Notre Dame seeks to match Stanford’s physical play
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Stanford has a history of upsetting Notre Dame teams ranked in the top 10 in South Bend.
Two of Stanford’s three victories in 14 tries at Notre Dame Stadium came against Fighting Irish teams in the top 10.
The first time was in 1990 when the Cardinal rallied from 24-7 down to win when Tommy Vardell scored on a 1-yard run with 36 seconds left to give Stanford a 36-31 victory over the top-ranked Irish.
Stanford did it again two years later when the 18th-ranked Cardinal beat No. 6 Notre Dame 33-16 in a victory coach Bill Walsh called “as big a win as I have ever had in my career.”
There’s no chance of that happening when the ninth-ranked Irish (4-0) and No. 14 Stanford (3-1) play Saturday. Not because the Cardinal can’t win. They’ve beaten the Irish in four of their five last meetings. A Cardinal win just wouldn’t be an upset because they head into the game as 2.5-point favorites.
That’s despite the Irish having a better ranking and winning 15 of their last 16 games at Notre Dame Stadium. Coach Brian Kelly, who is 1-3 against Stanford, is warning his young team to be ready for a physical game.
“They know the physicality of this game. It’s because of Stanford has done it year in and year out,” he said. “We got pushed around in my first year here. We have now battled back, if you will. We still haven’t come out on the right side of that battle yet.”
The return to Notre Dame Stadium brings back bad memories for the Cardinal, who believe they were robbed in a 20-13 overtime loss two years ago when officials ruled Stepfan Taylor was stopped short of the goal line on fourth-and-1. Stanford players believe Taylor scored.
“I just remember coming away from that game knowing there were things we could have done overall as a whole offense a lot better,” said Kevin Hogan, who took over as Stanford’s starting quarterback two weeks after that loss.
The Cardinal are struggling on offense, ranking 77th in scoring at 27.5 points a game and have been slowed by turnovers, penalties and missed field goals.
“We just need to keep working on executing and stop shooting ourselves in the foot, whether it’s penalties or turnovers,” Hogan said.
The Irish are focusing on limiting turnovers after committing five last week against Syracuse, with four of those by quarterback Everett Golson.
“You have to play mistake-free to put points on the board against a great defense,” Kelly said.
In addition to what Stanford thought was a bad call by officials on the goal line, Stanford had a problem two seasons ago when players said they heard a whistle from the stands in the fourth quarter, causing them to stop playing on a third-and-2 from the 3-yard line that turned into a sack. Stanford coach David Shaw said he doesn’t want the Cardinal to worry about that on Saturday.
“I put that in the category of other things we can’t be concerned with. We just need to play hard and play the best we can,” he said.
Some other things to watch when Stanford faces Notre Dame on Saturday.
TRIPLE THREATS: Stanford and Notre Dame use three tailbacks regularly. That’s not unusual for the Irish, who have regularly relied on multiple backs under Kelly and have just one 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. But it is unusual for the Cardinal, which has had 1,000-yard rushers for six straight seasons in Toby Gerhart (2008-09), Taylor (2010-12) and Tyler Gaffney (2013).
OFFENSIVE SHUFFLE: Notre Dame shuffled its offensive line around last week against Syracuse and it struggled some against Syracuse. Kelly said he didn’t expect the new line to instantly come together. That could be a problem against the nation’s top defense.
RED ZONE DISCREPANCY: Notre Dame has scored on 17 of its 18 trips inside the red zone, with 12 touchdowns and five field goals. Stanford is just 12 of 19, with eight touchdowns and four field goals.
RED ZONE SIMILARITY: Stanford and Notre Dame are tied for ninth in the nation in red zone defense, holding opponents to scores on 66.6 percent of their chances. The Irish have allowed four touchdowns and two field goals in nine tries. The Cardinal has allowed one touchdown and one field goal in three tries.
LIMITING BIG PLAYS: Stanford has allowed only four plays of more than 20 yards this season, three on runs. The only pass play of more than 20 yards came in the loss to Southern California, a 28-yard catch by Nelson Agholor.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez contributed to this report from Stanford, California.