Vorel: Notre Dame needs strong supporting cast to subdue Stanford

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

I can see the commercial now.

If you’ve watched much college football this season, or any season, then you probably know what the ABC promo for Saturday’s primetime match up between No. 9 Notre Dame (9-2) and No. 20 Stanford (8-3) will look like.

[Open with a shot of Notre Dame running back Josh Adams separating from the pack, or Stanford running back Bryce Love diving into the end zone.]

[Cut to a shot of Adams or Love, depending on who you chose to open with.]

[Back to Adams.]

[Back to Love.]

[Add some text about stars colliding.]

[Add more clichés about big stages or bright lights or high stakes, whatever.]

[Layer in a generic, likeable high-tempo rock song from a generic, likeable, socially relevant rock band.]

Ohhhhhh, ohhhhhh, do you believe that you can walk on water?

[More Adams.]

[More Love.]

[Maybe a shot of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly yelling at somebody about something. It doesn’t matter what.]

Ohhhhhh, ohhhhhh, do you believe that you can win this fight tonight?

[Add game time and station, then fade to black.]

That’s an effective promo, right? Can’t argue with the formula. You’ve got pertinent information and a “30 Seconds to Mars” song you can sing in the shower but not accurately identify, all in 30 seconds. Plus, it boils Saturday’s game down to a tantalizing tease.

Adams vs. Love.

Running back vs. Running back.

#33Trucking vs. #HeismanLove.

May the better man win, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

But, don’t get me wrong: both players carry their respective offenses and deserve every bit of praise they have earned this season. Adams, for one, currently sits on 1,337 rushing yards, exactly 100 yards shy of a school record that has stood for 38 years. He’s also averaging 7.8 yards per carry, which, as it stands right now, would rank third in school history for yards per carry in a season.

In 11 games, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior owns seven runs of 60 yards or more, which ranks first in the nation and is more than all but four entire FBS teams, including his own.

Speaking of his team, Notre Dame’s passing efficiency rating — 117.7 — is 107th in the nation, and the Irish pass for just 168.1 yards per game, which is 109th.

So, in many respects, Adams, his fellow running backs and his superb offensive line are the offense. As they go, so go the Irish.

And what about Love? Without departed Stanford standout Christian McCaffrey, all the 5-10, 196-pound junior has done is rush for more yards per game than any player in the country (172.3). The Maxwell and Doak Walker Award finalist has 1,723 rushing yards, 8.8 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns, all in 10 games.

Plus, in the one game Love missed, Stanford rushed for just 81 yards, managed 222 yards of total offense and needed a touchdown pass with 20 seconds left to scrape past 1-7 Oregon State, 15-14.

It would be easy to look at all of that and conclude that Saturday’s game is about Adams and Love. It’s clean. It’s simple. It fits in a 30-second promo.

It’s also wrong.

Consider that, in his last three games, Adams has rushed for a more pedestrian 168 yards and 4.3 yards per carry. Last weekend, even on a 30-yard run, he didn’t look fully healthy. In the course of 11 games, he has sustained an ankle injury and a neck injury and possibly a lower back injury, the inevitable result of carrying a large weight on your back for several months with little relief.

He has received 171 carries this season, and most of them ended with one or several high-speed collisions. That adds up.

Ask Bryce Love.

Like Adams, Love has been hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Oregon State game on Oct. 26 and has lingered ever since. He scored on a 57-yard touchdown run in last weekend’s 17-14 rivalry win over California, but sat for the majority of the fourth quarter in a one-score game.

There’s no guarantee, in fact, that Love will even play against Notre Dame on Saturday.

Adams and Love are two of the best players in the country.

But they’re not the same players they were in September.

In other words, they need help, and that’s what this game is about. For Notre Dame, it’s about inconsistent quarterback Brandon Wimbush. It’s about surging sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson. It’s about a defense that may have rediscovered its swagger in last Saturday’s win over Navy.

It’s about the many, not the few. Not the headliners. Not the promo.

For Notre Dame to subdue Stanford, the Irish need to stop the run, after allowing an average of 251 rushing yards in their last three games. They need to create a pass rush, after failing to secure a sack against both Navy and Miami. They need to protect the football, something they couldn’t do in a four-turnover, 41-8 shellacking at Miami in their last primetime road game.

To win their regular season finale for the first time since 2012, they need a complete team to play a complete game.

Now, try fitting all that in a 30-second commercial.

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame defenders bring down Navy’s Garret Lewis (7) during the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN