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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Stanford Cardinal Week


*wakes up rested and not in a rush to get to the computer to log on for Monday’s call, considering this was actually a nice weekend in Chicago, a stress-free game on Saturday, and a good night of sleep*

Wow. This is what it’s like to be completely chill and unburdened by the stress of worrying about this Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team heading into the final week, huh? Yeah, that’s mostly thanks to the under-performance and frustrating record in a year they could be competing for a CFP spot, but at least it’s officially Thanksgiving week, meaning only 3 work days and then lots of relaxation, over-eating, football, and family time!

I’ve got my coffee, I’m showered and feeling good — let’s log on and knock out this weekly call so we can be one big step closer to the holiday weekend!

*clicks “Join Call” button*

Gooood morning everyone, happy Monday and happy short week to you all! How was everyone’s weekends?

Oh very nice, Jim! Yeah mine was great, got some relaxing in, watched some football, went to a Friendsgiving party, and then celebrated my fiancée's grandfather’s 90th birthday on Sunday. It was a pretty nice weekend, all-in — and I’m very ready for more of that later this week.

Now, I know we’re missing a handful of people who are on PTO all week for the holiday, so I think we have a quorum and can go ahead and jump into it — we can probably cover all this pretty quickly since it’s pretty straightforward, and maybe even get you all some time back. Sound good? Awesome.

Can everyone see my screen? Excellent, so it’s officially Stanford Week, meaning we have a typical agenda for the last time until next year, at least in terms of being able to both recap last week’s game and preview an upcoming opponent in the same meeting.

And I know you all know the drill at this point, so we will skip over the W.I.N. definition and process slides — hell, Sally could probably talk us through them in her sleep the number of times she’s heard me do it, right Sal? HA!

*hums into the microphone as I click through the next couple slides*

Okay great, so let’s start this week’s call by covering Last Week’s Results, seeing as it’s once again a positive story with the Irish’s 45-7 beatdown of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.

Let’s start with the negatives first, because there are only a couple and this will take maybe 30 seconds, so we can get them out of the way so that we can bask in the positives and really shower these guys with praise for their lopsided win — especially the ones who will likely be graduating/moving on from ND after this season, and thus played their final home games this past weekend.

The Irish didn’t start great, with the offense looking as sluggish as it has in most games this recently, and the defense giving up an early touchdown to Wake to tie things up at 7 early in the second quarter. Of course, ND would go on to dominate from there with a 38-0 run, but it seemed like another “here we go again” game for the first ~20 minutes of football.

Besides that, there was the fumble by Rico Flores in an otherwise awesome game from him, so we won’t hold that against him too much. And then the kicking game had some miscues, whether it was Spencer Shrader missing an early field goal or Bryce McFerson averaging 32 yards per punt with a long of 37. Luckily he didn’t have to do much punting in this one, but it wasn’t a strong showing on Saturday for him.

Central Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Honestly, that’s really it, aside from maybe you could say the offensive line wasn’t exactly dominant in the run game and allowed some occasional pressures on the QB. But they also played plenty well enough to win against a not-bad Wake defense, so that’s nothing to complain too much about, especially considering they were missing Rocco Spindler and Zeke Correll.

Okay, now let’s cover the positives, of which there were many, if you can believe that about a 38-point rout of the opponent on Senior Day. That’s really where the list starts, as it’s always good when the Irish take care of business against a bad team and just pound them into oblivion. That happened a number of times this year, as this squad’s problem was never about playing down to competition — it was more so not rising up and out-performing good/great teams. But against bad teams like Navy and Tennessee State and Central Michigan and Pittsburgh and Wake Forest and USC*, ND took care of business and simply kicked the asses of inferior talent. That’s all you can ask in those specific games.

*LOL, got ‘em!

Defensively, after that 2nd quarter touchdown, (Al) Golden’s Guys were dominant, as they have been for a lot of the season.

They shut them out the rest of the way, held the Demon Deacons to 232 total yards for the game (including under 100 yards passing on 4.7 YPA, LOL) and slowed down some talented backs they have, holding Wake to 3.7 YPC on the day. They also allowed them to convert on just 5-of-13 3rd down attempts, which is pretty darn solid.

