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A look at Notre Dame’s November in one word: Turnovers

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All season, this space has kept track of four specific statistical trends, chosen because they are simple enough to understand yet more telling than Notre Dame’s yardage totals or time of possession extremes. Turnover margin keeps an eye on momentum-swinging errors. Yards per pass attempt indicates any penchant for big plays. Rush attempts per game tells of a confidence relying on the ground game. Third down conversion percentage speaks to overall offensive success.

They showed last season’s defense gave up passing yards and third down conversions at rates beyond overcoming. They emphasized the Irish running game and dependence on turnovers at the 2017 midseason mark. They underscored Notre Dame’s defensive stinginess at this season’s peak, the October wins over USC and North Carolina State.

The fall from that peak was quick. Due to a convenience of the calendar, the season’s storylines break cleanly into September and October versus the four games in November. The only messiness comes from removing some Navy exceptions — the Midshipmen’s 72 rush attempts spike that average, for example.

All laid out below, one of these four predicators stands out.

The turnover drop-off on defense and influx on offense cannot be emphasized enough. More precisely, the rise in Irish giveaways marred November more than anything else.

What made Notre Dame’s November so much different than its September and October? It stopped forcing turnovers and started offering them. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

In the season’s first two months and eight games, Notre Dame turned over the ball only seven times. That rate more than doubled to eight times in November’s four games. Those eight feckless possessions may as well have been touchdowns forfeited.

When not turning over the ball, the Irish offense reached the end zone on 35.81 percent of its possessions this year. That number ticks further upward when accounting for indifferent possessions at the end of halves, but for this exercise, let’s use 35.81 percent.

Without turnovers, such a rate would have delivered Notre Dame another touchdown this weekend at Stanford. Also without those turnovers, the Cardinal would not have scored twice in short fields. Suddenly this thought exercise produces a 27-24 score in favor of the Irish.

The same logic creates a hypothetical 18-17 result in Miami on Nov. 11, again tilting toward Notre Dame.

Aside from that glaring and crippling factor, the Irish offense was viable in November. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush averaged more yards per pass attempt, a sign of finding consistency in producing big plays. The drop in rush attempts per game ties to playing catch up at Miami, only running 31 times.

It may seem overly simplistic, but the flip in turnover margin is the statistic that jumps off the page. A truly elite defense may have counteracted that trend or perhaps an undeniably lethal offense could have scored touchdowns more often than 35.81 percent of the time.

However, for a good team showing glimpses of being very good in mid-to-late October, the simultaneous sloppiness on offense and lack of fortuitous bounces on defense were far too much to overcome.

RELATED READING: Friday at 4: Four key statistical tidbits (Sept. 1)
A statistical look at Notre Dame’s offense through six games compared to the past (Oct. 11)
Notre Dame’s defense has limited scoring, but what keys have led to that? (Oct. 12)
Friday at 4: A statistical look at how Notre Dame routed two top-15 teams in consecutive weeks (Nov. 3)

Turnover margin
First eight games: +11
Last four games: -6
12-game season: +5
Considering the Irish did not turn the ball over against Wake Forest but did force a turnover, the November data becomes even more foreboding when narrowed to the last three games and a -7 differential, including seven turnovers in the two losses alone.

Yards per pass attempt

Offense Defense (allowed)
First eight games: 5.96 yards First eight games: 6.00 yards allowed
Last four games: 7.43 yards Last four games: 8.56 yards allowed
Nov. excluding Navy: 8.93 yards allowed
12-game season: 6.51 yards 12-game season: 6.22 yards allowed
Season excluding Navy: 6.24 yards allowed

Navy attempted eight passes for 41 yards. Removing such from the defensive data allows for a bit more accurate overall picture.

Rush attempts per game

Offense Opponents
First eight games: 44.63 First eight games: 31.63
Last four games: Last four games: 47.25
Nov. excluding Navy: 38.00 Nov. excluding Navy: 39.00
12-game season: 41.75 12-game season: 36.83
Season excluding Navy: 42.82 Season excluding Navy: 33.64

The Midshipmen rushed 72 times. That skews one half of this data if not removed. Notre Dame had seven genuine offensive possessions, rushing only 30 times against Navy, skewing the other half. For context’s sake: That is even fewer rush attempts than the Irish attempted when trailing so resoundingly against Miami.

