Pac-12: Darius Fleming
November, 26, 2011
By Kevin Gemmell | ESPN.com
STANFORD, Calif. -- Quick thoughts from the first half of Stanford-Notre Dame.
Best player: Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas has been all over the field in the first 30 minutes. He has four tackles, including a sack and two tackles for a loss.
Best player, Take 2: Tough not to include Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (14-of-21, 155 yards) in the conversation — he has three first-half touchdowns to three different players.
Worst play: Normally we reserve this space for the “best play,” but worst play goes to the pooch punt by Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. On fourth-and-4 at the Stanford 45 early in the second quarter, Rees lined up under center, then checked out into a deep shotgun, took the snap and tried a quick kick, but it was partially tipped by Ben Gardner. It wasn’t his first punt attempt of the season, but it was definitely his worst, going for all of 5 yards.
Turning point(s): A couple of them – all following the pooch punt. On the ensuing drive, Luck was drilled by Harrison Smith as he threw. Notre Dame’s Darius Fleming picked off the wayward throw and returned it 35 yards. It’s the fifth consecutive game that Luck has thrown an interception. Coby Fleener saved the touchdown by bringing down Fleming, but it was a horse-collar, adding 15 yards to the end of the play. The Irish couldn’t punch it in despite starting the drive at the Stanford 10. And then David Ruffer missed a 20-yard field goal.
What Stanford needs to do: Exactly what it has been doing in the first half – lean on running back Stepfan Taylor (75 yards, 8.3 per carry) and then utilize the mismatches with the tight ends. The Irish have no answers for Levine Toilolo or Fleener.
What Notre Dame needs to do: Buy Rees some more time. The Cardinal pass rush has been fierce. Thomas and Gardner both have sacks and even when Rees does get rid of the ball, he’s usually on the ground after the throw.