Notre Dame went back to the run game last week after abandoning it in the second half of the Pitt game, and the results were positive enough to give the Irish a 23-13 win over BYU and move their record to 8-3 with one regular season game left.
ND also got physical, the South Bend media noted, not only on offense but on the defensive side of the ball in beating a pretty good Cougar team that entered at 7-3 and ranked No. 13 in the nation in offense.
The Irish establishing a running game is important, especially for today's game against Stanford. The Cardinal has an explosive offense and the best way to tame such an offense is keep it off the field. A punishing running game will do that.
The Irish defense kept the Cougars in check most of the game. In fact, the 13 points scored by the Cougars was their lowest point production of the season. The week before they scored 59 points against Idaho State and were averaging 33 points per game.
Tommy Rees had a very good final game in ND stadium. Rees was 15 of 28 passing for 235 yards and one touchdown. In fact, when the game was over and the team was leaving the field the student body chanted loudly, "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy." Rees' career at ND had been one of many highs, and just as many lows.
Rees had his 59th career TD pass, putting him one short of Jimmy Clausen's 60 for No. 2 on the ND career list. The score came on a 30-yard pass to T.J. Jones. Rees also went over the 7,000 yard mark in passing yardage.
As I noted, the Irish used the running game a lot last week. Rees handing off to Cam McDaniel highlighted the day. The junior ran for a career high of 117 yards on 24 carries. Freshman Tarean Folston, who the Irish forgot about in the Pitt game, ran for 78 yards on 13 carries and a two-yard TD run.
More on the game later.
Today the Irish face a Stanford team that enters at 9-2 with wins over San Jose State, 34-13; Army, 34-20; Arizona State, 42-28; Washington State, 55-17; Washington, 31-28; UCLA, 24-10; Oregon State, 20-12; Oregon, 26-20; and last week California, 63-13. The two losses have been to Utah, 27-21; and USC, 20-17.
The Cardinal is led by quarterback Kevin Hogan, who has completed 146 of 241 passes for 18 touchdowns and 2,052 yards with seven interceptions this season. Top receivers are Ty Montgomery with 50 catches for 822 yards and nine scores and Devon Cajuste, 22-398-four. Top rushers are Tyler Gaffney with 1,316 yards on 251 carries and 16 TDs, Anthony Wilkersin, 69-286-1 and Hogan has run for 298 yards on 59 carries and two scores. Stanford averages 203.7 yards rushing per game and 199.4 passing. That's a very even-type of offensive attack. They are ranked ninth in the BCS poll, 10th in the AP, and 12th in the USA coaches poll.
ND leads the series 18-9, winning last year in South Bend, 20-13, with a goal-line stand at the end to preserve the victory.
The game will be televised nationally on FOX with a 7 p.m. EST start, 7:10 kickoff.
IRISH NOTES: George Atkinson III had six carries for 42 yards last week. Senior Jones finished his South Bend career with five catches for 95 yards. DaVaris Daniels had six catches for 107 yards and a score. Defensively Dan Fox had nine tackles and Eilar Hardy eight ..... ND received a big commitment this week from QB Blake Barnett, of Corona, Calif., who is considered one of the top QB prospects still developing. He will be a senior next year and will be a 2015 commitment for Brian Kelly. Barnett is six-four and 205 pounds and is from Santiago High School. He is the second player to commit to the 2015 recruiting class ... The only QB in the 2014 class is DeShone Kizer of Central Catholic High in Toledo, Ohio ... Despite the fact that Everett Golson is expected back next season, Kelly said the QB spot for 2014 is wide open with redshirted freshman Malik Zaire getting a lot of talk from the coaching staff as a real prospect for the starting position next season .... After another weekend of games, and teams losing and winning, the bowl picture for the Irish is a bit clearer. Right now it looks like the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, on Dec. 28, at Yankee Stadium in New York is the spot the Irish will land. But this could change as more games are played today ... Kelly ran his record to 4-0 on senior day and is 15-2 in his career coming out of a bye week ... The 26-degree game time temperature last week was the coldest reading at kickoff in South Bend in 22 years, according to reports. The swirling snow and gusty winds made it feel even colder ... Jones extended his school record of consecutive games with at least one catch to 38. However, his streak of consecutive games with a TD reception ended at seven, one short of the school record ... Junior defensive end Stephen Tuitt had a sack among his seven tackles and that put him ahead of Renaldo Wynn into fifth place on the all-time sack list with 20 ... Fifth-year senior captain Zack Martin made his 50th consecutive start last week and can break the record set by offensive tackle Sam Young today against Stanford ... ND will face the best linebacker in college ball today in Trent Murphy. He leads the nation in sacks, 1.2 per game, and is fourth in tackles for loss, 1.7 per game.... Stanford has won 15 straight home games and is 36-3 at home since losing to a 3-9 ND team in 2007.... It is the last regular season game for ND and the 2014 schedule is still not set .... ND is a decided underdog today. The bookies have Stanford a 14-point favorite. In my preseason picks I went with Stanford today and there is no reason to change that. This will be a tough one for the Irish. Stanford is in line for a high level BCS game with a win, and also will be up for the contest to avenge last year's tough loss in South Bend. I hope the Irish can keep it respectable. This is my last column until the Irish bowl game. Thanks to all who read this column weekly, I appreciate it.