Third down conversion percentage

Offense Defense (allowed)
First eight games: 43.33 percent First eight games: 34.09 percent
Last four games: 44.07 percent Last four games: 32.14 percent
Nov. excluding Navy: 26.32 percent
12-game season: 43.58 percent 12-game season: 33.51 percent
Season excluding Navy: 32.35 percent

Navy converted 8-of-18 third downs, skewing the data both in attempts and in success rate. Removing that from November, one sees defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s unit may have held its own down the homestretch. Rather, it gave up big plays more often, as exhibited by the yards per pass attempt. While Notre Dame halted its November opponents more frequently on third downs, it also gave up touchdowns on 33.33 percent of possessions, up noticeably from only 16.38 percent in September and October.

Monday’s Leftover’s: Notre Dame was always going to play this out at least one more year

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Three out of the past four years, Notre Dame has reached November with genuine College Football Playoff aspirations.

In 2014, injuries removed any chances of finishing the season strongly.

In 2015, close losses belied the nature of college football.

Then defensive youth and overall indifference torpedoed the season in September a year ago.

None of those factors played a role in 2017, and that drives the doubt following the regular season’s 9-3 conclusion. Irish coach Brian Kelly cannot cite his team’s inexperience for falling 38-20 at Stanford on Saturday, and he cannot cite injury for the 41-8 debacle in Miami a few weeks ago.

Notre Dame simply was neither consistent nor ready when it most needed to be. It beat the teams it was supposed to beat, something it very much did not do in 2016. It lost to the teams it could have beaten, something true for a while now.

That former fact alone removes the biggest question from director of athletics Jack Swarbrick’s pondering this month. A year after betting long on Kelly, Swarbrick’s chips remain on the table.

Nothing happened in 2017 to alter Swarbrick’s strategy. In the closing minutes Saturday night, Swarbrick stood along the sideline watching intently, his hand moving from his chin to his hips as the final Irish drive puttered out in somewhat appropriate fashion, close enough to consider the end zone but not so near to ever have had made the possibility a tantalizing what-if.

Swarbrick and Kelly walked up the tunnel in Stanford Stadium together. Kelly remains Swarbrick’s long view, and there is no reason to expect that to change before Michigan arrives at Notre Dame Stadium in September.

That has been clear for the better part of a year. The results of two Saturday nights are not impetus to change that, even if they sandwiched a frustrating three-week stretch. Once Swarbrick committed to the slow play, it became foolish to ever think of going all-in on a mediocre hand, a questionable hire of, well, who knows who given this weekend’s coaching carousel debacles.

Whether agreeing or disagreeing with Swarbrick’s approach, hoping to change tacts only halfway through the vowed premise is akin to hoping the river card will complete a full house. It’s possible, but it is not the smart play.

To both Kelly and Swarbrick, they aren’t pondering a call. They’re really thinking about 2018.

Notre Dame sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson knew he would score for much of his 83-yard touchdown against Stanford on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

A couple statistical notes
Lost in Saturday’s loss was an impressive surprise by the Irish offense. Never before had one game seen two touchdown passes of 75-yards or more. It’s an oddity, but one worth acknowledging, nonetheless. The 83-yard touchdown to sophomore Kevin Stepherson was the longest Notre Dame touchdown pass since Kyle Rudolph went 95 yards in the final minutes to seemingly-beat Michigan in 2010.

Stepherson finishes the season leading the Irish with five touchdowns, while junior Equanimeous St. Brown’s five catches for 111 yards and a 75-yard score boosted his totals to 31 catches for 468 yards and four touchdowns, the first two figures leading the team.

On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame’s defense actually played well against the Cardinal, aside from being forced into short fields twice too many times. That effort was led, once again, by the linebackers, specifically senior Nyles Morgan and junior Te’von Coney.

“The plan going in was to attack the line of scrimmage,” Kelly said. “Those ‘backers were free to do it.”

With six tackles Saturday, Coney finished the regular season with a team-high 99, followed by Morgan’s 83, seven of which came this weekend.

Stanford and running backs
Cardinal junior Bryce Love will almost assuredly head to the NFL this offseason. His speed alone should warrant a relatively-high draft slot.