There were some great individual defensive performances, especially in the front seven. Javontae Jean-Baptiste had yet another great game, proving to be just an incredible pickup from the Transfer Portal. He had 5 tackles (1.5 TFL) and a sack on the day, and also blocked a field goal attempt when Wake was threatening to get to double digits at the end of the first half.

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

JJB came from Ohio State as a guy with promise but still viewed as a guy both OSU and the NFL didn’t want, and so it wasn’t clear how much of a help he would be. He turned out to be an absolute STUD who, through 11 games, has racked up 44 tackles, 7 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries, a blocked kick, and a pass broken up. Really damn good season from this guy, and it’s a bummer we don’t get more than one year of him in a gold helmet. He rules.

Howard Cross had 9 tackles (0.5 TFL) and continues to be one of the most productive interior defensive linemen in the country, and J.D. Bertrand was his usual self flying all over the field, picking up 6 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble on the day.

We saw Aidan Keanaaina and Jason Onye combine for a sack of their own, saw Rylie Mills play well and recover the fumble forced by Bertrand, and saw the Irish secondary continue to smother the opposition, with Benjamin Morrison, Thomas Harper, and Clarence Lewis all picking up passes defended, and Cam Hart continue to be unthrowable-against.

Along with Jean-Baptiste’s blocked field goal, there was another awesome special teams moment on Saturday — Spencer Shrader’s successful onside kick early in the third quarter, recovered by D.J. Brown. It was random and caught Wake very off-guard and probably wasn’t necessary to win the game, but it did help break the Demon Deacons’ spirits a bit. ND ended up punting almost immediately after recovering it, but the damage was psychological and helped the Irish take full control in the 3rd quarter.

Offensively, Sam Hartman and co. have garnered plenty of criticism and they truly have not played well against the better teams on the schedule. But this group does a great job of kicking ass against the lesser opponents, and Saturday was no exception to that. Sam Hartman, in his final home game at ND and facing his former team and coach, had a much stronger game than he’d been having of late, going 21-for-29 passing for 277 yards and 4 touchdowns before getting to take his leave and enjoy some hot chocolate.

Shout out to the legend who tossed that ‘mallow.

Audric Estime, meanwhile, went over 1,000 yards rushing on the season and finished the day with 115 yards on 5.2 YPC while also scoring a touchdown. He’s just the 4th ND player in the last decade to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and only the 8th since 2000, joining Kyren Williams (twice), Josh Adams, C.J. Prosise, Cierre Wood, Darius Walker (twice), Julius Jones, and Ryan Grant.

Knowing his stock can’t get much higher as a running back and knowing that running backs typically want to get to the NFL ASAP to earn as much as possible at a position that’s become much less valuable over the years, this was probably Estime’s final home game in a gold helmet, and so I think we need to take a moment to appreciate how awesome he’s been. He only got a handful of carries back in 2021, but flashed some promise in that Georgia Tech game.

Then, the next two seasons confirmed everything we were hoping, as the behemoth of a back looked like a modern version of Jerome Bettis with his size, power, aggression, ferocity, and nimble feet. With probably one game left in his time at ND (assuming he sits out the bowl game), Estime has now run for 2,083 yards and 25 touchdowns while averaging 6.0 YPC, which is a pretty crazy-good statline for someone who really only played for two seasons. Add in how great of a kid he seems to be and how fun of a personality he has, and it’s been such a pleasure having him be the bellcow back for ND during the Marcus Freeman era’s early seasons.

Like most of you, I could talk about that kid for a LONG time, but we have a lot more to cover — so let’s just enjoy a video dump of Estime highlights/great moments and then sadly move on.

Hartman’s nice game was fun especially because it involved a variety of receivers making plays, starting with freshman Rico Flores snagging 8 passes for 102 yards in his best game yet in his young career. He’s had plenty of nice moments this season and stepped up valiantly when the depth chart got dire, but this felt like a turning point for him in terms of becoming a go-to, reliable target for Irish QBs. He’s not ever going to be the fastest or most athletic guy out there, but if he can keep developing, he’s gonna have a really nice career when it’s all said and done.

Oh also, Flores’ game was the first time a Notre Dame wide receiver has had 100 yards receiving in a game since the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State — that’s 24 games ago! So that says even more about how great of a game he had, especially relative to what we’ve seen from the position of late.

