Stanford defense takes control as Notre Dame deals with more QB drama

DeShone Kizer was 14-for-26 for 154 yards and two interceptions on Saturday against Stanford. Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- And in the seventh game, they rested.

A two-win Notre Dame team took a 10-point lead early, got cute when things went sideways for a bit and then ultimately paid the price in a 17-10 loss to Stanford that now leaves the Irish in the almost-unthinkable position of 2-5 entering their bye week.

And for the second week in a row, this one simply could not be pinned on the defense, but rather more perplexing decision-making on the side of the ball that these Irish were supposed to be able to rely on when things got bumpy this year.

Both defenses, in fact, came to play Saturday, which was about the only residual effect of a rivalry whose luster dimmed considerably given how disappointing both of these teams' campaigns had been.

"Defensively we won the game," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "[Coordinator] Lance Anderson did a phenomenal job, the defensive coaching staff, getting turnovers, standing up when we needed them to, pressuring the quarterback pretty much more so than we have outside of one other game this year."

Shaw was less than pleased with his offense, although even the mild-mannered Cardinal coach was content with what his rushing attack was able to do without the services of Christian McCaffrey, last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up who was ruled out on game day because of an undisclosed injury suffered last week.

If that was supposed to be a blow to the preseason Pac-12 favorites as they looked to turn the tide on a two-game losing streak, Bryce Love never got the memo, as he rushed for 129 yards on 23 carries and helped the Cardinal snap their slide.

"Bryce doesn't react," Shaw said of delivering the starting news to Love. "He always has just like a half smile on his face. ... Thankfully, Christian was able to stay healthy because if it happened three weeks ago, Bryce probably wouldn't have been able to carry this load, but he was healthy and ready to go, and late in the game, I said: 'You don't have the right to be tired. You can't be tired.' He said, 'Coach, I'm not tired.'

"It was great to see him. Hopefully we get Christian back and we have, hopefully [what] we believe [is] one of the best one-two punch running backs, group of running backs in the nation, so hopefully we get to see that going forward."

The game might have had the opposite effect on the Irish, whose much-maligned defense finally seems to have turned a corner but had that effort undone thanks to more offensive ineptitude and questionable decision-making.

DeShone Kizer had thrown interceptions on the Irish's first two drives of the second half -- one of which was returned for a score -- and was replaced by Malik Zaire, with head coach Brian Kelly saying that the unit needed a momentum boost. Back in August, back when this was an AP preseason top-10 team that had its sights set on a New Year's Six bowl and maybe even more, Kelly had said he planned to play both quarterbacks this season.

That plan was scrapped after Kizer outdueled Zaire in the season-opening loss at Texas. After facing questions for not using Zaire for more than one play in last week's rain-soaked 10-3 loss at NC State, Kelly said this week that he was not going to insult Zaire by changing his position, deeming him a "darn good" quarterback.

Kelly then inserted Zaire against the Cardinal, a move that led to a pair of three-and-out drives, along with a high snap that resulted in a safety on the first play of another drive. Kizer came in for the final drive, which ended 14 yards short of a score.

The Irish defense, which got a new boss in Greg Hudson when coordinator Brian VanGorder was fired after a 1-3 start, played admirably for the second week in a row, making it seven straight quarters without surrendering a touchdown before Stanford recovered its own fumble in the end zone for a decisive fourth-quarter score.

As Torii Hunter Jr. was asked if he felt the offense let the defense down when it held the opposition to 17 points, he issued a correction.

"I mean, they only gave up a touchdown though," the receiver said.

Ten points, one writer corrected. Eleven, chimed in another, citing Stanford's safety.

"That's not there's either," Hunter said with a laugh.

"Eight points," Hunter eventually concluded of the defense's culpability. "So yeah, they played a tremendous game, and I let those guys know that they played a hell of a game. I'm proud of those guys."

The Irish might have finally solved one issue seven games in, but they now enter their week off with a whole new set of problems, starting with an offense that looks as if it outsmarted itself for the second straight week.