That will hardly be a matter for Stanford head coach David Shaw in 2018. With the exception of 2014, the Cardinal have continued to reload in the backfield with future NFL players. That trend extends from Toby Gerhart (2006 to 2009, shining in ’08 and ’09) to Stepfan Taylor (’09-’12, the focus in the latter three seasons) to Tyler Gaffney (’09-’13, led in ’13) … and then from Christian McCaffrey to Love and next either current sophomore Trevor Speights or junior Cameron Scarlett.

Speights finished Saturday with five carries for 19 yards while Scarlett added six carries for 12 yards and a touchdown, both allowing Love enough rest to remain effective despite a bum ankle. One or both of Speights and Scarlett will cause headaches for opposing defenses next year.

Lastly, a basketball moment
Rarely does the pregame press box conversation turn to the hardwood. This isn’t due to a football obsession. Rather, focus is on the game to come. That is even more true when in an open air press box and the field feels figuratively that much closer.

But when a basketball game goes from a 3-on-5 laugher to a “Wait, could Alabama win with only three players?” all attention shifts to one computer screen showcasing Minnesota’s near-meltdown.

How did Alabama end up with only three players?

How close did the game come?

And, of course, a requisite “Hoosiers” reference:

Now that would have been one to remember.

Things We Learned: Notre Dame is far from the finished product it once looked to be

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STANFORD, Calif. — Perhaps this should be renamed Things We Didn’t Learn. For a team that blew the doors off its greatest rival little more than a month ago, Notre Dame has a lot of questions left unanswered at the conclusion of its regular season.

An 8-1 start becoming a 9-3 finish is one thing. It is another conversation altogether when that conclusion comes thanks to two eggs laid in the season’s two best opportunities to forget demons of seasons past. The Irish did not simply lose to Stanford 38-20 on Saturday. They gifted the Cardinal a victory. That is not to take anything away from David Shaw’s team. It had to take the chance offered, and it did. It was just surprising to see Notre Dame put up so little resistance in the fourth quarter, a 15-minute span which it had to know would define the 2017 season, fairly or not.

Such a reaction may be compromised by recency bias. It may be too focused on the micro. It almost certainly comes replete with more criticism than it perhaps should.

Then again, the Irish held a 20-17 lead on the road against a top-25 opponent and offered little-to-no objection to Stanford rattling off three unanswered touchdowns.

Turnovers made the season’s start, and they marred its end.

Through the season’s 8-1 start, Notre Dame was +12 in turnover margin, forcing 19 while giving away the ball only seven times. In its final three games, that shifted to -7, taking the ball away a total of once, an interception against Navy.

To some degree, this is a symptom of opponents’ protecting the ball, noticing defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s focus on aggressiveness and preaching caution throughout their own weeks of preparation. It is also a sign of a tougher schedule — traveling to both Miami and Stanford in a three-week span was always going to be a difficult task. On some level, a regression to a mean should have been expected, no matter who the opposition was.

Whatever the cause, failing to force turnovers slowed the Irish defense’s momentum outright.

“I believe energy is contagious,” senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill said. “Whenever you are causing turnovers, having success, every guy on the field is going to feel more confident. They’re going to trust in their preparation more and they’re going to remember their training more.

“When the energy is not there, sometimes it is hard for guys to focus on that more.”

That loss of energy and focus coincided with the offense developing a bad habit of losing the ball. Eight turnovers in the last three games cost Notre Dame dearly. More specifically, the Irish coughed up the ball nine times in their three losses, losses against top-25 teams. (And, given this victory and the inevitable boost in the polls for the currently-No. 21 Cardinal, three likely top-20 teams, if not even top-15.)

“Each game that we’ve lost this year, we’ve turned the football over against quality opposition, against good football teams,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “… You can’t turn the ball over against really good football teams.”

Well, you can, but only if you are efficient and dangerous in every other facet of the game.

The greatest cost to any given turnover is it eliminates an offense’s chance to score. It is the equivalent to a strikeout in baseball, where the most-prized non-scoring commodity is a baserunner, because he creates the possibility of a run. Simply having possession of the football creates the possibility of a touchdown.

When losing those opportunities, nearly every remaining chance must be converted. For whatever reason, the Irish are not capable of that.

Simply put, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s 2017 was filled with more lows than highs, despite his record-setting rushing performances. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

One primary reason seems to be the quarterback and, more broadly, the passing game.

