Football coaches like to talk about the importance of their teams playing complementary football. In other words, the offense needs to complement the defense – and vice versa – and the special teams need to fit in there somewhere, too.
Irish football coach Brian Kelly didn’t need to talk about that late Saturday night as the clock pushed toward midnight in Notre Dame Stadium. His team put all of that and more on full display in the impressive Irish win against seventh-rated Stanford in what was Notre Dame’s first home-field win over a top-10 opponent in 14 years.
- Brian Kelly knew something. There might have been a few raised eyebrows among Irish fans when Notre Dame opted for Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush after Wimbush played most of the way at quarterback in Notre Dame’s opening three victories. No more. Book has been the real deal over the last two Saturdays – throwing the ball at a combined .731 clip (the Notre Dame single-season record is .680 by Jimmy Clausen in 2009), completing 49 of 67 throws for 603 yards, throwing for six touchdowns against zero interceptions and running 25 times for 90 yards and three more TDs. That’s an off-the-chart 181.21 efficiency rating for 2018 (Clausen holds the season mark from that same 2009 campaign at 161.4). Those nine TDs Book has been responsible for are the most in consecutive starts for an Irish quarterback in at least two decades.
- Dexter Williams will be a big help. Notre Dame is now averaging more than 200 rushing yards per game (actually 201.4 to rank 44th nationally). That number might improve based on what Williams displayed Saturday night on his way to a career-high 161 yards. With Jafar Armstrong still out with a leg infection and Tony Jones Jr. hampered by a sprained ankle against the Cardinal, Williams (with Avery Davis and whomever lines up at quarterback) helps give the Irish a stout running game. Don’t underestimate what the injury loss of veteran guard and captain Alex Bars means, but Trevor Ruhland gives the line some quality experience.
- The Irish defense was elite in the second half against Stanford. Anyone who watched Stanford shred Oregon’s defense late in the Sept. 22 overtime Cardinal win in Eugene could not help but be impressed with how Notre Dame thwarted Stanford at every turn after intermission Saturday. Consider these numbers:
- The Irish held Stanford to 31 total yards on 21 plays in the third and fourth periods combined.
- Throw out the field-goal drive (that produced Stanford’s only second-half points) and the five other Cardinal possessions produced a combined minus-22 yards.
- Stanford ran 10 times for minus-13 yards in the second half.
- Bryce Love carried three times for four yards after intermission.
- Of Stanford’s final six offensive plays, four went for a combined 21 yards in losses and a fifth was an Irish interception.
- Notre Dame has learned what it means to finish. It was only a few short weeks ago that Brian Kelly was wondering what the identity of his football team really would be, pondering if his team could play with urgency for four periods. As the calendar flips to October today, he knows a lot more about his squad. Over the first three Notre Dame games, the Irish averaged 6.3 points and 120.3 total yards in the second half of those contests. In the Wake Forest and Stanford games combined, those numbers jumped to 22.5 points and 265.5 total yards.
- The road ahead. Notre Dame’s five September opponents produced a combined 16-4 record (against FBS foes and when not playing the Irish). That .800 percentage ranks the schedule played so far seventh nationally. Among the eight other 5-0 FBS teams, LSU is sixth (.842), Clemson 18th (.722), Georgia 40th (.647), Alabama 45th (.632), Kentucky 49th (.611), Ohio State 82nd (.550), Oklahoma 92nd (.500) and Cincinnati 121st (.333). Here’s where those same nine programs stand in terms of the NCAA’s rating of their remaining slates of games: Georgia 19th (.694), Clemson 24th (.667), Oklahoma 32nd (.647), LSU 44th (.629), Ohio State 50th (.613), Kentucky 53rd (.606), Cincinnati 61st (.581), Alabama 66th (.576) and Notre Dame 69th (.563).
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.