We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment sections and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in-depth.
Game 12-Notre Dame at Stanford
Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
When: November 27th
How to Watch: TBA
The 2021 season will mark the 11th season at the helm for head coach David Shaw. Shaw has posted 5 double-digit victories during his time with the program. Interestingly, the lone losing season under Shaw came during the last “normal” college football season in 2019 when Stanford finished an unusual 4-8.
The Cardinal are coming off of a 4-2 ledger in 2020 and saw 5 players drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft. Following a 0-2 start in 2020, Stanford ended the season on a 4-game winning streak, highlighted by a 31-26 victory over the #22 Washington Huskies. Despite their record, the program opted against participating in a bowl game at the conclusion of the season.
Neither the offense nor the defense was particularly noteworthy during the season: the Stanford offense ranked 56th in the country with 29.3 points per game average, while the defense ranked 78th in the country by surrendering an average of 31.7 points per game. On offense, Stanford was led by Davis Mills. Mills threw for 1,509 yards, 7 touchdowns, and completed 66.2% of his passes. Austin Jones was the main weapon for the Cardinal offense, finishing the year with 129 rushing attempts, 550 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 21 receptions, and 156 receiving yards. Simi Fehoko was the go-to receiver and totaled 37 receptions, 574 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. Both Mills (Houston Texans-3rd round) and Fehoko (Dallas Cowboys-5th round) were drafted, while Jones is set to return following his sophomore campaign. Continuing a recent trend, the Stanford defense struggled for much of the season. Overall, they generated 10 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 5 fumbles. Levani Damuni and Curtis Robinson paced the team with 42 and 38 total tackles, respectively. Damuni will return to The Farm, while Robinson signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
Notre Dame-Stanford All-Time
Notre Dame holds the all-time series edge at 20-13. The first match-up between the two schools came at the 1925 Rose Bowl when Knute Rockne and The Four Horsemen took on Pop Warner. The Irish won the game by a score of 27-10, claiming the school’s first-ever national championship. Over the past decade, Stanford has become a thorn in Brian Kelly’s side. Riding a two-game winning streak, Kelly currently owns a 4-6 record against David Shaw. Prior to 1988 the teams only met 4 times. However, Stanford has become a consistent mainstay on the schedule over the past 30 years and figures to remain a yearly fixture on the schedule, along with USC and Navy, moving forward.
Cardinal Hype (Note No 2021 Hype Video Exists)
The Top 3 Players
Austin Jones-Jones is the top returning playmaker on offense from 2020. As Stanford seeks to reestablish its physical identity on both sides of the ball, expect Jones to be the bell cow for the Cardinal offense both on the ground and as a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Thomas Booker-Booker announced his decision to return to Stanford for his senior season on January 9th. The decision could pay dividends for the Cardinal defense. As a team captain in 2020, Booker recorded 21 total tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, recovered 1 fumble, defended 2 passes, and blocked 2 extra points. Booker was named a preseason All-Pac 12 First Team defensive lineman for the 2021 season.
Walter Rouse-Rouse enters his 3rd year at the left tackle position. Over the past 2 seasons, Rouse has started 17 of his 18 career games at the position. Standing an imposing 6’6’’ and weighing 320 pounds, Rouse should be the anchor of the Cardinal offensive line in 2021.
The Stanford Cardinal are a difficult team to forecast for 2021. On one hand, the Cardinal have begun to show cracks in recent years. The defense has seemingly been on a slow decline since Derek Mason left as defensive coordinator at the end of the 2013 season to take the head coach position at Vanderbilt. On offense, the Cardinal have also struggled since Mike Bloomgren vacated his position as Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach at the end of the 2017 season to become the head coach at Rice University. Prior to his departure, Bloomgren held the offensive line position since 2011 and the offensive coordinator position from 2013-2017. Another often underlooked departure in the program was that of head strength coach Shannon Turley. Turley was placed on administrative in February of 2019 following alleged complaints from a former Stanford athlete. While the complaints were never made public, the program announced in April of 2019 that Turley would not be returning to his position as Sports Performance Director at Stanford. Turley had been in charge of the football program since the beginning of the 2007 season when Jim Harbaugh brought him along from the University San Diego.
In addition to the recent coaching changes, Stanford will also be tasked will replacing 3 starting offensive linemen, their starting quarterback, their top tight end, and 3 of their top 4 wide receivers from the previous season. While the defense will not need to replace as many pieces, this is clearly a program in transition. The Stanford program was built on smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball, and David Shaw is seeking to return to those roots following the uncharacteristic down season in 2019.
Ideally for Notre Dame, they would face the Cardinal in early October while Stanford could still be working to settle several new players into their roles. However, there is no telling what the Cardinal will look like in late November. Notre Dame will be coming off of a tricky November with games against Navy, at Virginia, and a Senior Day contest against Georgia Tech. If the Irish stumble in any of these games, the trip out West suddenly looks much more daunting as Brian Kelly has only defeated Stanford once on the road. Despite David Shaw’s track record of success against the Irish, the tide appears to be turning back in favor of Notre Dame. The Irish have a better roster top to bottom than Stanford and should be able to prove it in the regular-season finale.
Difficulty: 1-10: 4
Early win or loss prediction: Win