Off another strong home victory, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish look to close out the 2023 regular season with a similar effort on the road against the Stanford Cardinal. Saturday’s clash is the latest in what’s been virtually an annual matchup for the past three decades, with the Irish looking for revenge after a 16-14 loss last season.
Stanford is once again struggling as they bring a 3-8 record to this clash under first-year head coach Troy Taylor. The Cardinal had hoped to at least reach bowl eligibility after defeating Washington State earlier this month. However, that dream faded with two consecutive losses and pointed them toward starting the offseason earlier than expected.
Below are some of the key matchups to look at on Saturday:
Sam Hartman vs. Stanford Defense
Hartman avoided making any of the mistakes against Wake that have played a role in two of the three Notre Dame losses this season. This week’s opponent likely has a worse offense than Wake, which means that Hartman should have the luxury of spreading his throws around to the young and talented receiving corps.
Stanford has failed to keep opponents out of the end zone this season, ranking near the bottom among all FBS teams when it comes to points allowed. In six different contests, they allowed more than 40 points per game. In addition, in last Saturday’s loss to Cal in their big rivalry game, the Cardinal passed the dubious 5,000-yard threshold in yardage allowed this season.
Notre Dame Defense vs. QB Ashton Daniels
With the exception of one score and a missed field goal in the first half, the Irish defenders weren’t really challenged by Wake Forest. A clutch strip sack by J.D. Bertrand was immediately converted into a touchdown. This Saturday, the Cardinal will present a running-back-by-committee approach in which none of the runners is particularly a threat. That means they should have the opportunity to tee off on Daniels.
After seeing only mop-up duty during his first season in 2022, Daniels earned the starting nod behind center. However, he’s had problems staying healthy with a trio of injuries, the most recent a hand injury two weeks ago. He was able to play against Cal, but his output is modest with 11 touchdown passes countered by seven interceptions. He is mobile enough to be a threat, which means that Notre Dame defenders need to be on their toes.
CB Benjamin Morrison vs. WR Elic Ayomanor
Both Morrison and Cam Hart will likely like up against Ayonmanor during the game but the Morrison matchup should be the most intriguing. The sophomore continues to do the job in the secondary for the Irish, though he’s had an issue this season getting flagged on calls. In Saturday’s win, his pass interference call on third-and-10 helped extend a Wake drive. Despite such glitches, he remains a solid presence in the defensive backfield.
Ayomanor has been Daniels’ favorite target this season with the freshman hauling 55 catches for 955 yards. His deep-threat capability have helped him snag six touchdown passes and he’s collected over 100 yards through the air in three contests. The most prolific of those came in the wild shootout against Colorado in which he caught 13 passes for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
T Joe Alt/Blake Fisher vs. EDGE David Bailey
Since Bailey will be charging toward Hartman from both sides, Alt and Fisher each need to be ready to keep Bailey away. That’s especially true for Alt, who’s protecting Hartman’s blind side. Both tackles are coming off a game in which their unit allowed no sacks and a spotless record in that department has usually been the case when facing weaker opponents like the Cardinal.
Despite being on a poor defensive team, Bailey’s talents likely have his future destiny being in the NFL. Still, this season, he started out strong with three sacks in the win over Hawaii and has only brought down two quarterbacks since then. That drought is indicative of the problems the Cardinal defenders have faced.
RB Audric Estime vs. LB Gaethan Bernadel
Estime could very well be playing in his final regular season game for the Irish, so he could be motivated enough to deliver his best performance of the season. He reached the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday and is averaging six yards per carry, scoring touchdowns in nine of the 11 games this season. The Stanford run defense has allowed 143 yards per game, though that number may be the byproduct of teams shredding them with their passing games.
Bernadel transferred during the offseason from FIU and immediately became an important part of the Stanford defense. He leads the team in tackles with 76. On three occasions, he’s brought down 10 or more ballcarriers, with the most recent being in the loss to Cal. He’ll be all around the field, which means he and Estime will meet up at some point.