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush showed moments of promise this season. All the way back in the fourth week, he made some genuinely nice passes at Michigan State. His composure was as noticeable as anyone else’s when North Carolina State blocked a punt for a touchdown a month ago. Clearly, his legs are a threat for which every defense must adjust.

Wimbush also showed constant inconsistency. No amount of receivers’ drops justifies a completion percentage of 49.8 percent (133-of-267), including a disappointing 11-of-28 performance at Stanford. The fact that he finishes the regular season with only six interceptions is amazing and a commentary on defenders’ struggles to catch more than anything else.

Kelly was clear Saturday: Wimbush is Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.

He should be. He has his skills, and they are more dynamic and present a higher ceiling than any other set do on the Irish roster, all respect offered to sophomore Ian Book. Nonetheless, a season’s worth of concerted effort could not create a viable passing game, and the onus for that falls to Wimbush’s struggles.

Those struggles were not helped by Notre Dame’s overall tiring in the closing month.

Kelly insisted junior running back Josh Adams is healthy. That is hard to reconcile with his production in November, but he also took 20 carries Saturday. If the former Heisman candidate was more than nicked up, that workload would not have been the case.

At that point, the conclusion is, the Irish tired. The offensive line did not get the push against the Cardinal like it did in all of September and October, giving up season-highs of 6 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Adams did not break tackles like he used to. For an offense that once made its living on long rushes right through the opposing defenses, the longest run at The Farm went for a lackluster 14 yards.

Strength and conditioning is too encompassing of a cause to be entirely rectified in just one offseason, especially considering the state of that part of the program as recently as December. First-year strength coordinator Matt Balis did yeoman’s work, but that task is clearly not yet finished.

There was only so much Irish senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill (23) and the Notre Dame defense could do to limit Stanford when Irish turnovers twice gifted the Cardinal short fields. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The one area remaining beyond excessive criticism is Notre Dame’s defense.

Sure, Stanford scored 38 points Saturday, but 14 of those came on drives of 29 and 18 yards thanks to turnovers. The defense could have halted those, and attempted to.

“We have to get a stop,” Tranquill said. “Our offense was struggling a little bit. Whenever that happens, the defense has to force a field goal or force a turnover themselves, and we didn’t do that tonight. Ultimately, the results are what they are because of that.”

None of Tranquill’s sentiment is false, but it should also be viewed with a grain of salt. If the Irish had not been put in those situations and the Cardinal scores only 24 points, the expectation for one more score from Wimbush and the offense would be whole-heartedly reasonable. The offense would not have produced that touchdown, but such is no fault of Tranquill, Elko or anyone on the defensive side of the ball.

Notre Dame stepped forward in 2017, but not as far forward as it once seemed.

The Irish blew out USC, a team looking more and more like what was expected in the preseason. They won nine games, losing only to the best team on its schedule and twice on the road to worthwhile opponents. (Anyone insisting Stanford is not good can just see themselves out of this space. The Cardinal have coalesced very well as this season has progressed, yet remained under most radars.) Elko transformed a toothless defense into an attacking unit that largely held opponents in check, unless its corresponding offense put it in a bad position.

But Notre Dame is not yet able to overcome the mistakes inherent to any game. It is not yet a notch above, let alone in the top-whatever of the country.

Will that day come? Not this year.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“I would call it just the first coat of paint for where we are,” Kelly said. “There’s another level for us. We’ll certainly look at this season and feel it was a good foundation for us to look to be one step higher next year, to reach higher, for more.”

Then again, this may have been the best realistic case expected after the disaster that was 2016. The Irish beat the teams they were supposed to beat this year. That is step one.

If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it certainly was not rebuilt in one, right?

Notre Dame’s turnovers lead to 38-20 loss and 9-3 finish

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STANFORD, Calif. — Notre Dame had a chance to seize every ounce of control at Stanford on Saturday, just like the Irish had an opportunity in November to force their way into the forefront of the national conversation. By failing to deliver a blow to the No. 21 Cardinal, No. 8 Notre Dame completed its fall to a disappointing 9-3 conclusion from a strong 8-1 beginning.

The final ledger will point toward three fourth-quarter Irish turnovers as the catalyst to the 38-20 loss. Head coach Brian Kelly cited them directly and frequently afterward.

