Oct. 8, 2004
By Alan Wasielewski
For the second-straight week, the University of Notre Dame football team will face a season-defining contest in Notre Dame Stadium when the Irish play host to Stanford. The Cardinal, who provided a huge scare to No. 1 USC two weeks ago, is a team on the rise and will provide a tough test for Notre Dame, coming off a 41-16 loss to Purdue last Saturday. Stanford brings a 3-1 record to South Bend after dispatching Washington 27-13 last weekend.
The Irish, who faced a season-defining game against Purdue seven days ago, will take on a measure of extra pressure this afternoon. A win against Stanford will keep Notre Dame on pace for a recovery season from last year’s 5-7 record. A win can erase the bad taste of that 41-16 loss to Purdue. A win also can provide Tyrone Willingham’s third consecutive victory against the team he coached for seven seasons.
Last weekend’s contest against Purdue proved the Irish, though tremendously improved this season, are a work in progress. Notre Dame out gained the Boilermakers, won the possession-time battle and sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn posted a Notre Dame Stadium record 432 yards passing – the second-most in the history of the program as well (Joe Theismann holds the record of 576 in 1970). An analysis of the boxscore from last weekend’s contest without benefit of the final score might lead one to believe that the Irish actually posted a victory.
Mistakes and big plays by the Boilermakers eventually doomed the Irish. The mistakes included a fumble on the goal line, a blocked field-goal attempt and seven sacks allowed. The big plays came in the form of a 100-yard kickoff return, a 97-yard pass play and a halfback option pass play. The Irish will look to eliminate those mistakes to continue their improvement this season.
Stanford has a notable track record in Notre Dame Stadium entering today’s game, as the Cardinal has posted two of the biggest upsets over the last 15 years at the Stadium. The most memorable of those games was a 36-31 victory over top-ranked Notre Dame in 1990, as Stanford handed the Irish their first Notre Dame Stadium loss since 1986.
The Cardinal also knocked off No. 7 Notre Dame 33-16 in 1992 after Notre Dame began the contest with a 16-0 lead. The loss, however, inspired the Irish to rip through the rest of the schedule, including wins over No. 9 Boston College, No. 22 Penn State (the Snow Bowl), No. 19 USC and No. 4 Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Today’s opponent will not be any easier on the Irish defense, as that group deals with surrendering 41 points to Purdue last Saturday. Stanford is averaging 33.8 points per game in 2004 and has thrown for an average of 266 yards per game. Quarterback Trent Edwards has a deep and talented receiving corps, with Alex Smith (19 catches, 208 yards), Evan Moore (16, 248), Mark Bradford (16, 225) and Justin McCullum (12, 195) all having over 190 receiving yards in four games this season. Edwards has thrown for 921 yards (230 per game) with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Stanford rushing attack cannot be overlooked. J.R. Lemon has rushed for 355 yards, averaging close to seven yards a carry while reaching the end zone four times.
Stanford began the year with a 43-3 victory over San Jose State, defeated Brigham Young, 37-10, took No. 1USC to the brink in a 31-28 loss and bested Washington 27-13 last weekend. It should also be pointed out that the Cardinal has not forgotten about last season’s 57-7 pounding at the hands of the Irish at Stanford Stadium.
While Notre Dame’s 3-2 early-season record is a bit disappointing, the Irish have begun to show signs of turning the corner. Brady Quinn is establishing himself as possibly the best sophomore quarterback in the nation. He has completed 53 percent of his passes for 1356 yards this season, needing just 500 more to surpass his total from the entire 2003 campaign. He has already matched his touchdown total from last season with nine scoring tosses and his 432-yard performance against Purdue last weekend will not be easily forgotten by Notre Dame fans, nor future coaches who must scout the Irish offensive attack.
In his last two contests, Quinn has put up outstanding numbers, going 43 for 78 (55 percent) with 698 yards and five touchdowns.
One of Quinn’s favorite receivers in the last two weeks has been tight end Anthony Fasano. The junior from Verona, N.J., set a Notre Dame tight end record with 155 yards on eight catches against Purdue. Classmate Rhema McKnight nabbed 113 yards receiving against Purdue, giving the Irish two 100-yard receivers in a single game for the first time since 1977. Quinn continues to spread the ball around to Notre Dame’s receivers as well, with 16 different Irish players catching a pass so far in ’04.
Today’s contest provides a chance for Notre Dame football fans to remember one of the most noteworthy games in the program’s remarkable history. Notre Dame and Stanford first met in the 1925 Rose Bowl at the end of the 1924 season. In what proved to be an Irish victory tour of the western United States, Knute Rockne’s Four Horsemen-led team defeated Pop Warner’s Stanford team 27-10 in Notre Dame’s first and only appearance in the Rose Bowl.
That victory ended the legendary ’24 season – marking the first of 11 consensus National Championships for Notre Dame. The teams have met 17 more times since that first contest in 1924, with Notre Dame leading the all-time series 12-6. The Irish are 7-2 in Notre Dame Stadium against Stanford and the teams have met on a year-by-year basis since the 1988 season (with a two-year break in the ’95 and ’96 seasons).
It should also be pointed out that Tyrone Willingham has been very successful against his former team while at Notre Dame. The Irish have outscored Stanford 88-14 in the last two meetings in the series, which include last year’s 57-7 win at Stanford and the ’02 meeting when No. 9 Notre Dame defeated Stanford 31-7.
While the teams on the field have changed from last weekend in Notre Dame Stadium, the scenario is much the same for both squads involved. The Irish are looking to legitimize themselves and prove that the frustration of last season’s 5-7 season is behind them. An opportunity for a large step forward was missed against Purdue, but the 4-0 Boilermakers are a team on a roll who might prove to be the best the Big Ten Conference has to offer this season.
Purdue was facing much the same assignment that Stanford will face this weekend. Defeat a Notre Dame team playing some of its best football in two seasons, in a place where the team has struggled for success in the past (Purdue had not won at Notre Dame since 1974, Stanford has won just twice in nine visits to the House that Rockne Built) and find out just how successful the rest of the ’04 campaign can be.
Can Notre Dame answer the bell? The Irish were knocked down at BYU to begin this season, but came back with a huge victory over No. 8 Michigan. Notre Dame was knocked down again by 15th-ranked Purdue last weekend – are the Irish due to compose another comeback story today?