Flores’ fellow frosh Jaden Greathouse had a nice welcome-back game after struggling with injuries for the meat of the season, catching 3 passes for 71 yards, including an awesome 48-yard touchdown.

Those two coming into their own, Braylon James and KK Smith developing and beginning to contribute, Jayden Thomas getting healthy, Jordan Faison getting more run, Tobias Merriweather maybe finally putting it together, Chris Tyree maybe coming back for one final season...and then guys like Cam Williams coming into the program next year? The wide receiver position has a low bar to jump in being better than it has been, but I do think it’s about to get way better over the next couple seasons. Should be fun to watch.

Speaking of some of those guys, Merriweather had himself a 35-yard touchdown, which was nice to see, and Faison had 4 catches for 39 yards and a score when Steve Angeli helped him find the end zone for the second time this season. Devyn Ford also added a nice receiving touchdown (the first of his career!), and Eli Raridon started to flash his receiving chops finally, catching 3 balls for 39 yards and a touchdown on an absolutely perfect toss from Hartman while on the move on a play-action (finally!!!) pass.

Again, I know this was all mostly Hartman (who’s about to leave the program) throwing against Wake Forest (not Ohio State or Duke or Louisville or Clemson), but it was an encouraging day by the passing game, and the future seems bright with lots of young talent starting to show their stuff, and more young talent on the way.

Steve Angeli had yet another essentially perfect stint of mop-up duty by going 3-for-3 passing for 36 yards and the touchdown to Faison, and I truly think he can be a solid starter next year, despite how many have written him off.

Even if he doesn’t end up winning the job, Kenny Minchey seems very promising for a freshman based on all the reports, and of course C.J. Carr is about to sign and enroll, Deuce Knight will be there a year later, and who knows if another talented transfer will be the 2024 version of Hartman next season. But what I can say is it’s exciting to look at all the young talent on offense that’s starting to accumulate — if they can figure out the play-calling and the offensive line a bit, this could be a title-contending offense in a couple years.

Speaking of the o-line, they’ve had some rough moments this year, but they did a good job against the Demon Deacons, paving the way for Estime’s nice game while also keeping Hartman from being sacked even once and only allowing 3 tackles for loss.

As I said before, that’s pretty darn good with two new starters, and of course I also want to use this as a reason to shout out Joe Alt, who’s going to go down as one of the best left tackles to ever do it at a school who’s had tons of great guys on the offensive line. He’s about to go back some NFL franchise and NFL QB very, very happy, and I think he’s going to enjoy a career pretty similar to some of the recent greats like Zack Martin, Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, etc. Thank you, Joe, for emerging as a true freshman during a disaster situation at left tackle, and then being nearly perfect for the next 2+ years. We’re gonna miss ya, big guy.

Some other quick-hitting positives to note from Saturday:

  • Marcello Diomede got to kick an extra point, making it for the final point of the game...what a name! Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see him boot one through the uprights
  • ND had 25 first downs to 14 for Wake Forest, so that’s pretty darn good
  • ND went 5/10 on 3rd down for the day, which isn’t amazing but it’s way better than what we have been seeing recently!
  • The Irish had only 3 penalties for 35 yards — that’s a great day in terms of not making mental mistakes and shooting themselves in the foot

Okay folks, I think that about covers it — let’s keep this going by recognizing the Team Members of the Week, as we want to make sure we’re always taking the time to celebrate our successes and be sure you understand how much leadership appreciates all the great work you do to make this company what it is!

Big congratulations are in order for Audric, Sam, Rico, Jaden, Tobias, Eli, Devyn, Jordan, Javontae, Howard, and J.D.! You guys were fantastic on Saturday and we’re so proud of what you were able to accomplish. Please be sure to check your inboxes immediately after this call for a gift card to Jersey Mike’s — have a delicious sub sandwich on us!

Okay, now it’s time we turned our attention to this final week of the regular season that’s suddenly upon us — Stanford Cardinal week!

Here’s the project timeline, as a reminder of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.

The Cardinal are in their first season under a new coach, and thus are obviously feeling the growing pains of having to start over after already being bad the last few years.