“Each game that we’ve lost this year, we’ve turned the football over against quality opposition,” Kelly said. “… We turned a good game into a not-so-good game by turning the football over late.”

That is not an inaccurate telling of the game, but it is incomplete. Notre Dame outgained Stanford 415 yards to 328, but could never establish its running game, averaging only 4.58 yards on 38 rushes (sacks adjusted). The Cardinal sacked Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush six times, keeping him hemmed in for 81 yards on 11 rushes otherwise. Specifically, that was a piece of Stanford coach David Shaw’s game plan.

“I was not subtle this week about containing the quarterback,” Shaw said. “We had to keep him inside. … Get [Wimbush] to a sideline, he’s going to kill us either with his legs or his arm.”

Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson (29) and Notre Dame’s offense never found consistency during the 38-20 loss at Stanford on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Wimbush added 249 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-28 passing, though the scores and 158 of those yards came on two plays alone, an 83-yard touchdown to sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson and a 75-yarder to junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

Wimbush also threw two interceptions, two-thirds of the crippling dynamic Kelly focused on.

“I thought we were in a good rhythm,” Wimbush said. “I thought we had control of what was going on. I felt good about what we were doing.

“Can’t turn the ball over at that time.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
The turnovers did in Notre Dame. That can hardly be denied. Yet, the Irish were not exactly humming before Wimbush’s first interception.

When junior Shaun Crawford downed a punt at Stanford’s one-yard line, he set up the Notre Dame defense to force the Cardinal’s hand. It quickly led to a three-and-out. Junior Chris Finke returned the ensuing punt all the way to the 19-yard line, breaking a tackle before finding a crease. Suddenly, the Irish were set to take a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter, having held Stanford largely in check all night.

“We’ve been really good all year about taking those possessions and turning them into touchdowns,” Kelly said.

That is not what happened.

To be clear, the Cardinal did not stop Notre Dame; the Irish did themselves in. Two procedure penalties created a first-and-20 from the 29-yard line. Stepherson gained all 10 of those yards back on a jet sweep — one of the few designs offensive coordinator Chip Long could count on this last month — but the momentum was already gone. The following two plays lost another two yards and Notre Dame settled for a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

“I didn’t feel like it was slipping away in that sense, but I felt like we left some points out there,” Kelly said.

Per usual, fifth-year left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey was even more blunt about the mishap.

“Just dumb penalties,” he said, himself guilty of the second penalty with a false start. “It can’t happen. That’s the only thing you can say about that.”

The Irish took an ideal situation, squandered it entirely on their own and by the time they had another chance to threaten, Stanford had scored three unanswered touchdowns to create the final 38-20 margin.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
The Cardinal took a 31-20 lead with most of the fourth quarter remaining. Notre Dame was very much still in the game, if not for possibly having already checked out mentally. Irish junior C.J. Sanders took the kickoff from the goal line and did not even get the ball to the 20-yard line. Instead, he deposited it on the grass to be recovered by Stanford.

The Cardinal did exactly what Notre Dame did not after Finke’s punt return. It took great field position and turned it into seven points.

Wimbush will get the headlines and the brunt of the criticism for his two turnovers, but he was not alone. The mistakes came in a number of varieties.

“We played really good football teams and turned it over,” Kelly said. “If you’re going to do that, you’re going to put yourself in a bad situation. There’s not that guys were tired, not mentally sharp, [or] they didn’t come ready to play. They came ready to play. They were ready to win today.

“Got to hold onto the football. Can’t turn it over.”

Stanford took two short fields and turned them into touchdowns. Notre Dame took a short field and turned it into a field goal. Remove the former scores and turn the latter into a touchdown, and this game would have been 24-24. Obviously, that isn’t how football works.

“It’s what we thought it would be,” Kelly said. “We thought the game would get into the fourth quarter and we’d have a chance to win it. We didn’t expect to turn the football over a couple of times.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Wimbush’s first interception created one of those short fields for the Cardinal. After the debacle of a possession off the Finke punt return, Stanford scored a touchdown to take a 24-20 lead. On the very first snap afterward, Wimbush tried to force a pass to fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe for about a 10-yard gain.

He did not see Cardinal sophomore linebacker Curtis Robinson reading the passer’s eyes and jumping the route.

“I just didn’t see the Buck defender drop,” Wimbush said. “Then he got into my window. I thought I could squeeze it in there. He made a great play.”

