With a 45-14 road win over the Stanford Cardinal in the books, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have completed another excellent regular season. For all the consternation there was along the way, 11-1 is an outstanding mark that has earned the Irish an opportunity to play against elite postseason competition - either in the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six Bowl, depending on how things work out on conference championship weekend. In the meantime, let’s take a look at three things we learned in this year’s California finale.
The Curse of the Farm Has Been Broken
Stanford Stadium was a house of horrors for Brian Kelly for most of his tenure at Notre Dame. He finally got his first win on the Farm over a down Stanford team in 2019, but even in that game a 9-2 Irish team trailed for most of the first half before waking up and finally bludgeoning the Cardinal by a three-score margin. Whatever was left of the Farm’s curse on Coach Kelly, it must have been dispelled that afternoon, because the Irish dominated this year’s tilt from start to finish. Even the FOX broadcast crew was commenting on the ease with which the Irish dominated the Cardinal, who laid down in a way that would have shocked Irish fans a mere four years ago.
Anyone who has ever been to a game at the Farm (I have been to several) will tell you there is no reason it ever should have become such a daunting place for the Irish - it is not loud or intimidating, the fans are generally unserious, the band and mascot are ridiculous, etc. - but it did, and the Stanford series was probably Notre Dame’s most consistently challenging one over the 2010s. In this new decade, however, the Cardinal have clearly regressed to the mean. With the series set to expire after the 2024 season and Stanford likely due for a long and potentially terminal rebuild, it may be time to consider other options for their spot on the schedule.
In a season where Isaiah Foskey and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa have gotten most of the attention up front on defense, Jayson and Justin Ademilola have been quietly putting together outstanding seasons of their own. The twin brothers from New Jersey got to be the stars of the show on Saturday night, each earning a sack while Justin notched a fumble recovery as well.
In an offseason where the Irish are going to lose a lot of great contributors up front (Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish at the very least, with Foskey possibly leaving as well), it’s great to know that players of this caliber are waiting in the wings to take the main stage. Notre Dame fans of a decade ago would be aghast at the factory Mike Elston has built along the defensive line.
This Team Is Really, Really Fun
Far and away my favorite moment of this game came when George Takacs hauled in his first touchdown catch in over two years. Takacs was met immediately in the end zone by an ecstatic Kyren Williams, whose triumphant bellowing came through clear as day on the TV audio feed.
Williams wasn’t alone in being overcome with joy: Michael Mayer came flying in to congratulate his fellow tight end, with the rest of the offense following in short order. Touchdown celebrations are always fun to watch, but this one was special - you could see how excited each player was to see one of their less-recognized brothers get into the spotlight.
We talk a lot about Notre Dame’s winning culture and how it has developed over the last few years. One of the simplest, but most important elements of that culture is having guys who just love each other and love getting to play the game together, and that moment captured it perfectly. As fans, we only get to watch these guys together a time or two more this year, so let’s make sure to enjoy moments like that.