Instant Observations: Defensive tweaks fuel Notre Dame’s reversal against Stanford

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Bottom Line

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s original game plan was getting shredded and so was the nation’s No. 19 team in total defense.

But after falling behind 17-7, the Irish coaxed punts on seven straight Stanford possessions, including four three-and-outs, to set the stage for a 45-24 conquest of the Cardinal (4-8) in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Central to Lea’s adjustment was finding a way to pressure Stanford QB Davis Mills and bring that pressure more often. And ND was able to do that with a couple of more pieces missing from its defensive line.

Both starting defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and backup Jayson Ademilola missed the game while nursing injuries. Defensive end Ade Ogundeji started inside, in their place, and finished with six tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble that defensive end Khalid Kareem recovered in the end zone for ND’s last TD.

And while the Irish collected a modest two sacks as a team, the rush threw off the timing of the Stanford passing game.

Big Picture

CFP No. 16 Notre Dame (10-2) should finally move up in the rankings but not enough to change its trajectory from a Camping World Bowl date with a Big 12 team, Dec. 28 in Orlando, to a New Year’s Six destination.

For the Irish it was their first win in Palo Alto, Calif., since 2007, after five successive losses. In between that ND victory and Saturday’s rout, the Cardinal was 22-0 in non-conference home games.

Questions Answered

QB Ian Book continues to distance himself from his career-low performance against Michigan on Oct. 26 (69.73 pass-efficiency rating) with his best rating against a Power Five team (172.2) since injuring his ribs last November against Northwestern. … Sophomore WR Braden Lenzy got a start Saturday and had the most impactful performance of his fledgling career (4 rushes for 48 yards, 2 catches for 48 yards). … RB Jafar Armstrong, coming off the bench, showed flashes finally of his old self, with 44 yards on three carries.

Questions Lingering

With three false start penalties Saturday night and nine in the past two games, can the Irish offensive line solve that and other inconsistencies during bowl prep time? Why did WR Chris Finke have such a reduced role against Stanford?

My Game Balls Go To

Offense: Ian Book: The Irish senior QB threw four TD passes without an interception and completed 17-of-30 passes for 255 yards.

Defense/Special teams: Isaiah Foskey: The freshman defensive end, back in his native Northern California, had two tackles and blocked a punt that led to an Irish TD.

The Road Ahead

The Irish get official confirmation on their berth in the Camping World Bowl and also find out who their bowl opponent will be on Dec. 8.

Notre Dame rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (6) celebrates making a stop during the ND"s road win Saturday at Stanford.