Irish Try to Impress at Stanford

Notre Dame (10-1) closes its regular season schedule on Saturday night with traditional rival Stanford (3-8). The teams did not meet in South Bend last year due to the PAC-12 COVID policy. The Fighting Irish beat the Cardinal in 2019 for the first time in Palo Alto during the Brian Kelly era and are aiming to continue that success. Stanford has struggled mightily in the past several weeks under the weight of significant injuries and general fatigue. This game will be nationally televised by Fox starting at 8:00 pm Eastern time.

The Cardinal are in the midst of a six-game losing streak after a 3-2 start that included wins over USC and Oregon. The recent slide has been fueled by injuries but also indicates a lack of quality depth on the roster. They still have a core of veteran stars, including offensive tackle Walter Rouse and defensive end Thomas Booker.

These leaders will try to channel the positive energy they displayed in their 31-24 defeat of Oregon earlier this season. “We haven’t been able to play the way I know we can play, to the level that we’ve preached even before the season”, Rouse said earlier this week. “We’re really focusing on doing what Stanford football is meant to be. This is the last game of the season, against Notre Dame. You have a trophy (the Legends Trophy) on the line. This is our season for us.” 

Walter Rouse (75) leads the Cardinal offensive line

Notre Dame enters the contest in relatively good health. The earlier losses of linebacker Marist Liufau, tackle Blake Fisher, slot receiver Avery Davis and safety Kyle Hamilton have been addressed by backups who have acquitted themselves well. Rover Jack Kiser, who tweaked his ankle last week a few plays after scoring on a pass interception, is available but will probably be held out.

Stanford’s receiving corps has been decimated this season. The unit’s best player, Brycen Tremayne, was lost for the season in October. The Cardinal will also be missing wideouts John Humphreys and Silas Starr on Saturday. In addition, tailback and punt returner Casey Filkins won’t be available, nor will outside linebacker Stephen Herron and backup tight end Lukas Ungar.


Stanford’s 3-4 defense has surrendered 31 points per game. The Cardinal have allowed five touchdowns from scrimmage of more than 50 yards in the past three games. They have an abundance of upperclassmen so it’s difficult to understand why they haven’t been more productive. Part of the answer may be general wear and tear after a long season. Another component may be an overall lack of speed and lateral quickness.

Senior end Thomas Booker leads a veteran group of down linemen that is stocked with fifth year players. Among them is Dalyn Wade-Perry, a 6’4” 340-pound nose tackle. Surprisingly, the Cardinal have only 13 sacks this year. Outside linebacker Gabe Reid will move up to rush the passer on third down. He has eight quarterback hits to lead the team.

Inside man Levani Damuni leads the team in tackles despite sharing time with Jacob Mangum-Farrar. Damuni is the only junior on the Cardinal front seven. The rest are seniors or graduate students. Jordan Fox, a sixth-year player, and Ricky Miezan complete the linebacker unit.

Cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly is Stanford’s playmaker on the back end

The veteran Cardinal secondary is quite competitive from a statistical standpoint. Kyu Blu Kelly, the lone junior on the back end, is the team’s best cover corner. He has ten pass breakups to his credit. Stanford has allowed only 13 passing touchdowns but has recorded only five interceptions. The run defense has been among the worst in the nation at 242 yards per game. That ranks 127th out of 130 teams.

Notre Dame will certainly attack on the ground with its quartet of talented running backs. That should not dissuade them from running play action passes to their outside speed receivers or deep down the middle to Michael Mayer. Stanford has not been competitive in its three November outings. They have lost by a combined score of 128-32.


Quarterback Tanner McKee won the starting job this fall and is a 64% passer. The team lacks explosive players so most of McKee’s passes are short and intermediate in length. Elijah Higgins is the best remaining healthy receiver for the Cardinal. He and tight end Ben Yurosek lead the team in receptions. Another potential threat is wideout Mike Wilson, who missed several games in the middle of the season but is back in the lineup. Stanford typically uses a lot of single back, two tight end formations. This configuration is even more prevalent since the number of healthy wide receivers has diminished.

McKee missed two games earlier this month before returning to start against Cal last week. The struggling offense did not respond but Coach David Shaw remains very high on his 6’6” sophomore signal-caller. “What you see is a guy that’s got everything,” Shaw said. “Sometimes you have to go through some tough things before you get to the mountain top. I firmly believe, just like the first time I saw him throw the ball, it’s not going to too long before he’s one of the best in America, if not the best. He’s got the leadership, personality. skill set, work ethic. He’s got a chance to be really special.”

Bo Bauer has emerged as the emotional leader of the Irish defense

Nathaniel Peat and Austin Jones share the duties at tailback. The pair has rushed for a combined 800 yards this year. Peat is the more explosive player and sports a 5.3 average per carry to Jones’ 3.6. The overall running game has been disappointing, though. The Cardinal have earned a miniscule 90 yards per game.

Rouse is the left tackle and is a future NFL player. He leads a respectable offensive line that has impressive size. This group has remained intact most of the season, with one exception. Starting right guard Branson Bragg was lost to an injury earlier in September. Although they have surrendered 29 sacks, part of the problem may be wide receivers that struggle to get open. Also, McKee is relatively immobile in the pocket. The net result is a poor success rate on third down (34%) and the anemic ground attack


Kicker Josh Karty has hit 10 of 14 field goals this season with a long of 51 yards. Punter Ryan Sanborn’s 43-yards per attempt is above average. The Cardinal punt return team was productive when Filkins was healthy. Backup wideout Bryce Farrell will take over in that spot while Peat handles the kickoff return duties. Opponents have returned only four kickoffs against Stanford this season with little to show for it.

