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Key Takeaways Of The Notre Dame Offense From The Win Over Stanford

Key takeaways from the performance of the Notre Dame offense in the win over Stanford

Notre Dame (11-1) ended the month of November the way it started the month, with a dominating victory over an inferior opponent. The Irish weren't tested by any good teams in November, but they did what the best teams are supposed to do against bad teams, they thoroughly whipped them.

It wasn't always pretty on offense against Stanford in the 45-14 victory, but at the end of the day the Notre Dame offense racked up 45 points and over 500 yards to play a role in the convincing victory. 

Here are my five key takeaways from the victory.

1. Notre Dame has very, very good skill players - All season we've heard this mantra about what Notre Dame lost, but what was maddeningly ignored all season is that the talent at the skill positions in 2021 was better than it was in 2020. Yes, Notre Dame lost two starters at wide receiver, but those two players were the primary receivers because of preseason injuries to Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy. Both took some time to get going, but combined with Lorenzo Styles this is a far more dangerous group of pass catchers than what Notre Dame had heading into the postseason a year ago.

Not to mention both Kyren Williams and Michael Mayer are better than they were a season ago, significantly.

We have seen this clearly throughout the month of November, but it was even more obvious last night. Stanford simply had no answers for all of Notre Dame's athletes on offense, and we saw running back Chris Tyree healthy for the first time in well over a month. Combine that with what Logan Diggs has done the last month and this Irish offense is peaking at just the right time.

Austin (6 catches, 125 yards) and Mayer (9 catches, 105 yards) were unguardable last night, and Tyree and freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner also had big plays. We also saw Lenzy making plays with the ball last night. This group of skill players has really taken off in November, and Stanford simply had no answers.

2. When Jack Coan is on this offense is dangerous - Jack Coan has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but his start and finish to the season were outstanding. What we learned this season, and it was evident last night against Stanford as well, is that when Coan is rolling this offense is really, really good. 

Coan has had a passer rating over at least 150 in six games this season where he played start to finish (Virginia Tech is the other game he went over 150, but he played less than half the game). In those six games the Irish offense has averaged 38.8 points per game, 472.3 yards per game and 7.3 yards per play.

It's also not a coincidence that five of those six games came after the bye week, which saw Notre Dame alter its offense in a manner that better fit Coan's skillset. Once that change happened Coan took offense, the offense took off and the Irish won their final six games by an average margin of 28 points.

Coan's 170.24 rating against Stanford was his third best game of the season behind Georgia Tech (227.70) and Florida State (194.14). He was at 178.10 against Virginia Tech but again, that game isn't factored in because he played less than half the game.

3. Tommy Rees used his team's strength vs. Stanford's weaknesses - My biggest fear last night was that Rees would see how bad Stanford's run defense is and build a game plan around forcing the run. That's not at all what Rees did. He tried to establish the run early, but it was in the same manner he has for much of the November stretch.

It became very clear early in the game that the run game wasn't going to work, so Rees focused on the aspects of the offense that were rolling. Stanford had a slow defense and Rees knew it, and his game plan reflected that reality. He spent the entire first half getting his receivers moving and called a high number of crossers, drags, in cuts and posts that put the Stanford defenders in chase mode.

That was a savvy decision and continued his strong November performances as a game planner and play caller.

4. Run game was an issue, and remains a question mark - The run game has relied on its backs playing at an elite level, and the offensive line has done a good job the last month of getting a body on a body. What the line has not done is get movement, even against bad run defenses.

Stanford has an awful run defense. After the game Brian Kelly talked about how Stanford was showing a "double eagle" loo, which essentially is a five-man front where the Cardinal covered up the center and guards. It wasn't quite what we saw from Stanford in most instances, but we saw it. That isn't new though, and we saw Stanford use similar looks against Utah, but the Utes racked up 441 rushing yards against Stanford just three weeks ago.

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Notre Dame was unable to find answers for those looks, and the reason was relatively simple. The Irish line got very little movement at the point of attack, and the counter runs the Irish employed were especially ineffective because the line gave up too much ground. When the counters worked they were due to the Irish backs bouncing outside and simply out-running Stanford to the sideline.

Notre Dame was unable to find ways to set the edge to get outside or to stretch Stanford outside enough to open cutback lanes.

5. Third-down struggles - Notre Dame's third-down offense was as bad last night as it has been all season, with the Irish going just 2-11 on third-down, good for just an 18.2% conversion rate. 

The Irish offense relied on big plays all game long, and it relied on a highly efficient first and second down pass attack that allowed the offense to avoid too many first half third-down opportunities. 

Part of the issue in the first half was when Notre Dame got into a third-down situation it was a third-and-long. Notre Dame's first third-down was a 3rd-and-11. Its second was a 3rd-and-19, the same as its third third-down opportunity. 

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