Notre Dame football 2018 season game-by-game recap

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ND Insider

GAME 1 No. 11 Notre Dame 24, No. 14 Michigan 17

Sept. 1 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: The top two winning programs in college football history (vacated wins aside) renew their storied rivalry to open the season after a four-year hiatus. A key question is how Michigan transfer quarterback Shea Patterson will move the Wolverine offense. The game also marks the debut of first-year Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea.

The result: The Irish march 75 yards on seven plays, the final 13 a touchdown run by Jafar Armstrong, on their opening possession of the season. Notre Dame topped that on its next drive, going 96 yards on seven plays, capped by a 43-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Wimbush to Chris Finke. The Irish took a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter after a four-yard TD run by Armstrong, but Michigan responded immediately with 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ambry Thomas. The Wolverines cut the lead to seven with 2:18 to play and were driving in the final minute when Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery sacked Patterson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Te’von Coney.

The player: Coney set the tone for the hard-nosed Irish defense, registering 10 tackles, as well as two quarterback hurries and his game-clinching fumble recovery.

The stat: Had the NCAA in February not upheld its decision to vacate 21 wins and a loss by Notre Dame for its handling of an academic fraud case four years ago, the first meeting between these two rivals since that 2014 season would have flipped the Irish back on top of Michigan as the all-time leader in winning percentage in the FBS.

The quote: “Winning close games against really good football teams, that usually lends itself to you’ve probably got a pretty good football program.” — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

GAME 2 No. 8 Notre Dame 24, Ball State 16

Sept. 9 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: It’s the first-ever football meeting between the two in-state universities. After a big win against rival Michigan a week earlier, would there be an Irish hangover?

The result: A sluggish and uninspired Irish offense, coupled with a balanced Ball State attack, allowed the Cardinals to stay within striking distance the entire game. Ball State made it a one-score game with a field goal with 2:21 left, but Notre Dame was able to run out the clock. Tony Jones Jr. ran for two touchdowns and Jafar Armstrong another. ND quarterback Brandon Wimbush accumulated a career-high 297 passing yards, but also tossed three interceptions and was sacked four times.

The players: Linebacker Te’Von Coney had another big game with 14 tackles, including a sack. Alohi Gilman and Drue Tanquill each added nine tackles, while cornerback Julian Love had eight to go along with four pass breakups. Jalen Elliott picked off two passes two earn the game ball from head coach Brian Kelly.

The stat: Ball State hogged the ball for 34:22 to 25:38 for the Irish. The Cardinals would run 97 offensive plays and made the Irish defense deal with 23 third-down conversion attempts and three more on fourth down (the latter all converted successfully).

The quote: “We play as one team, offense and defense. When the offense isn’t going, we have to pick them up.” — Safety Jalen Elliott

GAME 3 No. 8 Notre Dame 22, Vanderbilt 17

Sept. 15 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: Could the Irish bounce back from a sub-par effort a week earlier against Ball State?

The result: Another lackluster performance by the Irish offense allowed this game to go down to the wire. A Brandon Wimbush touchdown run coupled with three Justin Yoon field goals gave the Irish a 16-0 second-quarter lead. With the Notre Dame offense sputtering, Vandy slowly worked its way back into the game, 16-10. Backup quarterback Ian Book’s two-yard TD pass to Nic Weishar with 11:04 remaining gave the Irish a 22-10 lead. The Commodores responded with a touchdown on their next possession and were driving for the potential go-ahead score before turning the ball over on downs at Notre Dame’s 31 yard-line with 1:07 to play.

The players: Running back Tony Jones Jr. didn’t get into the end zone, but he did pile up a career high 118 yards rushing. Book was 3-for-3 passing with a touchdown in limited action, foreshadowing what was to come the following week.

The stat: Bolstered by a strong passing attack, the Commodores outgained Notre Dame 420 yards to 380. The only other teams to outgain the Irish this season would be Michigan (307-302) and Virginia Tech (441-438).

