Entering their final regular-season game, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have the opportunity to reach the 10-win threshold for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years. To do that, they have to defeat the 4-7 Stanford Cardinal, who watched their bowl game hopes disappear following a loss to California on Saturday.
On paper, the Irish should emerge victorious, but the Cardinal would undoubtedly love to once again win at Palo Alto. That’s a place where they’ve won the last five times in this annual series. Much of the bowl chatter surrounding Notre Dame has focused on the December 28 Camping World bowl game, but a loss here could relegate them to an even lesser bowl matchup.
Below are some of the matchups to watch in Saturday’s clash:
QB Ian Book vs. Stanford Defense
Book’s ability to scramble has made him the team’s top rusher over the past month, though he’s been equally busy on the passing front. In the past four contests, he’s thrown 14 touchdown passes, and in the previous two, he’s completed two-thirds of his 60 throws while not throwing an interception. The veteran could thrive on Saturday, especially if Stanford’s motivation is lacking following their loss to Cal.
Stanford has been vulnerable when it comes to both the running and passing game, with the Cardinal allowing more than six yards per play this season. The injury toll that’s been taken on the entire team has primarily focused defensively on the secondary, so it seems likely that Book will take what’s available to him.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Davis Mills
Since watching Michigan pour on 45 points and allowing over 400 yards of total offense for the second consecutive game, the Irish defensive unit has gotten back on track by allowing an average of just 247 yards over the past four games. One of the keys during this stretch has been the ability to make stops behind the line, with Notre Dame collecting 26 tackles-for-loss, a total that includes eight sacks.
When the season started, K.J. Costello was Stanford’s starter under center. Still, the injury plague changed that situation. Mills has also completed two-thirds of his passes for the year, though four of his five interceptions this season have come in just the past two weeks. He threw for 504 yards against Washington State on November 16, so he isn’t afraid to put the ball in the air. However, he lacks Book’s mobility.
WR Chase Claypool vs. CB Obi Eboh
Claypool was already having a solid 2019 season before November but is now looking to close out what’s been a huge month. In the past four games, he’s caught 27 passes, including seven in each of the previous two games. His collective yardage amount on those grabs is 392 yards, and he’s caught six touchdown passes, in part because of the size difference he’s enjoyed against opposing cornerbacks.
Eboh managed to play against Cal, even though his health was shaky. He was already replacing his regular partner on the corner, Paulson Adebo, who likely won’t be back for this contest. At 6-foot-2, he’s got the size to defend against Claypool but is still giving up three inches.
MLB Drew White vs. RB Cameron Scarlett
White has come on strong over the past five weeks and now leads Notre Dame in tackles with 72 on the year. Beginning with the Michigan debacle, White has collected 43 tackles during that span and has been in a position to recover fumbles in each of the past two games. For the year, he has eight stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Stanford has had a recent run of standout running backs like Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, and while Scarlett isn’t at that level, he does power the Cardinal running game. He’s rushed for 797 yards and scored six touchdowns and is also a receiving threat with 22 catches on the season.
CB Donte Vaughn vs. WR Michael Wilson
Vaughn has battled injuries throughout his Notre Dame career but has come up big during clutch moments this season in games against Southern Cal and Virginia Tech. He’s split time here with TaRiq Bracy, who got burned on Boston College’s lone big play, so Vaughn’s challenge is to avoid that same fate against the Cardinal.
Wilson is only a sophomore, but he’s likely to be a prime target of Mills since fellow wideout Connor Weddington’s status is questionable. This season, he’s caught 46 passes, including at least five in seven games and has reached the end zone four times. He’s a deep threat who also sees time on the punt return unit and has made huge strides from his freshman campaign when he grabbed just 14 passes.