They’ve struggled this year, but before we dive into their record and results and stats, we first need to understand who they are as an institution. What do we need to know in terms of a Competitor Overview about these guys? Let’s dive in.

I’ll let you guys read this in detail on your own time, but here are a few highlights I wanted to call out and bring to your attention:

  • A motto of “The wind of freedom blows”? Yeah, just like this Stanford team! AYOOOOOOOOOO
  • $36.3 BILLION endowment — that’s the top opponent endowment of the year, if my calculations are correct. Dudes are rich as hell, which is a funny thing for us to say as fans of Notre Dame, which is still quite rich
  • The Stanford Tree is an abomination, but I love it because Stanford knows it’s an abomination and treats it as such. It isn’t allowed to be the official mascot and if you talk to Cardinal alumni or fans they will make fun of it in some really creative ways. Love that.
  • Shout-out to Stanford’s national title teams in ‘26 and ‘40, those were truly the glory days of Cardinal football
  • I love that Stanford’s listed “rivalries” on Wikipedia obviously mention Cal, and then also USC and ND, but then someone added San Jose State in there too???
  • The Cardinal have major beef with Young Men’s Institute, who’s gotten the better of them every single time the two have met on the gridiron
  • Stanford has tons of famous alumni that are pretty boring to talk about, but there are also some really fun ones: a guy named “Les Earnest” who invented spell-check; the inventors of AltaVista and GPS; the creator of the first radio station; the “father of the home satellite dish”; the guy who invented the ruby laser and also the guy who directed Austin Powers, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence; someone named Nils Nilsson who developed “Shakey the robot”; the inventor of Microsoft Word (who made Clippy possible); a molecular biologist who Wikipedia says is now a taxi driver in Singapore and is for some reason known as “Singapore’s most educated taxi driver” (gotta be a story to all this, but I will probably not be reading his blog about it); Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Wendell Brown from Varsity Blues and the creepy orphan girl/woman (spoiler alert!) from the movie Orphan; Elizabeth Holmes and a guy charged with all sorts of fraud and conspiracy and an attempted plane hijacker and a murderer of a Stanford professor; some butterfly farmer who has their own Wikipedia; and Herbert Hoover’s wife and Ulysses S. Grant’s grandson, who must be the father of this guy, which is fun:

Okay, now that we’ve got a good high-level feel for the Stanford football program — what do we need to know about their roster makeup?

Namely...what are the best names on their roster???

Folks, per usual the Stanford football program continues to just turn out 1st Team Name All-Americans. I will let you peruse the list yourselves, but the same program that’s given us Jet Toner and Thunder Keck and Osiris St. Brown and Paulson Adebo is out here in 2023 still serving up banger after banger after banger.

Elic Ayomanor, Zahran Manley, and Zephron Lester. Mudia Reuben, Anson Pulsipher, Caymus Rooney, and Jaxson Moi! And guys named Gaethan and Jshawn and Tiger and Chico and Shield and Aristotle?!?

Simply put, Stanford is still elite and maybe the best of the season on ND’s schedule — they truly know how to recruit well-named players in Palo Alto and seem to have no intention of changing that recruiting philosophy under Troy Taylor. Just incredible stuff.

Also, special shout-out to Chico Holt for making me think of Steve Holt.

Alrighty, now let’s get into the granular details here — what should we know about this Stanford team, its strengths and weaknesses, and its best players on each side of the ball?

In case you’ve been living under a rock and/or not watching any college football this season, let me toss out a quick spoiler alert and then let you know that the Stanford Cardinal football team in 2023 is not very good, to say the least.

They’re 3-8 on the season, having started the year with a win over Hawaii and then three straight losses, including to Taylor’s former employer Sacramento State (woof). They then shocked the college football world when they beat Colorado in Boulder, as people still thought, at the time, that Coach Prime’s team was good.

Unfortunately, their next two games were against UCLA and Washington, and despite playing the Huskies close, the Cardinal were unable to build on that win over the Buffaloes, falling to 2-6. They somehow beat Washington State in a 10-7 barn-burner, then got blown out by Oregon State and then fell to rival California last week to put them at 3-8 heading into the season finale at home against the Fighting Irish.

Through 11 games, they’re 108th in SP+ (100th on offense, 114th on defense, 34th on special teams). They are pretty darn bad on both sides of the ball.

