Will the Irish be able to do something that they haven’t done since 2007 this upcoming Saturday? That being win on “The Farm” against Stanford in Palo Alto, California. 2007 is an important year in this Notre Dame – Stanford rivalry. As mentioned, the Irish haven’t won at Stanford since that year, but if they are able to get a victory on Saturday, Stanford would fall to 4-8 overall – that would be their worst finish to a season since…you guessed it, 2007. Since becoming the Notre Dame head coach, Brian Kelly has yet to win a game at Stanford, so will this 2019 matchup end that streak? If the Irish are able to keep up the fire power that they have displayed in their last three games, Notre Dame’s chances of winning will be very high.
On both sides of the ball, this Stanford season has been plagued by injuries. After winning three of their first five games, the Cardinal season looked to be off to a promising start, but as significant players started going down, the depth at these positions caused the trajectory of their year to go in the opposite direction. Offensively, the Cardinal look like they will be going with 6 foot 4 inch junior Davis Mills at quarterback for Saturday’s matchup. Going along with this injury trend, Mills replaced former Cardinal starter K.J. Costello part way through the 2019 year and although once a backup, Mills does have a great arm and is decently mobile. The Stanford offense is most likely going to run through Mills, so the Irish defense will need to control the line of scrimmage and get in the backfield to disrupt this game plan. Mills will be joined in the backfield by fifth year senior Cameron Scarlett at running back. Scarlett, in his tenure with the Cardinal, spent two years backing up Christian McCaffrey and two years backing up Bryce Love – both outstanding backs. While the Stanford offensive line has been torn apart due to injuries, having to run behind a lot of younger players has proven to be a challenging task for Scarlett. This is another area that Notre Dame is going to need to exploit. In his weekly press conference, Brian Kelly addressed the notion that the Irish pass rush is going to be important this weekend and spoke to the fact that the Notre Dame coaching staff saved Isaiah Foskey’s fourth eligible game of his freshman year for this matchup to bolster the pass rush. If the Irish defense can continue their style of play that they have done recently, I fully expect them to continue to find success this Saturday.
Offensively, quarterback Ian Book has been on a roll in the last three games and if he can continue to stretch the field, the Irish should put up enough points to keep Stanford’s hopes down. The Cardinal defense has given up just about 429 yards per game this season, so taking advantage of the Notre Dame size, speed, and strength on the outside will be important as we have seen in the recent games. The one hesitation regarding the Irish offense though is their ability to put up points on the road. This season, Notre Dame is only averaging 26 points per game in road contests, this is just over 15 points fewer than their home average. With Stanford giving up so many yards to opposing offenses, one of these two stats is going to break. Either the Irish will put up more points than their road average or the Cardinal will not give up as many yards and will keep the Irish in check. Fortunately, I do not foresee the later of the two circumstances happening. As this will be Stanford’s last game of the season, they will most likely be playing with a “nothing to lose” attitude. This, I believe will keep them in the game early, but eventually the Irish physicality and superior talent will ware away at the Cardinal defenders and allow the Irish to find the offensive success that has been on display as of recent. In Saturday’s matchup, I expect the Irish passing game to continue to find opportunities down the field as Book will be looking for his usual targets in Claypool, Kmet, and Finke among others. With the Irish run game (outside of Book) being relatively stagnant since the Duke matchup, if Chip Long can scheme a way for the Irish backs to find more success, this will not only help open up the passing game, but should allow the Irish to dominate the offensive side of the ball.
In the last 10 matchups between these two schools, Stanford has come away victorious in seven of them, however Notre Dame is 11-1 in the 12 matchups where the Irish are the only ranked team. With a 4-7 Cardinal squad finishing up a disappointing season, if the Irish can jump out to a lead early, I don’t expect Stanford to put up much of a fight to come back. Unfortunately, winning in Palo Alto has not been something that has come easily for the Irish in recent attempts, but I do believe that streak will come to an end on Saturday. Notre Dame is currently sitting as 16.5 point favorites, with that line fluctuating recently. With all of the Cardinal injuries that they have sustained throughout the course of the season, I expect the Irish offense to be too much for them to handle and for Notre Dame to come out victorious 42-17. A victory here would mark Notre Dame’s third consecutive season of 10 or more wins, the first time the program would reach that mark since the 1991-1993 seasons and would give the Irish back to back perfect records in the last two Novembers. Being able to finish with a 10-2 record would keep Notre Dame on the upward trajectory and Kelly getting his first win at Stanford would be a great monkey to get off his back. Go Irish. Beat Cardinal.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Louisville: 7-4 overall, beat beat Syracuse 56-34
New Mexico: 2-9 overall, lost to Air Force 44-22
Georgia: 10-1 overall, currently ranked #4, beat Texas A&M 19-13
Virginia: 8-3 overall, beat Liberty 55-27
Bowling Green: 3-8 overall, coming off bye week
USC: 8-4 overall, currently ranked #25, beat UCLA 52-35
Michigan: 9-2 overall, currently ranked #10, beat Indiana 39-14
Virginia Tech: 8-3 overall, currently ranked #23, beat Pittsburgh 28-0
Duke: 4-7 overall, lost to Wake Forest 39-27
Navy: 8-2 overall, currently ranked #24, beat SMU 35-28
Boston College: 5-6 overall, lost to Notre Dame 40-7
Stanford: 4-7 overall, lost to Colorado 24-20