It’s crazy to think about, but the regular season finale for the 2021 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season is actually upon us.
The 10-1, #6 Irish travel to Palo Alto this weekend to take on the 3-8 Stanford Cardinal, who are on a 6-game losing streak that includes a 30-point shellacking at the hands of rival California last weekend.
ND, meanwhile, is coming off yet another in a string of dominant performances over bad opponents, having just bashed Georgia Tech into smithereens on Senior Day last weekend to the tune of 55-0.
Stanford is absolutely on a similar level as Georgia Tech, but they’re a weird team because they took down the now-11th-ranked Oregon Ducks earlier in the year. That win lost a little of its shine with Oregon got pummeled by Utah last Saturday, but it’s still an impressive win for what’s been an otherwise pretty hapless Cardinal squad.
So, with that said, should Irish fans expect another blowout this weekend, or will Stanford focus enough to put forth a final effort to redeem their season and potentially upset a CFP contender at home?
To better figure that out, I reached out to the folks at Channel Tree Sports, a Stanford sports site with pretty excellent coverage of everything Cardinal athletics. A whole crew of their writers — David Ta, Sam Weyen, and Grant Avalon — combined to answer all the questions we had for them here at One Foot Down, from asking about David Shaw’s “hot seat” and future to picking fights about their goofy mascot (@DaStanfordTree) and planning a Stanford football Thanksgiving.
With that said, let’s not waste any more time — time to learn about this Stanford Cardinal team and match-up!!!!!
1. After an okay start to the year where the Cardinal beat then-ranked USC and handed Oregon its first loss, Stanford has lost 6 straight games to clinch David Shaw’s 3rd losing season in a row. What’s going wrong with the Stanford football program the last few years, and is it time for a fresh start with a new coach?
Plus, a related FAN QUESTION:
I have no sense for if he's set for life because he made Stanford good for a few years or if he'll get fired Sunday morning.— John Macke (@JohnPMacke) November 22, 2021
Sam Weyen + David Ta: From a practical perspective, Shaw is guaranteed another year. The coaching carousel is going to be insane, and the AD knows Stanford won’t be able to outcompete U$C, UF, UW, etc.
Even without considering the market, Shaw would be back for another year (or two). He’s a Stanford Football alum and the winningest Stanford coach in history with 2 Rose Bowl wins and 3 Pac-12 Titles… not to mention he’s done a rather good job balancing recruiting and the increasing demands of the admissions office. It’s going to take a few more cataclysms before Stanny lets him go and many are waiting for that day with bated breath.
NOTE: Shaw was 4-2 in 2020 thanks to a COVID shortened season, so technically this is not his “third losing season.” *
*Pat Rick Note: this is what I get for quickly glancing at only the wins column on Wikipedia and writing my questions late on a Sunday evening...my bad
2. Stanford QB Tanner McKee looks to have had an okay year so far, despite all the losses. What does he bring to the table and what does he not do well that the Irish defense might be able to take advantage of?
Sam Weyen: McKee really does make a difference on this team, as evidenced by the point differential when he doesn’t play. He’s got a big arm, good vision, and can escape when pressured.
Unfortunately, when you’re only allowed to throw on third and long, you won’t get too many chances to shine. If the Irish can do what every team has done and waltz past our paper thin line to shorten McKee’s time to throw, Stanford will be in for some more 3 and outs.
3. Who are the skill position names to know on the Cardinal offense, and how has the offensive line performed this season?
Grant Avalon: The offensive line has been one of the greatest disappointments this season. After the loss of G Branson Bragg, it’s really in sad shape.
That said, there are a handful of weapons that are still healthy. Austin Jones is the lead back, but Nathaniel Peat is the home run hitter. Michael Wilson is a tremendous possession receiver, while Elijah Higgins and John Humphreys are big red zone threats, should Stanford ever make it that far.
4. It seems like this Stanford defense has a tough time keeping opponents out of the end zone. What’s gone wrong there this season, and are there any position groups or individuals who have shined despite the overall defense struggling?