Punter Jay Bramblett and kicker Jonathan Doerer and are winding down their careers at Notre Dame on a positive note. Chris Tyree has another great kickoff return last week and is fully recovered from issues with turf toe. Kyren Williams’ fearless approach has added juice to the punt return game. The Irish could produce a big play if the Cardinal let down their guard on Saturday.


Notre Dame’s primary concern is overconfidence after a series of easy wins against mediocre teams. The Cardinal appear to be no more than another speed bump on the road to an 11-1 campaign. The hosts have been outgained by 446-309 and do not have any elite offensive weapons. Marcus Freeman has the Irish defense playing at a high level after passing through an early season learning curve. They will show no mercy in this finale. Their motivation is to keep a three-game no-touchdown streak alive and to impress the Playoff Committee with another dominant showing.

Bay Area native Isaiah Foskey has a knack for creating turnovers

The Irish offense had a breakout game last week. They will want to build on that success and use their speed advantage to dial up a few long-distance scoring plays. Shaw and the Cardinal have enough pride to put up a decent fight in the early going. This team is worn down, however, so the battle won’t last long if things don’t go their way early.

Here are a few questions that will shed light on the outcome:

Can Stanford’s plus-sized offensive line handle the Irish defensive front?

Will Notre Dame take advantage of Stanford’s porous rush defense?

Can the Irish finally score a touchdown on their opening drive?

Will Notre Dame’s defense put more points on the board?

To what extent will hometown favorite Isaiah Foskey make his presence felt?

Which Irish freshman will have a breakout performance this week?

Can Notre Dame enhance its playoff chances with an impressive outing?

Will someone please pull the plug on Michigan?


Due to a weak November schedule, we really don’t know how much Notre Dame has improved since the first half of the season. Beating Stanford won’t provide many answers but the Irish can ill-afford a lackluster performance if they harbor any playoff ambitions.  Brian Kelly has maintained that he’s not a fan of generating style points. That’s commendable, but he needs to make a statement on Saturday since he and his team will become helpless spectators the following weekend. The Cardinal typically coach and play well when hosting Notre Dame, but this year’s team doesn’t have the staying power against an opponent with its postseason dreams on the line.


Tell John what you think in the Comments section below

15 thoughts on “Irish Try to Impress at Stanford

  1. Irish in the South says:

    This is a big weekend for the Irish. Big games among the top seven teams. The outcomes make or break our chances to reach CFP. Best scenario I can come up with: Michigan, Alabama and Oklahoma State lose while the Irish dominate Stanford.

  2. Timothy Miller says:

    Irish have to dominate early and not look like they’re running up the score late. It would be nice if Auburn could upset the Tide but not necessary. Bulldogs need to beat them convincingly the following weekend. Need a train wreck in the Big 12 with the Bedlam winner losing the championship. Then we’re in.

    • Thanks for your research. Jack Swarbrick really knows how to schedule for success. Still, ND trailed in this game at the half, after three quarters, and with 1:35 remaining. I’m hoping for a more dominant performance on Saturday.

  3. ND is obviously a big favorite here, but remember pride comes before a fall. However, a well coached and prepared team should be ready for the challenge knowing that s decisive win is needed to have a chance to make the CFP. They should roll over Stanford. Let us hope. ND 42- 14.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Pretty good prediction. And yes, they were well coached. The team has come a long way since Toledo.

  4. Rivalry games always concern me. I have a feeling this game will be closer then we want. Stanford’s coach has NDs number and will pull out all the stops. I don’t think they can win but they can be annoying which won’t help with the committee in two weeks. Irish 24-15

  5. I feel thankful for the early, ugly wins this season and for the way the Irish have grown as a team, despite key injuries. The depth of talent really shows, and I hope for a win without more hurt starters. I feel haunted by Ricky Watters fumbling repeatedly and a 2-3 Stanford team beating #1 Notre Dame at home. I hope the Irish visit the Cardinal with a demoralizing beat down, for their sake and ours. Irish 38, Stanford 13. Also check out Jason Gay’s amusing article about Coach Khakipants in the Wall Street Journal. Ohio State 42, Michigan 24.

  6. Marty and Wendy Medvetz says:

    Just an observation. All the teams ranked ahead of ND with a loss, have lost to teams with multiple losses and ranked out of the top 10. Our only loss is to undefeated #4 Cincy. Just saying.

  7. If ND makes the CFP, they would likely play Georgia which would be a big problem.
    Next year should find ND a much stronger team
    with a decent offense and a tremendous defense.

    • Caroline’s Dad says:

      If I were a member of the team, I would want to make the CFP —even though that meant having to play Georgia.

      Since I’m a fan, I hope they win tonight, finish #5 and then beat somebody on New Year’s Day. That would make the off-season more exciting and build the anticipation—rather than having to once again, deal with other fans and media talking about how we didn’t look like we belonged on the field with the #1 team in the country….

    • Irish in the South says:

      Totally agree. Next year looks more promising for taking on a team the caliber of Georgia. But I must say that I believe ND could beat Cincinnati if they played again.