Let’s start on offense, because that’s the slightly better unit under first year coach Troy Taylor. The Cardinal really struggle to score, ranking 113th in the country in scoring while averaging just 20.4 points per game. The reason, of course, is their inefficiency moving the ball down the field. Stanford is 111th in yards per play (5.04) and 92nd in total offense (350.7 YPG), lacking any sort of explosiveness (98th in the country in plays of 10+ yards, T-76th in plays of 20+ yards) but also struggling to move the ball more methodically down the field — they’re 80th in first downs at just 19.6 per game, and 91st on 3rd down, converting at just a 36.5% clip. That’s a tough look especially for a team ranked 12th in the country in 3rd down attempts. They simply aren’t productive enough on 1st and 2nd down, putting themselves in a tough situation where they need to — but cannot — convert on 3rd down.

NCAA Football: California at Stanford Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

They’re really poor at running the football, sitting at 109th in total rushing offense (just 116 yards per game) and T-114th in yards per carry (3.35). That’s reflected in their individual rushing stats, as their top two rushers on the year are QB Ashton Daniels and backup QB Justin Lamson, who have run for 295 yards and 252 yards respectively. Neither is averaging more than 3 yards per carry, though — probably partially due to the number of sacks they’ve both taken, as Stanford is T-119th in the nation in sacks allowed (3.36 per game) and T-122nd in tackles for loss surrendered (7.36 per game).

Their top running back is E.J. Smith (son of Emmitt Smith), whose 217 yards rushing (4.2 YPC) and 1 touchdown are a far cry from the numbers Stanford running backs were putting up during the peak of the David Shaw era.

Casey Filkins, their #2 back, has similar numbers (215 yards, 5.7 YPC, 1 TD), and although he did gash the Irish a bit last season in that horrific home lost to an equally bad Stanford squad (137 combined rushing/receiving yards and a touchdown), he doesn’t seem like too much of a threat compared to the backs this Irish defense has already faced and mostly contained. True freshman and former Notre Dame commit Sedrick Irvin is their 3rd string back, and he’s run for 113 yards and a score on 4.3 yards per carry, so he may see a few snaps on Saturday as well.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Based on their performance so far this season, Stanford’s offense will likely feel more confident that they can move the ball through the air than on the ground, although the Irish secondary will be the best group of DBs they’ve faced, no doubt.

Daniels has found some success in those wins and in the Washington game, and has thrown for 2,095 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. However, he’s struggled to complete passes at times (58.7% completion), averages just 7 yards per attempt, and has thrown 7 picks, so he hasn’t exactly dazzled at the position either. But he is fairly mobile (has 3 rushing touchdowns and leads the team in rushing), and could extend some plays and find open receivers if the Irish don’t play disciplined defense. If Lamson sees time at QB on Saturday, he brings even less impressive numbers: 485 yards passing, 44% completion, 5.9 YPA, and 2 INT.

The two of them, largely driven by Daniels, have Stanford sitting at 57th in the country in total passing offense (234.5 YPG), but that’s really just a product of how often the Cardinal are playing from behind and forced to throw the football (32nd in the country in pass attempts per game). As a team, Stanford is T-92nd in the country in yards per attempt (a paltry 6.7), 114th in passer rating, 113th in completion percentage, and T-113th in passing touchdowns (just 11 on the season, all via Daniels). They simply don’t have the ability to pick people apart with the passing game, even though they have a few nice weapons at receiver.

WR Elic Ayomanor is their go-to-guy in the passing game, having caught 55 passes for 955 yards and 6 touchdowns this year. The sophomore has seemed to play his best in some of the bigger games as the season has gone on, at times carrying the offense — he caught 13 passes for 294 yards and 3 TDs in the win over Colorado, had 9 catches for 146 yards and a score against Washington, and reeled in 3 balls for 122 yards and a score against Oregon State. He’s got good size/length at 6’2”, 210 lbs, and is excellent at winning fights for the ball. He’ll be a tough test for Benjamin Morrison and Cam Hart.