Down only four points, the Irish were in good position to regain control. Three plays later, Stanford had all the control after sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello found senior tight end Dalton Schultz for a 12-yard touchdown pass.

“Brandon is a competitor,” Kelly said. “He’ll bounce back. He is who he is, he wants to win as bad as anybody.

“He’ll go back to work and work on his craft. He’s our starting quarterback. He’ll be starting in the bowl game.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME
On the Notre Dame-specific side of things, the focus would go to either junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (six tackles, three for loss including one sack) or St. Brown (five catches, 111 yards, one touchdown).

Notre Dame limited Cardinal junior running back Bryce Love’s big plays, but he still found his way to 125 yards on 20 carries. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

For the game, the honor goes to Cardinal junior running back Bryce Love. Playing with a sprained ankle, as he has much of the season, Love took 20 carries for 125 yards. He broke only one run for more than 30 yards (31, to be exact), but he did enough to mandate the Irish defense’s attention all evening.

“It was tough,” Love said. “It’s just part of the Stanford brand of football, though. We enjoy those gritty games where you have to fight for yard after yard. That’s kind of what it was the first two quarters.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Things turned south for the Irish in a hurry, both in the game and in the season. Only 15 days ago, they were No. 3 in the College Football Playoff selection committee poll, 8-1 and looking to make a statement at Miami. Now, Notre Dame is 9-3 and likely headed to a bowl game in Orlando.

To start the fourth quarter Saturday, the Irish led 20-17 and looked to be in position to slug out a physical win at The Farm for the first time since 2007. In just three minutes and 36 seconds, the Cardinal turned that into a 38-20 margin.

QUOTE OF THE EVENING
The outsider’s focus right now may be backward, a retrospective of the season. Inside the locker room, however, the bowl game looms.

“Like any other game, we got to learn from this one and move forward,” junior running back Josh Adams said. “Got to really get back to that grind, finish this [season] out strong. We want to do it the right way, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
3:40 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kevin Stepherson 83-yard reception from Brandon Wimbush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 0. (3 plays, 86 yards, 0:39)
0:43 — Stanford touchdown. Trent Irwin 29-yard reception from K.J. Costello. Jet Toner PAT good. Notre Dame 7, Stanford 7. (5 plays, 72 yards, 2:49)

Second Quarter
11:29 — Stanford touchdown. JJ Arcega-Whiteside four-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 14, Notre Dame 7. (6 plays, 55 yards, 2:40)
2:36 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 38 yards. Stanford 14, Notre Dame 10. (15 plays, 69 yards, 4:34)

Third Quarter
14:48 — Notre Dame touchdown. Equanimeous St. Brown 75-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14. (1 play, 75 yards, 0:12)
10:23 — Stanford field goal. Toner 24 yards. Notre Dame 17, Stanford 17. (9 plays, 64 yards, 4:19)
1:23 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon 38 yards. Notre Dame 20, Stanford 17. (4 plays, -2 yards, 2:43)

Fourth Quarter
13:46 — Stanford touchdown. Kaden Smith 19-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 24, Notre Dame 20. (7 plays, 70 yards, 2:31)
12:21 — Stanford touchdown. Dalton Schultz 12-yard reception from Costello. Toner PAT good. Stanford 31, Notre Dame 20. (3 plays, 29 yards, 1:22)
10:10 — Stanford touchdown. Cameron Scarlett three-yard rush. Toner PAT good. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 20. (4 plays, 18 yards, 2:06)

Notre Dame at Stanford: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2) vs. No. 21 Stanford (8-3).

WHAT? Fifth-year left tackle and captain Mike McGlinchey refers to the Cardinal as his “favorite opponent to play.” Some might call the clash for the Legends Trophy the most underappreciated rivalry in college football. That may be extreme, but the last five games in this series have been decided by one possession each and a total of 26 points, three in Stanford’s favor and two toward the Irish.

WHEN? 8:14 p.m. ET. In other words, it will be barely dinner time at the local venue. California does some things right, folks.

WHERE? Stanford Stadium, otherwise known as “The Farm,” Palo Alto, Calif.

ABC will have the broadcast. Presumably, anyone on the move should be able to find the game via the Watch ESPN app.