The quote: “If you’re a finished product after game three, you know, you’re destined for greatness, and we’re not there yet. We’re not destined for greatness. So if anyone wants to write that greatness column, I would tap the brakes.” — Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly

GAME 4 No. 8 Notre Dame 56, Wake Forest 27

Sept. 22 | BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.

The setup: With Brandon Wimbush struggling to spark the Irish offense, coach Brian Kelly refused to name a starting quarterback prior to kickoff. When game time arrived, Ian Book was in the shotgun.

The result: So much for lackluster. Book took charge of the Notre Dame offense, leading eight touchdown drives.

The player: Ian Book, in his second career start, was 25-of-34 passing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also rushed 10 times for 43 yards and another three touchdowns.

The stat: The Irish accumulated 566 yards of total offense on their way to scoring their most points in a true road game since a 57-7 win at Stanford in 2003.

The quote: “Obviously we made a big decision to go with Ian Book in the game. I didn’t sleep great (Friday) night, because that’s a pretty big decision to make when you’re 3-0 and your quarterback that was leading your football team was (12-3) as a starter. But I had a lot of confidence in Ian, and our offense played to the level that it was capable of. That certainly showed itself.” — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

GAME 5 No. 8 Notre Dame 38, No. 7 Stanford 17

Sept. 29 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: It would be the first visit by a Top 10 team to Notre Dame Stadium in Brian Kelly’s nine-year tenure as head coach. It would also mark the return of running back Dexter Williams to the Irish lineup after serving a university-imposed, four-game suspension to start the season.

The result: It would end up being the Dexter-and-defense show for the Irish. In his first carry of the season, Williams exploded for a 45-yard touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 7-0 lead. The Irish would never trail. Stanford tried to keep pace and trailed only 24-17 going into the final quarter. But Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book would then toss two of his four touchdown passes within 14 seconds of each other to put the game out of reach. The second of those scores was set up by a Te’von Coney interception at the Stanford 35-yard line with 8:10 remaining. The defense allowed the Cardinal only 229 total yards, including minus-13 yards in the fourth quarter.

The players: The Notre Dame defensive front was dominant, piling up five sacks and holding last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up, Bryce Love, to 79 yards rushing. Jerry Tillery anchored the line, finishing with four solo sacks, tying a school record with Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri.

The stat: The Irish victory was their first in a battle of top 10 teams at Notre Dame Stadium since beating No. 1 Florida State in 1993.

The quote: “We’re dominant and we’re going to continue to get better. 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.” — Linebacker Te’von Coney

GAME 6 No. 6 Notre Dame 45, No. 24 Virginia Tech 23

Oct. 6 | Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.

The setup: A boisterous crowd in Blacksburg awaits the Irish for a prime-time matchup with the up-and-down Hokies.

The result: The Irish opened up a 17-9 lead late in the second quarter when cornerback Julian Love returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown. Virginia Tech, however, came right back and scored a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half, making it a one-point game. The Irish would own the second half with a pair of touchdown runs by Dexter Williams and a pair of touchdown passes from Ian Book to Miles Boykin.

The play: With Notre Dame pinned near its own goal and clinging to a 17-16 early in the third quarter, Williams stepped up. In just his second game back from suspension, the running back took a handoff, got a good block from left tackle Liam Eichenberg, and raced 97 yards for a touchdown. It gave the Irish a 24-16 lead, but more importantly the momentum it needed in a hostile environment to finish off the Hokies.

The stat: Williams’ touchdown run was the second-longest from scrimmage in Notre Dame history behind Josh Adams’ 98-yard scamper against Wake Forest in 2015. Williams would finish the night with 178 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns.

The quote: “I just knew my team needed a spark. They needed the Juice Man to come alive.” — Running back Dexter Williams

GAME 7 No. 5 Notre Dame 19, Pittsburgh 14

Oct. 13 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: Pittsburgh nearly spoiled Notre Dame’s perfect regular season in 2012 as the Irish outlasted the Panthers in three overtimes.

