuste who caused the most problems. Not only did he catch a six-yard touchdown pass, but he got behind the Irish secondary and caught a 48-yard pass inside the ND 10-yard line that led to Stanford’s fourth TD.

The Irish offense used tempo and took advantage of the nation’s 73rd-ranked defense against the pass. Everything Notre Dame seemed to try worked – except scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Whether it was a case of the “yips” after three red-zone turnovers last week, or just a case of tightening up at close range, the first three Irish trips inside the Stanford 20 ended in Justin Yoon field goals. A dropped pass by Carlisle, which would have been a sure touchdown, derailed ND’s first drive of the second half.

Plenty of painful mistakes. If one of the three doesn’t happen, who knows?

Oh well.

Notre Dame's Matthias Farley (41) misses Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) during ND's 38-36 loss at Stanford on Saturday night. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)