WRs Tiger Bachmeier (36 catches for 409 yards and 2 TDs) and Bryce Farrell (19 catches for 186 yards and 1 TD + 3 rushing touchdowns) also chip in out wide, and as is Cardinal tradition, this Stanford squad has a couple productive tight ends in Sam Roush (27 catches for 283 yards) and Benjamin Yurosek (16 catches for 239 yards and 1 TD).

The one thing this Stanford offense does pretty well is capitalize on trips to the red zone, as they rank 46th in the country in red zone score %, coming away with points on 87.1% of those trips. However, with their inability to move the ball consistently, they also rank T-115th in red zone attempts (just 31 on the season), and a huge chunk of their red zone scores come from field goals, considering they rank 7th in the country in FG% in the red zone (35.48% of trips). So as long as the Irish play their typical stingy defense, they shouldn’t have to worry about much, with a few field goals being the most likely outcome if they slip up and allow the Cardinal to have a few long drives.

The Cardinal offense, with all its faults, DOES take care of the ball very well. They’re T-12th in the country in fumbles lost with just 3 this year, and T-30th in total turnovers lost with just 12 through their first 11 games. If the Irish can turn this offense over, this game will almost certainly be in the bag for ND.

Syndication: South Bend Tribune Michael Caterina / USA TODAY NETWORK

Defensively, this Stanford program has fallen a long way from the tough, physical groups Shaw’s program used to field seemingly every season. The Cardinal field one of the worst defenses in the country, statistically speaking, allowing 36 points per game (129th in the country), 456 yards per game (130th in the country), and 6.43 yards per play (T-122nd in the country). They’re dead last (i.e. 133rd in America) in first downs allowed (25.2 per game), and so it makes sense they’re nearly dead last (132nd) in 3rd down conversion percentage, allowing their opponents to convert on 49.7% of their 3rd down attempts.

What’s sad, though, is that they don’t even force their opponents to convert on 3rd down too often. They’re T-38th in 3rd down attempts against, and are 132nd in the country in plays of 10+ yards allowed and T-96th in plays of 20+ yards allowed. The Cardinal are one of only 7 teams in the nation to allow a 90+ yard play from scrimmage.

With that said, they still have a few solid players and they’re not last/nearly last in the country at EVERYTHING. For instance, they’re actually semi-decent at getting to the QB, T-64th in the country in sacks (2.1 per game). That effort is led by LB David Bailey (30 tackles, 5 sacks, 6 TFL, 4 QBH) and DL Anthony Franklin (28 tackles, 3 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 1 PD).

Stanford v Arizona Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

The Stanford defense has a handful of other linebackers along with Bailey who drive most of their production, including Gaethan Bernadel (team-leading 76 tackles, 4 TFL), Tristan Sinclair (68 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL), Tevarua Tafiti (43 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1 FF, 9 QBH), Spencer Jorgensen (35 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack), and Lance Keneley (34 tackles, 1.5 sacks).

That defensive front isn’t great at making tackles behind the line of scrimmage overall (Stanford is 111th in the country with just 4.73 TFL per game), but they do lead the relative strength of the defense, stopping the run. Stanford is 54th in the nation in total rushing defense (143.9 YPG allowed) and 76th in yards per carry allowed (4.28), so they’re somewhat effective there.

However, those more reasonable numbers are also largely driven by how much opponents choose to throw the ball against them instead, minimizing the opportunities for Stanford to have to stop the running game. They face the 4th-most pass attempts from their opponents of anyone in the country, and their other numbers reflect how well they’ve been taken advantage of through the air so far. They rank 132nd in total pass defense (312.4 YPG allowed), T-120th in YPA allowed (8.4), 124th in completion % allowed (66.7%), 130th in passer rating allowed, and 132nd in passing touchdowns allowed (they have surrendered 30 through 11 games).

Washington v Stanford Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

The Stanford secondary is led by CB Collin Wright, who’s had to make 60 tackles this year while also defending 4 passes, snagging an interception, recording 5 TFL, and picking up a sack. There’s no question he and CB Zahran Manley (28 tackles, 5 PD, 2 INT) get attacked early and often in each game, and although both are capable of making plays on the ball, it’s typically not enough to slow the onslaught.

