FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame will close the regular season with its sternest test.
The No. 25 Irish (8-3) travel to play No. 8 Stanford (9-2) on Saturday with the similar programs trying to prove which one is more dominant.
Both teams want to be the smartest, toughest football teams in the country, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. Stanford right now is ranked eighth in the country. We are ranked 25th. We get a chance to decide it on the football field.
The Irish won the toughness battle last season, holding on for a 20-13 overtime victory thanks to a goal-line stand in which Notre Dame kept Stepfan Taylor out of the end zone by inches.
We were fighting for every inch, both teams were fighting literally and the game was talked about in that sense – we are going to have fight for every inch. And the game was decided by inches and that was the type of football game it was, Kelly said. And quite frankly, it’s going to be similar on Saturday. Both teams will be fighting for inches and not yards.
Stanford doesn’t give up many yards.
The Cardinal is ranked 22nd in the nation in total defense, giving up 348.5 yards per game, and it is No. 3 in run defense, holding teams to 89.5 yards per game. Stanford is No. 13 in scoring defense, giving up 18.9 points per game.
Linebacker Trent Murphy headlines Stanford’s defense with a nation-leading 13 sacks. He has 49 tackles and is No. 4 national in tackles for loss with 19.
He sets the tone of their defense because he plays so physical, Kelly said. He can do so many things because he can stand up, he can play as a drop player and so he allows the defense to give you a lot of different looks. That’s what he gives this defense the multiple looks that they have start with Trent Murphy’s ability to set the edge with his size but also drop. That’s pretty good stuff.
Notre Dame showed some good stuff in its redemptive 23-13 win over BYU last weekend.
The Irish ran for 235 yards on 47 carries, and quarterback Tommy Rees completed 15 of 28 passes for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Kelly said Notre Dame will have to carry over what it did mentally and physically against the Cougars to this weekend’s game.
When I say the way we play that game, with that focus and that attention to detail and that physical and mental toughness that is so necessary week-in and week-out, Kelly said. Stanford forces that out of you.
Note: Kelly said center Nick Martin suffered a torn MCL and will miss the season finale and bowl game. Martin, who will be replaced in the starting lineup by Matt Hegarty, will miss spring practice but is expected to be back in time for the fall.