Grant Avalon: The talent level frankly isn’t there this year, nor is the depth. The defensive line is comically thin, even after converting a starting tight end. Some of it happens on game days, but many of these issues were wrought back in recruiting season.
Thomas Booker on the DL is one of the best student athletes in the university, and CB Kyu Blu Kelly has had some strong games.
5. FAN QUESTION:
What Stanford players are out for the ND game?— Cheryl Russo (@CherylR01091480) November 21, 2021
Sam Weyen: TE Tucker Fisk is questionable, and OL Stephen Harron, WR Silas Starr, RB Casey Filkens, and WR John Humphreys are out.
6. FAN QUESTION:
NFL has Thanksgiving. NBA has Christmas. NCAAF has NYE.— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) November 21, 2021
As a Stanford person- what holiday should be the Water Polo holiday?
Sam Weyen: I’d love to get Water Polo on Groundhog Day going.
Replace “seeing its shadow” for “sink or swim” and Punxsutawney Phil would bring in his best Nielsen ratings to date.
7. FAN QUESTION:
You (Pat) lived in a dorm at Notre Dame called Stanford Hall. It’s arguably the worst form, facilities-wise, at the university.— Pat C (@iamthetweeter) November 22, 2021
What would a dorm at Stanford called Notre Dame Hall look like?
David Ta: Notre Dame Hall at Stanford would be a dorm that constantly reminisces about how it used to throw killer parties back in the day.
1-Why is their mascot so stupid looking ?— Always Irish ☘️ (@jkznd4) November 21, 2021
2-why does Shaw’s smirk bother me so much ?
@DaStanfordTree: I mean is the Tree any worse than an angsty beer breath frat boy not tall enough to ride the rides at Six Flags? Besides, the Tree was designed to be an utter abomination / blight to the any and all Gods That Be. We relish the Tree’s vacant, ever widening stare into the abyss. We worship its stupid fat mouth that swallows nations and children alike. Bough down birchez.**
**Pat Rick Note: incredible, perfect puns
As for Shaw, I’ve never seen him smile except once when punting on a 4th and 3 in enemy territory while down 30. With so few data points I can’t really speak on his smirk.
9. Festive Question: You’re hosting a Thanksgiving pot luck get-together consisting of current Stanford players and coaches. Which players/coaches make/bring which staple dishes (e.g. Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce, Green Bean Casserole, Pumpkin Pie, etc.)?
Sam Weyen: Good ole Daddy Shaw would bring the same slightly dry turkey he’s been cooking the same way for a decade. “But David, tastes have changed! You need to use healthier ingredients!” Too damn bad, you’re getting the same mouth abomination until it’s 2040 and you’re gonna like it.
Punter Ryan Sanborn would be an absolute machine in the kitchen, cooking up a storm, arranging plates, cleaning up the inevitable mountains of hot garbage after the meal. Poor dude needs a break.
TE Benjamin Yurosek’s great-grandfather is the inventor of the baby carrot (right!?) so he’d bring the aesthetically pleasing veggie platter.
10. Alright, let’s get down to it: who wins, what’s the final score, and why?
David Ta: Notre Dame wins 42-17. Stanford is in freefall and their defense can’t get stops, even if they resort to jumping offsides like Rudy.
I wanna give a huuuuuge shout-out to David, Sam, and Grant for putting up with all our lovely questions, and a special shout-out to Da Stanford Tree for his (her?) input. I highly encourage you all to head over to Channel Tree Sports to check out all of those guys’ great coverage of Stanford athletics, especially here in the days leading up to this season finale in Palo Alto. You may just find a Q&A featuring that moron Pat Rick come Friday...
I also, per usual, insist that you go follow Channel Tree Sports on Twitter and also toss some individual follows to David, Sam, and Grant. They’re a funny, smart crew of Twitter accounts that you certainly won’t regret following for any and all late-breaking Stanford news or just for some solid content overall.
With all that said, that’s it for this week — as always and for the final time in this 2021 regular season, GO IRISH!