WHY? If Notre Dame gets the win, the Irish are headed to a Playoff-eligible bowl. Those possibilities hinge heavily on conference championship games in a week. If USC wins the Pac 12, for example, that essentially rules out an Irish trip to the Fiesta Bowl, as the goal is to avoid rematches in those bowl games. The same goes for if Clemson beats Miami in the ACC title game, thus sending the Hurricanes to a veritable home game in the Orange Bowl.

If Notre Dame loses, a trip to Orlando is on the horizon, either the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl or the Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl. The determining factor is if an SEC or a Big 10 team heads to the Orange Bowl — the highest-ranked option not in the College Football Playoff gets that nod. If it is an SEC team, as may seem likely, the Irish can stock up on tents and sleeping bags. If a Big 10 team lands in the Orange Bowl, then Notre Dame will take the ACC’s spot in the Citrus Bowl.

For Stanford, today’s game has no long-term effects aside from possibly establishing some momentum for the Pac-12 championship game in a week, which the Cardinal will go to only if Washington beats Washington State tonight.

MEANINGLESS STAT: Two weeks ago, the Irish were averaging 41.33 points per game, well north of the program record of 37.6 points per game. Managing only eight points at Miami torpedoed that trend, and scoring 24 against Navy did not reset it. To return to that pace, Notre Dame would need to score a mere 48 points against Stanford. The most points scored against the Cardinal this year were the 42 tallied by USC in the season’s second week. The last time someone scored that many points against a Stanford defense was Oct. 6, 2012, when the Cardinal slipped past Arizona in overtime, 54-48.

If Josh Adams can rush for 101 yards against Stanford, he will place his name alone atop the Notre Dame record books. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

EQUALLY MEANINGLESS BUT MORE INTERESTING STAT: With 1,377 rushing yards this season, Irish junior running back Josh Adams is exactly 100 yards shy of Vagas Ferguson’s single-season Notre Dame record. These days, any yards Adams gains in a bowl game would count toward the total, but if he slips past Ferguson’s record in the 12 regular season games, it would reduce any need for an asterisk, even though the 1979 schedule provided Ferguson with only 11 games in the first place.

On that note, it should be noted Adams has needed 171 attempts thus far this year. Ferguson carried the ball 301 times that record-setting season.

BY HOW MUCH? Stanford star junior running back Bryce Love has played with an injured ankle most of the season. A reaggravation of the sprain shelved him for much of the fourth quarter of the Cardinal’s 17-14 victory over Cal a week ago. Considering the potential impact of a win over Notre Dame compared to the effects of a Pac-12 championship, there is logic to wondering if Love will be completely available in head coach David Shaw’s game plan.

The possibility of Love not playing was assuaged somewhat Tuesday when Shaw described his offense’s driving force as “day to day.” At that point, the spread for this contest did not change, but the combined point total over/under jumped two points to 57.

It has since settled at 56 with a 2.5-point edge toward the Irish. That roughly equals a 29-26 conclusion.

Perhaps logic rules too strongly in this space, but deferring to it implies Love will not play the whole game. Maybe he will be used sporadically, perhaps not at all. Either way, limiting him will limit Stanford’s offense. With that in mind, let’s knock a score off that projected tally.

Notre Dame 31, Stanford 21. (8-3 record on the season.)

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame on the precipice of a rare three-year stretch
Questions for the Week: If without St. Brown, who will Notre Dame turn to?
Notre Dame’s Opponents and Playoff Competition: Results and Upcoming
And In That Corner … The No. 21 Stanford Cardinal and (maybe) Bryce Love
A Notre Dame fan’s 40 thanks to give
— Things to Learn: What did Miami teach Notre Dame?
Friday at 4: Some complaints, some predictions in the balance & one thought experiment

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE FROM THE NAVY GAME:
Notre Dame turns to its strengths to slip past Navy, 24-17
Things We Learned: Notre Dame will do what it takes to develop its passing game
Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Defensive counter to Navy’s option helps Irish put Miami in past

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
This section is lighter than usual for two reasons. One, as a holiday week, fewer pieces were published internet-wide. Second, with travel this week, fewer pieces were read by yours truly, and no piece will ever be recommended blindly.
College Film Room: How Stanford — led by a pair of No. 20s — pulled the upset over Washington ($)
Is Notre Dame-Stanford college football’s most underappreciated rivalry? ($)