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Notre Dame Seeks Redemption on the Road at Stanford

In Week 13 of the college football season, No. 17 Notre Dame is no longer playing for a spot in the College Football Playoff or even a New Year Six bowl game for that matter. And while the Fighting Irish (8-3) have struggled on the road this season, it is a safe bet that the Irish seniors would like nothing more than to take down Stanford (3-8) on Saturday and avenge last year’s surprising loss to the Cardinal in South Bend.

Notre Dame hasn’t played especially strong on the road this season. The Irish are 2-2 away from Notre Dame Stadium. Granted, Louisville has emerged as one of the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Clemson has rebounded from its early-season woes, both losses were winnable games for Notre Dame. The Irish are 26-point favorites over Stanford, one of the worst teams in the Pac-12. The Irish are playing for more than just the Legends Trophy on rivalry weekend. Notre Dame is out to avenge last year’s head-scratching 16-14 loss to the Cardinal as 16.5-point favorites in South Bend.

“We’re really motivated for the opportunity to play for the Legends Trophy,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said in his weekly press conference. “For many of the guys that were here last year, I understand how disappointing that loss was to them, and there won’t be a lack of motivation this week to compete for that trophy.”

“This great rivalry dates back for many years and we understand how important this rivalry is to this university,” Freeman continued. “Obviously, two of our three losses have been on the road. We haven’t performed to our standard on the road. As I told the coaches, I don’t want to make this only a road issue, but we haven’t performed to our standard. We’ve got to start better. We’ve got to go from the first play of the game. We can’t ease into any game. It’s my job to make sure we are mentally and physically prepared. I told them all it’s their job to make the choice that we’re going to be mentally ready to go. There’s no one answer that can guarantee it’s going to happen, but it won’t be from a lack of effort by myself or our coaching staff.”

Notre Dame’s Offense Should Run Free

Meanwhile, the Irish’s offense has sputtered on the road this year. Despite the struggles, quarterback Sam Hartman and running back Audric Estime will anchor a methodical Irish offense that should be enough to outscore a struggling Stanford team that has not won a single home game this season. Stanford is the only team in the FBS that can stake a claim to that unenviable feat. Between Hartman, Estime, and plenty of playmaking talent on offense, Notre Dame will put points on the board.

The offense is led by Estime. The Junior running back has rushed for 1,103 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and scored 14 touchdowns in a stellar season. He also has 17 receptions out of the backfield for 142 receiving yards (12. Receiving YPG).  In last week’s 45-7 dominating win over Wake Forest, Estime rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He has scored a touchdown in four consecutive games and has rushed for 100 yards twice in that span. Estime had a costly fumble in last year’s loss to Stanford. He will want to go out on a high note, especially if it is his final game in a Notre Dame uniform.

Hartman has accumulated 2,549 passing yards (63.8%) and he has thrown for 22 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He has also rushed for 76 yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. Hartman needs just three touchdowns to overtake Graham Harrell (134) for third on the college football career list for touchdown passes. Facing his former team a week ago, Hartman finished 21 of 29 for 277 yards and four touchdowns against Wake Forest. He finished the game with a QB rating of 198.2.

On the other side of the ball, the Stanford defense has allowed 37 points per game in its last three home games. The Cardinal has allowed 143.9 rushing yards per game and 24 rushing touchdowns this season. The Irish average 37.4 points per game and average 163.4 yards on the ground. Notre Dame has scored 26 touchdowns through the air and 21 touchdowns on the ground.

Rebuilding Stanford Enters After a Loss

Stanford is rebuilding after longtime head coach David Shaw stepped down last year. First-year head coach Troy Taylor has had highs and lows in 2023. The Cardinal lost a week ago to the California Golden Bears, losing 27-15. Dual-threat quarterback Ashton Daniels carried the football 12 times in the defeat for 67 yards. He ended the game with 188 yards passing, going 18 for 35 with a quarterback rating of 106. All told, Daniels has thrown for 2,095 yards (58.3%) this year with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has run for 195 rushing yards with three touchdowns on the ground.

Cardinal wide receiver Elic Ayomanor has been a standout against AP Top 25 teams this year.  Ayomanor recorded 24 receptions for 408 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He caught the eye in October when he had 13 receptions for 294 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado. Ayomanor leads Stanford in receiving yards with 995 yards and six touchdowns.

Stanford averages just 20.4 points per game, ranking 114th in the country. Notre Dame averages 37.5 points per game, which ranks 14th in the nation. On defense, Notre Dame gives up just 16.0 points per game, ranking the Irish seventh in the country. Stanford surrenders a whopping 36.0 points per game, ranking the unit 127th in the country. The Cardinal has struggled on offense, generating 250.7 yards per game (92nd out of 133 FBS programs). Despite the lack of productivity, Stanford has managed to beat Colorado and Washington State this year.

A Sort of Statement Win in the Cards for Notre Dame

On paper, Notre Dame should close out its regular season on a positive note. The Irish have gone 14-4 since last year’s loss to Stanford. With a suffocating defense and an offense that is expected to move the ball at will against a defense that ranks near the bottom in all key statistical categories, the Irish should have a field day in Palo Alto. Despite a lack of fanfare for the season finale and a demonstrated vulnerability on the road, Notre Dame should leave California with the Legends Trophy and a statement victory, its first on the road since September. Well, as big of a statement as possible for defeating a rebuilding team with just three wins this year.

Photo Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports


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