SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Let’s make one thing clear: At 1-4 and having lost 11 straight games against FBS opponents by an average of more than 18 points per defeat, this is not as bad as the Stanford Cardinal has been. In 2003, Notre Dame beat Stanford 57-7.
That came in Tyrone Willingham’s first visit to his former employer, not that Willingham had reason to run up the score. The Irish were simply that much better than the Cardinal, relying on Julius Jones’ 218 yards on 23 rushes, a 9.5 yards per carry average.
Just shy of 20 years later, Stanford may have regressed back to those struggles, its weaknesses matching Notre Dame’s strengths, which are once again such a ground game. Between sophomore running backs Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs and junior Chris Tyree, the Irish have averaged 5.34 yards per carry the last three weeks en route to 212 rushing yards per game.
No single one of them may match Jones’ output at The Farm back in 2003, but the “three-headed monster” of Notre Dame’s backfield, to use Marcus Freeman’s phrasing, could equal that production today and spur the Irish to a blowout of the Cardinal.
TIME: 7:30 ET, long after the rain stops in South Bend. Temperatures will even out long before kickoff, sitting at about 48 degrees with clear skies.
TV: NBC will broadcast Notre Dame’s chase of its fourth straight win against Stanford, which would be the longest Irish streak since winning seven in a row between 2002 and 2008. Peacock will also carry the game live if preferring to stream it.
The focused matchup on a rival reminded Freeman of the prominent rivalry of his collegiate career, carefully dancing around the M-word (Michigan) this week when discussing The Game as an Ohio State alum, self-censorship that may bond Notre Dame fans with Buckeyes fans.
“When it was that week of that game, you understand what that rivalry meant and the history behind it,” Freeman said Monday. “That’s the same thing for this game. … I’m not looking at a record. I’m not looking at anything other than what you see on film, and you respect them in terms of you prepare for them.”
PREVIEW: In seven of their last 11 matchups, Notre Dame and Stanford have both been ranked. This afternoon is, in fact, only the second time in their last 12 meetings in which neither has been ranked, the other being 2016.
But not all unranked teams are created equally. The Irish (3-2) are on a three-game winning streak under a first-year head coach. Their stumble against Marshall in early September was humbling, but it may have been a knock toward reality unavoidable in Freeman’s debut campaign.
The Cardinal, meanwhile, have no such underlying reasoning. It is nothing but bad. Let’s take a broad sampling of opinions of Stanford. The weekly exercise in this space of interviewing an opposing beat writer, “And In That Corner …,” is not a distinctly unique article. Most reputable Notre Dame-focused websites run such an article each week, and none of them were kind to the Cardinal in the last few days.
“It’s not exactly your older brother’s Stanford Cardinal football program these days on The Farm,” Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley wrote. His counterpart, Jackson Moore, added, “It’s been quite some time since Stanford football has had something to feel good about. … Those former strengths became their biggest weaknesses last year.”
Inside ND Sports’ Tyler James had the tact of simply titling his rendition, “Has Stanford hit rock bottom yet?”
In his opponent overview, Irish Sports Daily’s Jamie Uyeyama did the math of, “12 wins used to be a great season for [Stanford head coach] David Shaw. Now it’s his win total since 2019.”
Stanford snagged defeat from the jaws of victory last week, and @AlexSimonSports *chose* to watch that game in person. What'd he learn? That Stanford's weaknesses match up with #NotreDame's strengths.https://t.co/A3KMeAfmLe
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 13, 2022
What went so wrong? This used to be Notre Dame’s stiffest challenge every year. From 2010 to 2015, the Cardinal was ranked every season when it faced the Irish, peaking at No. 4 in 2011 and costing Notre Dame distant hopes at a Playoff berth in 2015.
Stanford has not been ranked when facing Notre Dame since 2018. Match that dropoff with the implementation of the early signing period in December of 2017. Shaw faced stiffer challenges to adjusting to that than any Irish coach does.
Stanford does not grant early admission, as Notre Dame long has in early December. Shaw could not absolutely assure recruits they would be admitted when the December signing period came, weakening their resolve to head to Palo Alto. Never a recruiting juggernaut, the Cardinal then signed the No. 57 class in the country. It is has not cracked the top 20 in recruiting rankings since then, including a No. 46 standing in 2021.
Furthermore, the transfer portal seems to flow one way at Stanford, more so than even in South Bend.
Then, the challenges of conditioning during the pandemic were most difficult for the college football teams in northern California, including in Santa Clara County. That lack of strength training and development compounded the Cardinal’s lack of talent.
This worrisome combination of difficulties has left Stanford further behind the proverbial eight-ball than a usual downward spiral would create.
PREDICTION: All that combines to leave the Cardinal at a clear talent disadvantage against the Irish, not to mention against most FBS teams. And that deficit becomes worse when Stanford is without two-fifths of its starting offensive line and its lead running back, as it is this week.
The Cardinal cannot run the ball with consistency, something Notre Dame is already geared to stop. Meanwhile, Stanford has not stopped an opponent from running the ball, the exact offensive approach helping the Irish accelerate into the season.
From a week ago, this still feels relevant.
Of course, the Cardinal lost by only one to Oregon State, 28-27. That close loss may camouflage Stanford's longer-term problems. https://t.co/vauOLbTLfP
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) October 15, 2022
The Cardinal’s weaknesses match Notre Dame’s strengths.
That was the case last year, as well, when the Irish went to northern California as 20.5-point favorites. They won by 31 thanks to a last-minute touchdown from Kyren Williams, putting him over 1,000 rushing yards on the season for a second consecutive year.
There will be no such statistical impulse tonight. Freeman has no grudge with Shaw crafted by a decade of facing each other. But Notre Dame remains that much better than Stanford. Maybe it is no longer 31 points better, given the Irish hiccups this season, but swapping home-field advantage should further Notre Dame’s edge.
Yet, it is only a 16.5-point favorite as Friday turns to Saturday with a combined points total Over/Under of 53.
Both numbers are too low. Once the Irish open up a lead, likely courtesy of that ground game, then the Cardinal will soon need to rely solely on the pass, at which point Notre Dame’s aggressive defensive line will be able to charge forward with reckless abandon, harassing Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee most of the night.
Few possessions including sacks result in touchdowns, and that will limit the Cardinal to hardly any success.
Notre Dame 45, Stanford 10
(Spread: 2-3; Over/Under: 2-3; Straight-up: 3-2)
Well there y'go…it is indeed "fall." #seewhatididthere? pic.twitter.com/cBe28pk4Jy
— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) October 10, 2022
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Freeman’s authenticity sheds truth to usual coachspeak; Notre Dame injuries update
— And In That Corner … Stanford Cardinal’s weaknesses line up perfectly with Notre Dame’s strengths
— Notre Dame loses veteran LB, captain Bo Bauer for season to knee injury
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Two future top-10 opponents face stiff tests for a change
— How to watch Notre Dame vs Stanford and the Irish all season; TV, Peacock info for 2022
— Things To Learn: Stanford gives Notre Dame its first chance to test freshman QB Steve Angeli
— Stanford vs Notre Dame Odds, Picks and Predictions: Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting
— Football weekend events: Notre Dame vs. Stanford
— Big Ten’s Kevin Warren on further expansion: ‘We’re analyzing what makes sense’
— Wake Forest’s confounding RPO system has Demon Deacons offense rolling
— Stanford’s slow-mesh/RPO components add to defensive challenge
— Scouting report | Stanford
— Opponent outlook: Has Stanford hit rock bottom yet?
— Insider’s preview: Stanford