Instead of a bang, we got a thud. That’s how this regular season ended. I don’t know how many truly expected Notre Dame to beat Stanford, but we at least hoped for a complete game that might come down to the wire. Stanford was and is the better team and they certainly proved it on Saturday. This just goes to show how far the Irish still have to go to get back to elite status again.
It’s not always the case that you praise a defense that gave up 429 yards of total offense and four passing touchdowns, but this defense played well enough to win again. After taking some lumps in the first half, the defense shut down the Cardinal for the entire second half with the exception of the long touchdown pass to Coby Fleener at the end which only happened because Zeke Motta slipped on the horrible field. If the offense had been able to move the ball a little better, this could have been a much closer game down the stretch.
It looks like we may have another quarterback controversy on our hands. Sophomore Andrew Hendrix finally got extensive playing time and proved that he may be the best man for the job. The numbers weren’t that impressive, 11-24 for 192 yards with a TD and a pick, but what sets him apart is his ability to run. Take away the sacks that lost rushing yardage and Hendrix ran for 53 yards and a touchdown. He provided a spark that Tommy Rees cannot. Regardless of who starts the bowl game at QB, there is every indication that Hendrix will be given the job next fall. If a mobile quarterback is what Brian Kelly truly needs to run his offense, he has to go with Hendrix otherwise he may not be around long enough to make it work.
The first half offense was pathetic. I don’t know if Rees was really bothered by the hit he took on the first play, or if Stanford just played better, but Rees did not look good. That really makes three of the last four weeks where Rees has struggled which either means teams have figured out how to stop him or he’s reached his plateau. Whatever is the case, Rees hasn’t looked good for a while. Yet another reason why Hendrix looks like such a better option at this point.
Much like the beginning of the season, turnovers and penalties destroyed Notre Dame’s chances against Stanford. You kind of knew it wasn’t going to be ND’s night when they were flagged for back-to-back false starts to begin the game. Overall, the Irish commited 10 penalties for 68 yards. Just too many. Then there’s the turnovers. Three more turnovers to add to the list. Rees was responsible to two of them: an unacceptable fumble and a horrible throw for an interception. Hendrix had his own turnover, but that’s to be expected for a young guy with virtually no experience. I guess with the way this season went having all these penalties and turnovers only made sense.
If I told you I was expecting a Notre Dame win, I’d be lying. I hoped for a win, but didn’t really think they would. I did expect the Irish to compete a little better and for that reason I am disappointed in their effort. 8-4 is not good enough at Notre Dame, but that’s where they are right now. This season did represent some real progress, however, and even though the record isn’t much better, this team and program are definitely better than at the end of 2010. I still believe in Brian Kelly and know that given another recruiting cycle and spring practice, this team will be even better when 2012 rolls around. They need to find a quarterback. Whether that be Rees, Hendrix, Golson, or somebody else, they need to find the guy that can run Kelly’s offense the way he envisions it run. Let’s hope the answer comes sooner rather than later. Let’s not forget, too, that there is a bowl game to play. Notre Dame has one more chance to win this season and they will most likely play an ACC opponent in the Champs Sports Bowl. Going down there and beating a quality program like Clemson or a Florida State will still send a message and end the season on a high note. Let’s hope they can figure out a way to do that.