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ND needs big win to stay in playoff picture

It was a senior day that the Notre Dame football team won’t soon forget.

The Irish overwhelmed Georgia Tech, 55-0, last week to win their 10th game of the season and sixth in a row.

The win moves the Irish move up to No. 5 in the country in the AP poll and No. 6 in the all important College Football Playoff rankings.. They still have a chance to get into the top four, but only a chance. More on that later.

The win was a fitting end to the seniors last game in ND Stadium. Some of the seniors on the team has gone through an amazing period of Irish football. For example, defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa ,who had a 70-yard TD run with a fumble in his final game at the stadium, has been part of Irish teams that have compiled a record of 53-9 over his time in the program - which began in 2017.

As the season progressed, one thing everyone has noted is that head coach Brian Kelly has carefully and successfully included young players in the 6-0 run since the loss to Cincinnati which will mean a lot come 2022.

Kelly told the media after the Georgia Techg game, “This entire team has been about young players merging with veteran players and how that has really made this a special season, because that doesn’t normally happen.”

The Irish defense came up with another excellent game. The Georgia Tech QBs were harassed the entire game by the ND defensive front. In the three games since ND lost All-American safety Kyle Hamilton to a knee injury, the defense held Navy to 184 totals yards, Virginia to 278 yards, and Georgia Tech to 224 yards. Those numbers were the second-worst offensive output of the season for Navy and season lows for both Virginia and Georgia Tech.

No one will argue ND is a much better team than they were in September. In fact, the Irish have won 10 or more games for the fifth-consecutive season for the first time in program history.

Jack Coan had another steady game completing 15 of 20 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively Bob Bauer led the team in tackles with nine. More on the game later.

Tonight, the Irish face a Stanford team that is reeling out-of-control. Stanford enters the game with a 3-8 record and has lost six in a row after upending Oregon, 31-24, in the fifth game of the season. After that big win, the Cardinal hit the skids. Its only other wins have been over USC, 42-28; and Vanderbilt, 41-23. The eight losses have been to Kansas State, 24-7; UCLA, 35-24; Arizona State, 28-18; Washington State, 34-31; Washington, 20-13; Utah, 52-7; Oregon State, 35-14; and last week to California, 41-11.

ND leads the overall series, 20-13, and won in 2019, 45-24. No game was played in 2020 due to COVID 19.

With the new playoff ranking announced earlier this week, this game now becomes a biggie for the Irish.

The game will be televised nationally by FOX-TV with a 8 p.m. airtime and a 8:10 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES ... Backup quarterback Tyler Buchner led all Irish rushers with 68 yards. He was backed by freshman Audric Estime, who had 61 yards on six carries, Kyren Williams, who had 56 yards on 11 carries, and Chris Tyree, who had 15 yards on three carries. Michael Mayer had 86 receiving yards on three catches and Kevin Austin had 89 yards on two catches ... Defensively Isaiah Pryor had seven tackles and Clarence Lewis six. ND also had six sacks in the game for a total of 52 yards lost ... The Irish scored 24 first-quarter points after scoring 35 combined first-quarter points over their first 10 games ... As ND plays its final regular season game tonight with a bowl game or playoff appearance ahead, it’s time to consider who is back, who is leaving and who had eligibility left but will probably leave. The Irish roster includes 24 scholarship players listed as academic seniors (15) or graduate students (9). Only four of those players will be out of eligibility after the season - QB Coan, kicker Jonathan Doerer, nose guard Kurt Hinish and offensive guard Cain Madden. Notre Dame will have to choose which players it’s willing to invite to return to the roster next season. Those players will have to decide if they want to stay too. At least three juniors will have NFL Draft decisions to make. The are Hamilton, Williams and Foskey. Hamilton and Williams are likely to leave based on Hamilton’s high first-round projections and the normally short career span for running backs in the NFL. Foskey, however, according to the South Bend Tribune sports staff, might be coaxed into staying by Kelly because another year, after his break-out this season, would enhance is NFL standing after next season ... Linebacker Jack Kiser, who scored the first TD last week on an interception, injured his ankle in the second quarter of the game. However, he is scheduled to be in the lineup tonight ... The flu bug continues to work its way through the ND roster. Offensive linemen Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg played through it last Saturday with at least one unnamed player hit with it earlier this week ... Mayer moved into second all-time for most receptions by a tight end in a single season in program history (55) ... Notre Dame’s 55-0 win over Georgia Tech was the fifth-largest shutout in program history and the largest since 1996 when ND defeated Rutgers 62-0 ... The Irish have 21 takeaways this season, which ranks tied for 13th nationally ... The Irish have won 41-consecutive games against unranked opponents dating back to the 2016 season. It is currently the longest active streak in the FBS ... The Irish have won 53 games over the past five seasons to tie the program record for most wins over a five-year period - a total that was also achieved between 1988-1992) ... Under new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, the Irish defense has been one of the nation’s best at creating havoc plays this season. Notre Dame has totaled 38 sacks, which ranks fourth in the NCAA ... For the Irish to crack into the top four and get another shot at a national title, some things need to happen that ND has no control over ... Another trip to the final four would be ND’s third in four years. I’m not going to go through all the scenarios and results that would help the Irish, but one thing is for sure, an impressive, dominating win over Stanford wouldn’t hurt. Stanford comes in reeling, losing six in a row and is the fifth worst team in the nation in rush defense. In my preseason picks I have the Irish winning tonight. With all that is on the line for ND, Kelly and the team should be very focused on the job that needs to be done. If ND takes care of business it will then have to wait until next weekend’s conference title games to play out. This is my final column of the regular season. I will be back with a bowl/playoff game preview column. Thanks for taking the time to read the column weekly.