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The Journal Gazette

  • Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, defended by Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love catches a 4-yard pass for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Saturday, September 29, 2018 9:50 pm

Halftime: Notre Dame 21, Stanford 14

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams sat out the first four games of the season, reportedly because of disciplinary issues over the summer. He returned tonight and it's clear the Irish were missing something. 

Williams broke a 45-yard touchdown run on his first carry to give the Irish an early lead and finished the half with nine carries for 99 yards and a score. He also made a huge block to give quarterback Ian Book time to throw on a Book touchdown pass in the first quarter.

Williams' performance was emblematic of a first half in which Notre Dame's offense line mostly pushed around Stanford's defensive front. The Irish ran for 158 yards overall and Book often had as long as he wanted to step into his throws. Book completed a couple of nice passes, including one beautiful 19-yard out route to Miles Boykin that needed to be placed perfectly and was. He also made some plays outside the pocket, running 10 times for 36 yards and consistently avoiding sacks with some good footwork. Brian Kelly compared him to Baker Mayfield and Trace McSorley this week and Book showed why in the first half.

Still, Williams' running was the story of the half for the Irish offense and it helped them score twice. Boykin also stood out with eight catches for 106 yards, including a 33-yard catch, spin and run that set up an Irish score in the final minute of the half. On defense, the Irish had an up-and-down performance. They did a good job of shutting down running back Bryce Love ... except for one carry, on which the All-American running back ran 39 yards for a touchdown.

The Irish secondary struggled in the half, getting caught out of position on Love's touchdown and giving up several big plays to Stanford wide receivers, including a 45-yard completion to Osiris St. Brown that set up a touchdown. Even with Love on the field, it's clear that Stanford's best weapon on offense is huge wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound receiver is likely to be a top pick when he enters the NFL Draft and he's been very good at using his body against the undersized Notre Dame secondary. He pulled in just four passes for 24 yards in the first half, but one of the catches was a big touchdown in which he just wouldn't let Julian Love get near the ball on a 50-50 pass, boxing him out like it was a rebound in basketball. He also drew a huge pass interference penalty in the end zone on Troy Pride Jr. that moved the ball inside the Notre Dame 5.

The bottom line is that this is a winnable game for the Irish. These are two very good teams and Notre Dame has been more physical. If they can find a way to stop Arcega-Whiteside, the Irish could win by a couple of touchdowns.

dsinn@jg.net