The result: Pittsburgh’s defense kept the Irish out of the end zone the first half, and the Panthers led 14-6 after Maurice Ffrench returned the second-half kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame responded with a 71-yard drive on eight plays, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Ian Book to Chase Claypool. The two-point conversion attempt failed. The Irish wouldn’t take its first lead until 5:43 left in the game.

The play: Book to Boykin. With the game on the line Book connected with wide reciever Miles Boykin down the middle for a 35-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the winning score.

The stat: Pittsburgh gained just 154 total yards over its final 43 offensive plays from scrimmage (3.6 yards per play). Notre Dame defensive lineman Khalid Kareem picked up a crucial sack for a loss of 14 yards late in the game.

The quote: “We obviously can’t play like this week in and week out, and feel like we’re going to win every game we play. But you’re going to have some of these, and you’ve got to grow from them. I really like our football team. They will grow from this. They will learn from it, and we’ll be better because of it.” — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

GAME 8 No. 3 Notre Dame 44, Navy 22

Oct. 27 | SDCCU Stadium, San Diego

The setup: After a bye week, the Irish traveled to San Diego to take on the 2-5 Midshipmen and their always pesky triple-option attack.

The result: The Irish dominated the first half, jumping out to a 27-0 lead as Dexter Williams ran for three touchdowns. He would finish with 133 yards rushing. But Navy wasn’t finished, outscoring the Irish 22-17 in the second half. Linebacker Drue Tranquill would leave the game with an injured right ankle. X-rays showed no broken bones and Tranquill, who has a history of season-ending injuries, would play the rest of the season, albeit with a braced and heavily taped ankle.

The player: Book put together another efficient performance, going 27-of-33 passing (81.8 percent) for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He is the first FBS quarterback to win his first five starts of a season while completing more than 70 percent of his passes since Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson in 2011.

The stat: Notre Dame gained a season-high 584 yards of total offense.

The quote: “I’m glad this game’s over.” — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly

GAME 9 No. 4 Notre Dame 31, Northwestern 21

Nov. 3 | Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

The setup: After a 1-3 start to the season, Northwestern had won four games in row at that point, and would end up qualifying for the Big Ten championship game.

The result: On a cold, wet night along Lake Michigan, the Irish and Wildcats slugged it out to a 7-7 tie at halftime with matching one-yard touchdown runs. Notre Dame opened a 24-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, after touchdown passes from Ian Book to Miles Boykin and Michael Young. But Northwestern clawed back, closing the gap to 24-21 following a touchdown preceded by a blocked Notre Dame punt. Book, who would finish the game, suffered a rib injury in the first quarter. He would, however, miss the following game against Florida State.

The play: With just 2:45 left in the game and Notre Dame up by three, Book correctly read a third-and-4 call from the Northwestern 23, keeping the ball and scampering around the left edge for a touchdown to put the game away. The play capped an 89-yard, 10-play drive.

The stat: By allowing Northwestern just 249 yards (3.6 yards per play), Notre Dame improved to No. 25 in the nation in total defense at 331 yards per game. Of the 20 college football national champions in the BCS/Playoff Era, 19 have had a top 25 defensive ranking.

The quote: “Our defense is like waking a sleeping beast, really. When we were up by only three, everybody is pacing up and down the sideline, yelling, screaming, motivating, saying, ‘Let’s go’ to really finish the game off.” — Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love

GAME 10 No. 3 Notre Dame 42, Florida State 13

Nov. 10 | Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend

The setup: Twenty-five years after 1993’s Game of the Century, Florida State and Notre Dame meet again, only without the hype as the Seminoles came in with a 4-5 record. The drama for this game is at quarterback for the Irish as backup and former starter Brandon Wimbush gets the start in place of the injured Ian Book.

The result: What questions there were about Wimbush’s mentality after being benched back in week four were answered quickly as he fired first-quarter touchdown darts to Miles Boykin and Alizé Mack. He would connect with Mack again to open up a 32-6 halftime lead. Running back Dexter Williams, who finished with 202 yards rushing, would add touchdown runs of 58 and 32 yards.