At safety, Alohi Gilman’s little brother Alaka’i Gilman is a standout with 50 tackles, 3 PD, and 1 INT on the year, while Mitch Leigber (47 tackles, 1 PD, 2 sacks, 1 FR) and Scotty Edwards (45 tackles, 2 INT, 1 PD, 1 sack) chip in plenty as well on the back-end. The DB group, though — and along with the entire Stanford defense — isn’t very good at creating turnovers. The Cardinal rank T-112th in the nation in interceptions with just 6 on the season (1 fewer than Xavier Watts alone, for what it’s worth), and they rank dead last (133rd) in fumbles forced with just 1 so far this season (that’s 0.09 per game). They’re thus T-130th in total turnovers gained with just 7 this year, and T-107th in turnover margin (-5 on the season) despite their strong ability to not turn it over on the offensive side.

NCAA Football: Arizona at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The defense does seem to put the clamps down a tad better in the red zone, as they rank 62nd in the country in red zone score percentage allowed (81.6%). However, when they do allow a score in the red zone, it’s almost always a touchdown (75.5% of opponent red zone trips end in a TD). Good news — they’re #1 in the country in preventing opponent field goals because of this!

On special teams, they do have a very good, veteran kicker in Joshua Karty. He’s perfect on extra points on the season (20/20), and more importantly is a very strong 20-for-23 on field goals, including 17/18 from 49 yards or fewer, and also having hit 3 of 5 attempts from 50+ yards, including a long of 53.

NCAA Football: California at Stanford Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Their punter, Aidan Flintoft, is pretty mediocre — he averages 42.1 yards per punt and has a long of 52 on the year. He’s gotten a lot of work this season and isn’t going to hurt them, but he also won’t be flipping the field much.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this Stanford team is super undisciplined. They rank T-101st in the country in penalties per game with 6.8, and are 115th in penalty yards per game (63.1). If the Irish can play another clean game like they did against Wake, Stanford will shoot themselves in the foot a few times and help expedite the process of ND taking control of the game.

Oooookay, well we are almost at time for today, so let’s quickly run through What’s Important Now for this final game of the 2023 regular season, so that we can ensure the Irish take care of business, finish 9-3, and set themselves up for a decent bowl game and strong finish after that disappointing Clemson loss a few weeks back.

We don’t have time for me to talk at length about each point and expound much, so let’s just quickly run through the most important points for this week:

1. Feed the running backs — both a heaping dose of Audric Estime and also way more carries for Jeremiyah Love and Jadarian Price. This Stanford run defense has not been tested much and should be ripe for a nice bulldozing, especially as the game goes on and the Irish begin to pull away. No need to be too risky in this one.

2. When passing, keep distributing the ball around to the receivers and keep using motion, play-action, etc. to creatively fool the defense and scheme guys open. There is young talent here and they can get some valuable reps, confidence, etc. by letting Hartman sling it around at times and make it fun against a really bad pass defense.

3. Contain Ashton Daniels in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm. He’s mobile and should be handled the same way that guys like Brennan Armstrong, Riley Leonard, and Caleb Williams were this season — don’t let him extend plays or drives with his feet.

NCAA Football: California at Stanford Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

4. Get after the QB and live in the backfield — bring the heat, because the offensive line isn’t good at stopping it, and if you want to turn over this careful offense, you have to wreak havoc back there.

5. B-Mo and Cam, shut down Ayomanor. He’s the only guy on that offense good enough to beat the Irish defense consistently. But you two are better, and can show it and put that on film for scouts to see how well you shut down their one really good receiver in this game.

6. Play a clean game, stay healthy, and let’s get out of here with a better regular season record than last year to at least keep things positive y/y as we move toward 2024

Alright folks, that’s all for this week. Does anyone have any big questions or concerns before we hang up for this week?

I will take your silence to mean you’re all completely on top of it and ready to go attack the Cardinal and bring home that 9th win of the season!

Per usual, the link to this deck will be sent out right after this call — please let me know if you have any further questions or do not receive the deck and I will work with you to figure it out!

Otherwise, thank you all for your time, and I hope you all have a relaxing, fun, healthy, and fulfilling Thanksgiving weekend with your family and friends — enjoy the short week and all that delicious food and great football!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Okay, now that that is done, it’s time to waste time while looking “busy” on Microsoft Teams for the next 3 days, counting down the hours until I can log off and head to the suburbs for some R&R. Time to (not) get to work!