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Stanford trip affords Notre Dame get-right game on the road

Field Level Media

November 22, 2023 at 12:54 pm.

The road has been an unfriendly place for Notre Dame in 2023.

The 18th-ranked Fighting Irish try to close the regular season on a high note when they visit Stanford on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif.

Notre Dame (8-3) began the season ranked No. 13 and climbed as high as No. 9 after winning its first four games. A loss at home the following week to then-No. 6 Ohio State only dropped the Fighting Irish two spots, but it was the losses over the next six weeks at Louisville and Clemson that completely soured their chances for a berth in the College Football Playoff.

“You look at the Clemson game, look at the Louisville game, and we haven’t performed to our standard on the road,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said. “As I told the coaches, I don’t want to make this only a road issue, but we haven’t performed to our standards.”

Getting off to a quick start against Stanford was stressed by Freeman this week in South Bend.

The Fighting Irish scored just seven points in the first half against Louisville, losing 33-20. They managed just three field goals in the first half against Clemson in a 31-23 loss.

“We’ve got to start better,” Freeman said. “From the first play of the game, have the mentality that we’re going to have to go out there and win the interval on this play. We can’t lose it in any game.”

The Fighting Irish stood tall in their most recent performance, picking apart Wake Forest by rolling up 450 yards of total offense in the 45-7 victory.

Sam Hartman bounced back from a couple rocky outings to throw for 277 yards and four touchdowns while playing turnover-free against his former team.

Audric Estime rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries and scored a touchdown in his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season.

While Notre Dame isn’t out of the mix for a big-ticket bowl game, Stanford (3-8) is mired in a dramatic downturn with little to celebrate this season. To date, the biggest achievements from the season are an improbable 46-43 double-overtime win at Colorado on Oct. 13 and a narrow 10-7 win at Washington State on Nov. 4.

There have been individual bright spots for the Cardinal. Quarterback Ashton Daniels has 2,095 passing yards with 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while also leading the team in rushing.

Elic Ayomanor is 45 receiving yards away from becoming the first 1,000-yard receiver for Stanford since J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in 2018.

The Cardinal received some good news on Monday when linebacker Tristan Sinclair won his targeting appeal after getting ejected in a 27-15 loss to Cal last weekend, meaning he won’t have to sit out the first half against Notre Dame.

“He’s our rock, you know. Not just on defense, probably the whole team,” Stanford coach Troy Taylor said. “He’s just our emotional leader. He cares so much, does everything the right way. We can always count on him.”

Although the Cardinal and Fighting Irish have seen their seasons go in different directions, there should be no lack of emotion on Saturday.

“It’s an unbelievable rivalry,” Freeman said. “As you look at both of our institutions — the values we have in terms of student-athlete experience, the educational values that both universities provide — it’s a great rivalry that we’re going to try to continue to have as long as we can.”

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