Irish survive Eagles; big test tonight
The best way to describe last week's Notre Dame win over Boston College, 16-14, is that the Irish survived.
The 3-8 Eagles outplayed the Irish for most of the game, beginning mid-way in the first quarter. Notre Dame had enough offense, just enough, to get the win while the defense was able to contain a really poor BC offense.
ND was plagued with some bad field position most of the game. Despite running up a total offense of 417 yards, ND managed just 16 points. Some of it was due to the field position and a lot of it was due to a very poor performance by Quarterback Tommy Rees.
The Irish suffered another key loss in the game when senior running back Jonas Gray went down in the third quarter with a knee injury that has ended his season. The Irish turned to junior Cierre Wood and he responded positively by carrying the ball 26 times for 94 yards. His final carry of the day pushed him over the 1,000 yard mark for his career. He is now the first Irish player to reach 1,000 yards since 2006 when Darius Walker did it. He is also 10th in school history.
ND had other heroes in the game. WR Michael Floyd had 10 catches for 92 yards in his final game in ND stadium. He's just seven short of the record held by Golden Tate for the most catches in a season.
Junior LB Manti Te'o returned his old form from his ankle injury to record 12 tackles while CB Harrison Smith managed seven tackles despite playing with the flu bug.
Kicker David Ruffer can also be listed among the heroes of the day for the Irish. His three field goals were the difference. Add to the list of big plays by the defense and finally, Robby Toma's fielding of the BC on-sides kick that preserved the victory.
The win was the 18th consecutive win for head coach Brian Kelly in the months of November/December, dating back to his first season at Cincinnati, 2007.
Notre Dame moved up to 22nd in the AP poll but that is a minor factor this week. The Irish face the No. 4 rated Stanford Cardinal and this game will go a long way in measuring how far, or not, Kelly's program has come in his two years at the helm.
Stanford brings a lot of pluses into tonight's game. The Cardinal is ranked 10th in the country in total offense, fourth in scoring offense, fifth in passing-efficient offense and fifth in rushing defense. The lone minus, and this should help ND, is that Stanford's pass-efficiency defense is rated 68th. Other areas where Stanford lags is in net punting, 89th, and kickoff returns, 46th.
Stanford enters at 10-1. The lone loss was to Oregon, 53-30, the 10th game of the season. Prior to that loss the Cardinal defeated San Jose State, 57-3; Duke, 44-14; Arizona, 37-10; UCLA, 45-19; Colorado, 48-7; Washington State, 44-14; Washington, 65-21; USC, 56-48; Oregon State, 38-13; and last week, California, 31-28.
Stanford is led by QB Andrew Luck, who is probably the best signal-caller in the nation. He is projected to be the number one pick in the NFL draft next April. His stats are impressive. He has completed 241 of 343 attempts with 31 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a pass-efficiency of 167.3. Top receivers are Griff Whalen, who has caught 47 for 652 yards and four scores, Chris Owusu, 35-376 and two, and Ryan Hewett, 30-266 and five. Top rushers are Stepfan Taylor with 1,057 yards on 187 carries and eight TDs, and Tyler Gaffney, 64-417 and seven.
Stanford's offense has scored 30 or more points in 14 consecutive games, and kicked it up to 40 or more in nine of those games.
ND leads the series, 17-8, but Stanford has won the last two meetings, including last year in South Bend, 37-14. The last ND win was in 2008, 28-21.
The game will be televised by ABC-TV with a 8 p.m. start, kickoff about 8:10 p.m.
IRISH NOTES:As I mentioned, Rees had a poor game. He finished 24 of 39 for 256 yards, no TDs, and his 11th interception of the season. After the Maryland game, I thought Rees has finally hit his stride, but he took a step backwards last week. In his defense, however, the poor field position all game hampered the offense. Rees consistently threw into coverage and could have had more picks. But, you can't argue with his record. He is 12 of 14 as a starter...Some other game stats. Toma had five catches for 65 yards and TJ Jones five for 42 yards. Gray finished with 11 rushes for 61 yards. His season totals are 791 yards on 114 carriers and a team-leading 12 TDs....Today's game is the last regular season one for fifth-year seniors Gary Gray, Harrison Smith, Taylor Dever and Andrew Nuss. Add to the list TE Mike Ragone, who has been out with a knee injury. Fourth-year seniors who have no eligibility left include Floyd, Darius Fleming, Steve Filer, Ethan Johnson, Trevor Robinson, Robert Blanton and Jonas Gray. Fourth-year seniors who could apply for a fifth year incude: Dayne Crist, Deion Walker, Sean Cwynar, Lane Clelland, Mike Golic Jr., John Goodman, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Dan McCarthy, Anthony McDonald, Brandon Newman, David Posloszny, Jamoris Slaughter and Hafis Williams. How many of these players will be asked back by Kelly is not known at at this time....Three freshmen offensive linemen are currently redshirting this year by their own choice. They are Nick Martion, Conor Hanatty and Matthew Hegarty. ND will also have available next year transfer Jordan Prestwood. The six-foot, six, 280-pound offensive lineman transfered from Florida State. He was permitted to practice with the team this year but had to sit out the season per NCAA rules. He will have four years of eligibility beginning in 2012....Jonas Gray will be replaced in the lineup tonight by freshmen George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel, who wil be sharing time. Kelly is looking at using Theo Riddick at running back. He was a running back when recruited but switched to wide receiver. Riddick, however, is currently brothered by a hamstring injury....Kelly has a real chance tonight to show his program is making gains, but the odds are great against an outstanding team like Stanford. But if ND can keep it close, or pull off an upset, that will be a real plus for Kelly and his staff. My preseason pick was Stanford. No reason to change. This is my last column until ND's bowl game.