Using the middle two quarters to negate what began as a potential huge upset loss, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed out the 2023 regular season with a 56-23 win over the Stanford Cardinal. The victory gives them a 9-3 record on the year as they wait to find out their postseason destination.
The Notre Dame offense rolled up 521 yards on the evening, with the running game managing 381 of that amount. Except for two early breakdowns, the Irish defense kept things in check, Finally, special teams gained some redemption for an earlier mistake with Jevonte Jean Baptiste’s tightrope skills down the sidelines delivering the final score.
Below are some key facets of the win:
Estime Rolls On and Over
In what could be his final regular season game at Notre Dame, running back Audric Estime saved his best performance for last with 238 yards on 25 carries as well as four touchdown runs. The effort tops his previous high of 176, established earlier this year against Central Michigan. However, he came up short in his bid to topple Julius Jones’s school record of 262, set in 2003.
Estime averaged nearly 10 yards every time he ran with the ball and the first of his four touchdowns helped give the Irish their first lead. He very well might have established a new record had the game been closer.
Paying for Mistakes
It didn’t take Notre Dame long to discover that this contest wouldn’t be a cakewalk. On the third play of the game, Stanford’s Justin Lamson broke off a 47-yard run that put the ball in the Notre Dame Red Zone. While the Irish defense stiffened, the Cardinal were still able to pick up a field goal for the early 3-0 lead. They managed to dodge another bullet after a Sam Hartman fumble but a 53-yard pass reception helped set up another Stanford field goal with less than three minutes left in the opening quarter.
Yet, the Irish weren’t even able to get out of that period without another miscue, this one a fumble on the ensuing kickoff by Jadarian Price. That resulted in a Cardinal touchdown and a 13-7 advantage. With less than 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter, Hartman’s interception then helped set up a 56-yard field goal from Stanford kicker Joshua Karty.
Hartman coughing up the ball twice was far from the only problem the Irish had to deal with during the first half. Those two errors and the aforementioned Price fumble accounted for the three turnovers in the opening 30 minutes. Only an overturned fumble call in the final minute prevented Notre Dame from making it four in just two quarters.
The most frustrating aspect of those mistakes is that all season long, Stanford’s ability to create these types of big plays was virtually non-existent. Entering Saturday’s game, the Cardinal had just six interceptions and a lone fumble recovery in 11 games this season. Yet, the Irish helped them look like a big-play defense, which is nothing remotely close to what they’ve delivered in 2023.
Third Quarter Bludgeoning
Notre Dame’s 12-point halftime advantage might have offered hope of an upset to Stanford but such thoughts were quickly laid to rest. Starting off with the kickoff after the break, Notre Dame marched 75 yards on 10 plays, with Estime’s five-yard run making it a 35-16 game in favor of the Irish.
Stanford’s effort to respond then took on an air of desperation when they went for it on fourth-and-one on their own 46 and lost a yard. Notre Dame answered in one play when Hartman found a wide-open Jordan Faison for a touchdown. Another Stanford drive ended in much the same fashion, with Notre Dame only needing five running plays, the last a 25-yard score from Estime, to make it 49-16.
Defense Bounces Back
Despite giving up the two big plays early, the Notre Dame defense again put together a solid performance that allowed 234 yards prior to the garbage time lineup changes. Of that amount, 102 yards came on the two early big plays for the Cardinal. That effectiveness helped keep Stanford at bay before the Irish woke up.
Stanford’s pass protection has been one of their many flaws this season and Notre Dame exploited it by collecting key sacks early that only resulted in two field goals. Heavy pressure from J.D. Bertrand also played a major role in a Jack Kizer interception that set up the final first-half score and gave the Irish momentum for their big third quarter.
A month-long break begins before Notre Dame again faces an opponent in a bowl game. At this moment, it’s unclear where the Irish will eventually play although there have been plenty of rumors leading up to the official announcement on Sunday, December 3. One intriguing possibility that’s been mentioned is a possible Reliaquest (formerly Outback) Bowl matchup on New Year’s Day between Notre Dame and LSU. Their head coach is former Irish mentor Brian Kelly.