PALO ALTO, Calif. -- While Brian Kelly and Notre Dame players weren't too interested in finding a silver lining to Saturday's 27-20 loss to Stanford, something did break through the glum of the team's fourth loss of the season.
Despite lining up with four first-time starters following left guard Chris Watt's first-half injury, Notre Dame's offensive line held its own against the best front seven it's faced all year.
"(They) gave us a chance to win," Kelly said. "With Nick out and Chris Watt out, playing Steve Elmer -- we're down a lot of bodies in there. But they battled and thought they held their own. It could've been ugly in many instances when you're playing a Stanford team that's a veteran team. But those kids battled and really gave Tommy (Rees) an opportunity to make some plays."
Rees was only sacked once and wasn't pressured much, which was partly his own doing. Left tackle Zack Martin said Rees was "unbelievable" checking Notre Dame into the right looks, a necessity against Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and the Stanford defense.
Still, the performances of Matt Hegarty, Conor Hanratty, Steve Elmer and Ronnie Stanley helped keep Rees upright, too.
"To have four guys on the O-line, first-year starters, playing against this kind of competition on the road speaks volumes to them and the way they prepared," Martin, who started his 51st consecutive game Saturday, said. "Very proud of those guys for stepping in."
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The unit's run blocking was far less successful, as Irish backs averaged just 2.7 yards per carry on 24 attempts. Still, that was right in line with the 2.9 yards per carry average from Stanford's opponents this season.
Stanford entered Saturday with 34 sacks in 11 games, but netted just one facing a less-than-mobile quarterback. That certainly counts as a positive, even if the overall outcome for Notre Dame was negative.
"I gotta say, for a lot of guys with inexperience, I thought they went in there and battled well," Kelly said. "I'm proud of them."