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Saturday, April 20, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame heads into road matchup against Stanford with much to prove

As No. 8 Notre Dame closes out the regular season against No. 21 Stanford on Saturday, there is a lot at stake for the Irish to make a statement win over the Cardinal.

A win would almost guarantee Notre Dame (9-2) its second New Year’s Six bowl game in the last three seasons.

The Irish would post at least two 10-win seasons in three seasons for the first time since 1993.

And perhaps most importantly, a win over Stanford (8-3) would mark Notre Dame’s first at the Cardinal since 2007, the highest-ranked road win for the Irish since 2012 and the first time Notre Dame has defeated a ranked opponent to close out the year since 1992.

Notre Dame’s last three trips to Stanford have all been ranked matchups, the most recent being the 2015 heartbreaking loss that shattered the Irish Playoff hopes. While Saturday’s matchup doesn’t have the same implications, a win over a ranked Stanford team is long overdue for head coach Brian Kelly, who has a career 2-9 road record against top-20 teams at Notre Dame.

“A lot to play for here,” Kelly said in his Tuesday press conference. “There’s a lot here in the sense that [a] win against this football team is important because it’s the Legends Trophy for us. Getting that back is very important. It would give us all the traveling trophies this year, which is something that’s kind of important to us, that we’ve talked about in our room here. You know, beating all the teams that we had lost to last year, significant for us as well in terms of turning the tables on last year. A team that we haven’t beat out there since 2007.

“ … It’s hard to win on the road, and if you’re playing top-20 teams on the road, it’s even more difficult. So you just prepare your team the best you can, and when you go on the road and you’re playing top-20 teams, they’re difficult competition.”

Irish junior running back Josh Adams gets tackled during Notre Dame’s 41-8 loss to Miami (FL) on Nov. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Irish have played one other ranked opponent on the road this season in now-No. 2 Miami, who controlled the game from start to finish in-route to a dominant 41-8 win. Kelly said for Notre Dame to not repeat the same result, the Irish have to prepare better.

“We fed that atmosphere at Miami, turning the football over,” he said. “You’ve got to take care of the football. You can’t give anybody on the road that energy that gives them that extra momentum at home, similar to USC gives us a free possession on a punt, and it just gives you that energy. You can’t turn the football over. You’ve got to play mistake free and eliminate big plays. It’s not really rocket science.

“You just have to play poised and disciplined on the road. If you do that, you’ve got a fair shot of winning those games. They’ll be close and hard-fought.”

Add in the travel to the West Coast and the time difference that the Irish will have to adjust to, and Kelly made it clear his team has to be fully locked in to beat a good Stanford squad.

“I just think you have to take the precautions,” Kelly said. “Our guys are going to get over there, and Friday morning they’ve got to put their phone on airplane mode because it’s going to go off at, what, 5 a.m. because people will start texting around 8–9 in the morning, and they need to be sleeping. So just getting the right rest. You’re still dealing with that three-hour change. That’s probably the biggest adjustment.

“They’ve had good teams, you know, and they’ve been close games. … It seems, in my recollection, they’ve been really close games since ’12. I know the first couple years we got our butts kicked, but since ’12, I think they've been one-score games pretty much.”

For Notre Dame’s players, accepting responsibility and preparing the right way is the biggest way the Irish can turn what has been a road loss in the past into a statement win.

“I don’t know if we necessarily have things that need to be fixed that much. Obviously, a couple weeks ago took a big lump down in South Beach, but I don’t think it’s like a big kind of back to the drawing board like clean-house kind of deal,” Irish graduate student offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said of playing on the road. “I think we just need to clean up a couple of small details that didn’t allow us to play our best and continue to clean those up as the weeks go on.

“But we’re very confident in our team’s football ability and have a great opportunity to go win our 10th game against a really, really good Stanford football team, and that’s really — I don’t think we need to worry about fixing too much other than just cleaning up the things that we did wrong. … It starts with me as a two-time captain and a leader of this football team, and how do I help that mindset for the rest of the football team, and that’s something that high-character, high-quality guys in our locker room all responded to, and it’s just about being a man and taking responsibility and doing what’s necessary to get your job done. That’s all we’ve been preaching since we got back here in January last year.”

Eddie Griesedieck | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush surveys the field looking to pass during Notre Dame’s 24-17 win over Navy on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

And for quarterback Brandon Wimbush, Stanford represents an opportunity to bounce back from a tough performance against the Hurricanes, against whom the junior had four turnovers and was benched in the first half.

“I didn’t prepare to the best of my ability Miami week, and obviously it showed,” Wimbush said. “ … I took it for granted, another week and another opportunity that we had to go play a great team. It’s late into the — you can say it was mid-season, late into the season, and I don’t know, there was no excuse for that, but it happens.

“ ... Being militant in the way we go about this week and everything that we do, so having intention to the way we practice, to the way we watch film, to the way I eat, just things like that, and it’ll all go into the game. … This team has another opportunity to go prove itself as we’ve done all season. We’re looking forward to it, and we’ll take advantage of this opportunity here.”