5 Things To Watch

Stanford: Five Things To Watch

Playing four home football games in a month – much less winning all four of them — seldom happens at the University of Notre Dame.

The last time it happened came in October 1999 when Bob Davie’s Irish played four times in Notre Dame Stadium and defeated No. 23 Oklahoma, Arizona State, USC and Navy.

Here were the other (mostly long ago) four-home-games-in-a-month opportunities when the Irish emerged victorious each time:

  • Notre Dame won all four October 1936 home contests – defeating Carnegie Tech, Washington (St. Louis), Wisconsin and Ohio State (with a road loss at Pittsburgh in that same month).
  • The 1912 team played its first four games at old Cartier Field in October – with wins over St. Viator, Adrian, Morris Harvey and Wabash.
  • Notre Dame in 1911 did the same in defeating Ohio Northern, St. Viator, Butler and Loyola (Chicago) on consecutive October Saturdays.
  • Notre Dame won four home games in October 1908 – versus Hillsdale, Franklin, Chicago Physicians & Surgeons and Ohio Northern.
  • It did the same in October 1906 against Franklin, Hillsdale, Chicago Physicians & Surgeons and Michigan State.
  • Notre Dame won five home contests in a row in October 1903 – knocking off Michigan State, Lake Forest, DePauw, American Medical and Chicago Physicians & Surgeons – after claiming five November home triumphs in 1901 (Lake Forest, Purdue, Indiana, Chicago Physicians & Surgeons and the South Bend Athletic Club).

Now, Notre Dame in 2018 — for the first time in its football history — plays four home games in the month of September. After wins over Michigan, Ball State and Vanderbilt earlier this month, the Irish have a chance to go four-for-four with their Saturday night game against Stanford.

Here are some areas to watch when the eighth-ranked Irish face off against the seventh-rated Cardinal:

  1. “Love Train.” Remember that 1972 hit by the O’Jays? The Irish Saturday will be trying to avoid being run over by the 2018 remake. Bryce Love so far this fall has not looked as overwhelming as maybe Stanford fans expected – yet his career numbers are off the charts. He missed one 2018 game (UC Davis) completely with an injury, and the Cardinal offensive line is still maturing. Stanford ranks 119th as a team in rushing at 104.3 yards per game (Notre Dame stands 60th at 183.8). Love has averaged 84.7 rushing yards per game in his three outings, at 4.3 yards per attempt (two touchdown runs). But don’t sleep on the Stanford star. Notre Dame’s defense likely would be pleased if it could limit Love to that same 4.3 average Saturday night. This may not be quite like 1973 when Notre Dame students plastered photos of USC’s Anthony Davis all over campus sidewalks (that came because Davis scored six TDs against the Irish in 1972). But expect Notre Dame to do whatever it takes to contain Love and keep him from making the game-changing play.
  2. The Irish offense needs to show consistency. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has kept the win at Wake Forest in good perspective. “Pump the brakes” is the phrase the Irish head coach likes. As impressive as the Ian Book-directed attack was in Winston-Salem, that was one football game. And it came against a Demon Deacon team that currently ranks 113th nationally in total defense (of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams). It will be much more appropriate to see where the Irish offensive efficiency is after games the next two Saturdays versus Stanford (55th in total defense but 10th in scoring defense) and on the road at Virginia Tech.
  3. Don’t expect many mistakes. Consider that a single turnover might be the difference in this game. In Stanford’s last seven wins over Notre Dame beginning in 2009, the Cardinal has averaged 1.57 turnovers per contest (including both the 2017 and 2015 wins in Palo Alto where Stanford committed zero turnovers). Stanford currently ranks 12th in turnovers lost with only three (all interceptions). The Cardinal in 2018 has had 208 chances to advance the ball (114 rushes, 73 receptions, nine kickoff returns, seven punt returns, five interception returns) and fumbled only once (Stanford recovered). Notre Dame in 2018 has five turnovers (one Brandon Wimbush interception versus Michigan, three Wimbush interceptions against Ball State and a Michael Young fumble on a sweep last week versus Wake Forest). Notre Dame has fumbled only twice in its four combined games (on 176 rushes, 70 receptions, eight punt returns, seven kickoff returns and five interception returns) on 266 chances with the football.
  4. Maybe the Irish are due. For all the memorable wins in Notre Dame football history, it’s been 14 years since the Irish defeated a top-10 opponent in Notre Dame Stadium (28-20 over No. 8 Michigan in the second game of the 2004 campaign). The last four Notre Dame victories over top-10 foes have come on the road – in 2012 at No. 10 Michigan State and at No. 8 Oklahoma (both later vacated under discretionary NCAA penalty), 2005 at No. 3 Michigan and 2004 at No. 9 Tennessee. The Irish would like to copy that seven-year span from 1987-93 when there were nine head-to-head battles in Notre Dame Stadium between top-10 Irish teams facing top-10 opponents – and the Irish went 8-0-1 in those contests. Saturday night against No. 7 Stanford would be a great place to start.
  5. Here’s the track record. On 17 occasions, there have been games at Notre Dame Stadium between teams when both were ranked in the Associated Press top 10 with Notre Dame the lower-ranked team. The Irish have won eight of those games – in 1952 versus No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 2 USC, 1955 versus No. 4 Navy, 1965 versus No. 4 USC, 1973 versus No. 6 USC, 1988 versus No. 1 Miami, 1990 versus No. 2 Miami and 1993 versus No. 1 Florida State. The nine Irish defeats have come four times at the hands of USC (1939, 1967, 1979, 2005) and once each against Iowa (1957), Army (1958), Michigan State (1965), Purdue (1968) and Ohio State (1996).

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.