The player: Wimbush improved to 13-3 as a starter at Notre Dame and led the team effectively despite two interceptions, one of which led to a Florida State touchdown. He finished with 130 yards passing and 68 yards rushing on Senior Night.

The stat: Notre Dame rolled up 495 yards of total offense and did not lose a single yard from scrimmage on any of its 75 plays from scrimmage. The last time the Irish didn’t register any lost yardage in a game is believed to be in 1964.

The quote: “I was pretty stoked to get this opportunity. I did this one for my brothers, the guys we’ve been at work with since January. I owed it to them to go out and perform and get this win.” — Quarterback Brandon Wimbush

GAME 11 No. 3 Notre Dame 36, No. 12 Syracuse 3

Nov. 17 | Yankee Stadium, New York

The setup: A Shamrock Series game set in iconic Yankee Stadium, this is Notre Dame’s last chance to face a ranked team, as Syracuse has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, averaging 44.4 points a game.

The result: The efficient and balanced Irish offense takes control early with first half touchdowns by Dexter Williams and Jafar Armstrong. The Notre Dame defense, meanwhile, overwhelms the high-powered Orange, holding them scoreless until Andre Szmyt kicked a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the game.

The play: The Syracuse offense took a hit in the first quarter when its star quarterback, Eric Dungey, was knocked out of the game with an upper-body injury.

The stat: The Orange had averaged 482 yards per game coming in. Notre Dame’s defense held them to 234 yards of total offense and accumulated six team sacks.

The quote: “That was a doggone good football team. … I can’t even remember the score, it was so dominating.” — Syracuse head coach Dino Babers

GAME 12 No. 3 Notre Dame 24, USC 17

Nov. 24 | Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles

The setup: It’s as simple as it gets for the Irish — win for a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.

The result: Despite a disappointing 5-6 record, the Trojans challenged Notre Dame as much as any team this season, jumping to a 10-0, second-quarter lead. The Irish went on to score the next 24 points, which included a 46-yard field goal by kicker Justin Yoon, the 58th of his career, setting a school record.

The play: With just over three minutes left in the game and clinging to a 17-10 lead, Notre Dame needed a key third-down conversion. Quarterback Ian Book found running back Tony Jones Jr. wide open in the flat. He broke free for a 51-yard touchdown to seal the game.

The stat: Notre Dame finishes with a 12-0 regular season. The 1988 national championship team was 12-0 after its Fiesta Bowl victory over West Virginia, while the 2012 team completed a 12-0 regular season on the field before losing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.

The quote: “There can never be an ‘Oh no’ moment. Not with a team like this and the goals that we have in mind. Obviously (down) 10-0 is not how we wanted to start the game, but it’s not an ‘Oh, no.’ It’s more like a ‘Let’s go.’ “ — Wide receiver Chris Finke

Notre Dame’s Te’von Coney (4) celebrates after a big stop against Michigan. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill (23) comes up with a loose ball during the Ball State at Notre Dame NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. 
Notre Dame's Tony Jones Jr. (6) gets brought down by Vanderbilt's LaDarius Wiley (5) and Donovan Sheffield (21) Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame’s Alizé Mack (86) gets stopped by Wake Forest’s Nasir Greer (37) during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.
Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery (99) chases down Stanford’s Bryce Love (20) during the Notre Dame-Stanford NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.
Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams (2) breaks away on a touchdown run during ND’s 45-23 victory over Virginia Tech, Saturday night at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va.
Notre Dame defensive lineman Khalid Kareem (53) pushes through the Pittsburgh offensive line.
Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong is tripped up by Navy’s Jacob Springer.Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA
GAME 9: Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book runs for the clinching touchdown against Northwestern.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush (7) will complete a graduate transfer to UCF for his final season of eligibility.
Winter Park (Fla.) High's Ethan Pouncey, a 2020 cornerback, reported a Notre Dame offer on April 25, 2019. 
Notre Dame receiver Chris Finke finished with seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 win over USC.