Closing out the 2023 regular season on Thanksgiving weekend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to the Farm to take on the Stanford Cardinal. The Stanford – Notre Dame rivalry dates back to the 1925 Rose Bowl but truly picked up speed in 1988, with the two teams meeting virtually every year since then. The Irish hold a 22-14 advantage in the series and have won in each of their last two visits out West.
Stanford will look differently on the sidelines with new head coach Troy Taylor, who’s made his reputation on the offensive side of the ball. In 2017, he began a two-year stint as offensive coordinator at Utah before serving the next five seasons as head coach at Sacramento State. He compiled a 30-8 overall record and led the Hornets to three playoff berths but has a stiff challenge in rebuilding the Cardinal program.
Stanford Offense: Guessing Games and Question Marks
The duo of Ari Patu and Ashton Daniels have the most experience among the Stanford quarterbacks. The problem is that their combined experience from last season consisted of 11 completions on 15 attempts for 104 yards and two touchdowns. Right now, Patu is likely to start the season behind center, a situation that may change by late November.
One of the hallmarks of Stanford’s success has been the team’s running game. That department struggled last season, in part because of the injuries to E.J. Smith. In his two games last season, Smith averaged 6.9 yards on 30 carries, scoring three touchdowns, while also catching eight passes, including one for a touchdown. Last year’s top rusher for the team, Casey Filkins, will look to supplement Smith’s contributions or take over if injuries hit again.
The wide receivers will likely be overshadowed by the new tight end-friendly offense being installed by Taylor. That means veteran Benjamin Yurosek will be a frequent target after catching a total of 92 passes the past two seasons. Among the wideouts, John Humphreys is a possession receiver with 50 catches to his credit the past two years.
On the line, a traditional strength of the Cardinals, an infusion of transfers was required to bolster this unit. Harvard transfer Alec Bank will handle the left tackle spot, while Penn transfer Trevor Mayberry might take over at either guard or center. In the latter case, he’ll battle Logan Berzins. Among the returnees, Levi Rogers is penciled in at left guard, while right tackle Jack Leyrer is ready for more after a rough baptism last year.
Stanford Defense: A Force Up Front
Defensive end David Bailey is the star of this group after leading Stanford in tackles-for-loss last season in just his first season. He finished with 43 stops and also forced a pair of fumbles. He hopes to get support on both the other side from Lance Keneley and the inside from the tandem of Tobin Phillips and Anthony Franklin.
Middle linebacker Tristan Sinclair has 65 tackles over the past two seasons and picked off his first collegiate pass in the Cardinal loss at Oregon last year. However, FIU transfer Gaethan Bernadel is the most interesting addition to the defense after making eight of his 103 stops in 2022 behind the line.
In the secondary, the Cardinal cornerbacks who figure to start lack a great deal of experience. Zahran Manley sat out last year, and Collin Wright contributed just five tackles in 2022, which puts the onus on them to make an impact this season. Scotty Edwards at strong safety and Mitch Leigber at free safety will be joined on passing downs by nickel back Omari Porter.
Stanford Special Teams: Melding Old and New to Form Consistency
This area is one of the Cardinal’s strengths, with Joshua Karty delivering consistent production for the past two seasons, including 28 field goals on his 33 attempts. In the punting department, Connor Weselman has essentially been invisible during his first two seasons but is now poised to take over the duties that Ryan Sanborn had held for the past four years. Among the return units, sophomore Jason Thompson will likely handle both punts and kickoffs.
The Last Time Notre Dame Faced Stanford
The Cardinal may have finished 3-9 last year, but their biggest win came at the hands of Notre Dame last October 15 in a 16-14 road victory. The Irish offense struggled to get going, with Stanford taking a 13-0 lead and the Irish not scoring until the third quarter. After Notre Dame briefly took the lead in the final quarter, two costly fumbles prevented them from experiencing the embarrassing defeat.