STANFORD, CALIF. — Notre Dame did it’s job.
Now all the Fighting Irish can do is wait.
Jack Coan threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, and No. 6 Notre Dame finished off the regular season with a 45-14 victory over Stanford on Saturday to keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.
“We controlled what we needed to control, and that was to play really good football on offense, defense and special teams over the past six, seven weeks,” coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ve done that. So we made our case. We’ll now sit back and see what other people think. But we got one of the best four teams without question in my mind. We’re ready to prove it.”
The Irish (11-1) won their final seven games following a home loss to Cincinnati but likely will need some help next weekend to get into the CFP for the third time in four seasons.
“We did what we could with the games we had left,” tight end Michael Mayer said. “So now we just sit and wait. I really believe that we’re one of the best four teams in the nation.”
Stanford (3-9) lost its seventh straight game to end the season following an upset of then-No. 3 Oregon for its longest losing streak and most losses in a season since finishing 1-11 in 2006. The Cardinal were outscored 173-46 over the final four games.
“There are some things here that we’ve done extremely well in the past that we need to do better,” coach David Shaw said. “Some things we got to tweak and change. So we’re not going to be stagnant and rest on the things we did in the past. We’re going to get back to work, continue this recruiting process, which has gone extremely well, recruiting the right guys to the right place, and get to the point where we take out the bumps in our road.”
This game wasn’t competitive from the start. The Irish forced a three-and-out on the first possession and answered with a 74-yard drive capped by Coan’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Braden Lenzy.
Coan added another scoring pass to George Takacs, and the Irish built a 24-0 halftime lead. He finished 26 for 35 for 345 yards with a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
Jonathan McGill intercepted Coan’s pass on the first drive of the second half to set up a 13-yard drive capped by Austin Jones’ 5-yard run. That ended Notre Dame’s streak of not allowing a toucdown at 219 minutes, 17 seconds of game action since North Carolina scored in the fourth quarter on Oct. 30.
“We weren’t focusing on that,” defensive lineman Justin Ademilola said. “We just knew that we wanted to dominate our opponent.”
The Irish are peaking at the end of the regular season even if the competition hasn’t been the stoutest. Notre Dame outscored its four November opponents 162-23, but whether that’s enough to make the playoff will depend on what happens next weekend in the conference championship games.
“We knew that we had to control this situation because we don’t control anything after this,” Kelly said. “It was control the controllables. That was the theme all week because after today we don’t control anything.”
The Cardinal head into the offseason with serious questions about the direction of the program after their worst season in 15 years. Shaw had built Stanford into a powerhouse last decade but the Cardinal are 11-19 the past three seasons.
“It’s not what happens to us but how we respond,” Shaw said. “This program will respond.”
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Mayer had nine catches for 105 yards, giving him 64 catches on the season. That breaks the school record for tight ends of 63 set by Tyler Eifert in 2011.