Notre Dame football: Bowl status on the line against Stanford

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Can the Notre Dame football team win a tough road matchup against the Stanford Cardinal and secure a top bowl game?

Just a three weeks ago, we were talking about Notre Dame possibly making it to the College Football Playoff. Back then, they were ranked #3 heading into a battle with undefeated Miami.

Now, heading into the final game of the season against Stanford, Notre Dame is just fighting for a right to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

A lot can change in a few weeks.

If they don’t want to lose any more standing, they need to bring their A-game tomorrow night.

Irish aim to reverse tough luck

The Stanford-Notre Dame games of the last few seasons have been dogfights of completely different kinds. And both wrecked the Irish’s year in different ways.

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Two years ago, sixth-ranked Notre Dame went into the final game of the season with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Truthfully, they needed to dominate #13 Stanford to make a stronger case, but a win might’ve sufficed.

Then-redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer gave them a 36-35 lead with under a minute to play. But after that, he could only watch as Stanford drove the field, setting up Conrad Ukropina for a game-winning 45-yard field goal.

The Irish went on to lose to 44-28 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Then, last season, Kizer had the worst game of his college career (14-26, 154 yards, 2 INTs), Stanford got a lucky fumble recovery in the end zone, and a last-minute drive fell short as the Cardinal won 17-10.

Though the 2-5 Irish weren’t a playoff contender before the loss, their season only seemed to get uglier from there.

Needless to say, Notre Dame could really use a different outcome when they go see Stanford tomorrow night.

In a battle of two relatively evenly matched teams, Notre Dame really needs to impose its will on the ground. They boast the sixth-ranked rushing offense in the league (290.5 yards per game) and the 11th-ranked rusher in the nation in Josh Adams (1337 yards).

And Adams has had nice games against Stanford in the past.

Unfortunately, he, and the rest of the rushing attack, didn’t produce much against Miami (just 109 yards). Then, the arms of Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book didn’t hold up their end of the deal in that 41-8 loss.

If Notre Dame is going to win, Adams and the Notre Dame offensive line, led by Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, must control the game. And on the opposite side, they need to limit dynamic Cardinal running back Bryce Love (second in the nation with 1723 rushing yards).

If the running game struggles, it won’t be an easy task for Wimbush to carry the offense through the air. Stanford ranks 58th in the country in pass defense (216.3 yards allowed per game), which isn’t far behind Miami (45th, 211.7 yards/gm). And we all know how that went.

But even so, Wimbush will have to rise to the occasion at some point and make big throws. Can he get the ball to his receivers well enough to keep Stanford honest? And if he can’t, can he make enough plays with his legs offset his limits as a passer?

Next: Notre Dame holds steady at #8 in rankings

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish might not have playoff hopes any longer, but they still have something to play for.

Can they step up against a quality performance against a tough opponent in Stanford? And can they finally leave a matchup against the Cardinal without a bad taste in their mouth?