Oct. 11, 2012
By Bryan Beasley
STANFORD, Calif. - Perennial rivalries between longstanding and successful football programs make the landscape of college football electrifying. Sure, conference affiliation and the high level of competition within the Pac-12 have provided rivalries with Cal, USC, and UCLA. This is different in its own way, as Notre Dame has presented a tough challenge for the Cardinal.
This series dates back to 1925 at the Rose Bowl, when the Fighting Irish defeated Stanford, 27-10. Stanford All-America Ernie Nevers rushed for 114 yards, but Notre Dame's Elmer Layden contributed a rushing touchdown and returned two interceptions for touchdowns to help secure Notre Dame's first national championship.
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It took 63 years to build a showcase between two universities with a high level of academic and athletic prowess to settle it out on the gridiron. With the exception of 1995 and 1996, Stanford and Notre Dame have played every season since 1988. Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw still holds a high regard to the 1992 game in which he played.
In that contest, Stanford made a great road comeback from a 16-0 deficit in the second quarter and handed Notre Dame its only loss on the season. Glyn Milburn rushed for 119 yards and Steve Stenstrom had 215 yards in the air, throwing 21 completions on 35 attempts to upset the sixth-ranked Irish.
"Glyn Milburn had a great game," Shaw recalls. "[Bill Walsh] was very serious. In that game, he was very serious because he knew that we had a chance against that team. But at the same time, he knew we had to play well."
And play well, the Cardinal certainly did.
This rivalry tends to bring out the best competition in both teams, and many compare the schools based on academics and athletics, though there are distinct differences.
"I know Notre Dame is a very good school, but we try not to compare ourselves to anybody, honestly," Shaw says. "I think there's a lot of mutual respect on and off the field between Stanford people and Notre Dame people."
Shaw did compare the Irish style of play with his own team, and he sees some similarities with how each team's personnel plays the game.
"I do think we have some things in common with Notre Dame as far as playing tough, physical defense, loving our linebackers, running the ball on offense and having our quarterbacks do what's necessary to win the game," he said. "I think philosophically, we're very similar."
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But every year presents some new challenges.
This year, the Cardinal faces an Irish team that has defeated Michigan and Michigan State, and dropped 41 points on Miami last week at Soldier Field in Chicago.
"Well, they're good," says senior left guard Khalil Wilkes. "They're big, and they're physical, and they're also very fast for their size. The main thing for us is to just trust our technique. They're great guys, but I feel like we're pretty good, too."
Stanford senior defensive end Ben Gardner attributed Notre Dame's approach to a change in their offensive coaching personnel and their ability to run the football.
"I think there's been a mindset change from last year to this year, and it starts up front," says Gardner. "They have an offensive line coach that's brought in a new philosophy and they're much more downhill and much more physical than they were a season ago.
"They're big bodies, they're put together well and they're coming off the ball hitting people. They want to run the football. We're looking forward to that challenge because that's our style of football here at Stanford."
This matchup highlights running back Stepfan Taylor of Stanford and Notre Dame's corps of three running backs in Theo Riddick, George Atkinson III and Cierre Wood. Both teams like to play smash mouth, physical football emphasizing the ground game.
No. 7 Notre Dame presents a different challenge on the road than any of the teams that the Cardinal has faced thus far. This makes for a great battle considering Stanford's defense is ranked sixth nationally in stopping the run.
"Notre Dame's not the spread offense that Arizona was," junior defensive end Henry Anderson says. "Their offense is kind of similar to ours. They run the power quite a bit, inside zone, stuff like that. It's going to be a little bit different."
Defensively, Notre Dame's front presents a lot of trouble for teams even when they have multiple defensive backs playing coverage. The defensive front boasts multiple 300-pound ends and tackles that can get to the quarterback.
"There are plays where there is a three-man rush, and the three-man rush is hitting the quarterback on a five-step drop," says Shaw.
And then there's Manti Te'o.
Notre Dame's senior linebacker is having a stellar season and remains atop the list of candidates for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's top defensive player. Te'o leads the Irish with 48 tackles and three interceptions.
"It seems like he's the quarterback of the defense," says Wilkes. "As he goes, the defense goes, so we definitely have a lot of respect for him."
Starting Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes recognizes Te'o's high level of play, but understands the bigger task at hand will be understanding the defense's variation in schemes and coverages.
"He's definitely a good player, but they've got a lot of good players that we need to account for," says Nunes. "I would say it's just more scheme-wise as opposed to accounting for individual guys."
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The rivalry highlights the Legends Trophy, which features an Irish crystal glass on top of a California redwood platform. The trophy currently is housed in the Hall of Fame room in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. Rivalry trophies for the winning team have a large amount of intrinsic value and Shaw still tells this to his team.
"It's not one of those things that gets talked about a lot, but it does mean something," says Shaw. "Going back to the mutual respect that you have for Notre Dame, it's kind of cool that you have a trophy that goes back and forth. It's important to both universities."
The rivalry's importance is felt by former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who now plays for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts. Luck is proud that he was able to compile a 3-0 record over Notre Dame, including a spectacular game last season while throwing four touchdowns for 233 yards to help set Stanford's career passing touchdown record in the process.
"It's always fun to play Notre Dame," recalls Luck. "Last year, I think it was a hard-fought game. You know they're going to be tough defensively. You always earned your points against them. I'm glad to have gotten a win. I'm very proud to say I'm 3-0 versus Notre Dame in my career. It's always going to be tough versus them."
Luck's current teammate and former Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener recognized the Irish as an upper echelon team and understands how physical the game will be.
"Playing Notre Dame is always a fun rivalry," says Fleener. "I look forward to it being physical on both sides. I know Stanford wants to run the ball effectively. It'll be a good challenge this week against Notre Dame's defense. I'm excited (for this season's game)."
When No. 17 Stanford faces one of its toughest road tests of the season against No. 7 Notre Dame, it will certainly be an emotional game like years past. Stanford hopes to extend its win streak to four against Notre Dame and maintain possession of the Legends Trophy.
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It Happened Against Notre Dame
1925 - Ernie Nevers rushed for 114 yards, but Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen led Notre Dame to a 27-10 victory over Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl as the Irish captured their first national championship.
1989 - Steve Smith set a school-record with 68 pass attempts, but Stanford's upset bid of the top-ranked Irish fell short at Stanford Stadium, 27-17.
1990 - Stanford rallied from a 24-7 second quarter deficit to upset the top-ranked Irish, 36-31, at Notre Dame Stadium. "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell scored the game-winner on a one-yard touchdown run with 0:36 left, his fourth rushing touchdown on the day. Jason Palumbis completed 26-of-34 passes for 256 yards.
1991 - Tommy Vardell rushed for 140 yards on 23 carries but eighth-ranked Notre Dame avenged its loss from the previous season to the Cardinal with a 42-26 win at Stanford Stadium. Stanford went on to win its last seven regular season games.
1992 - Steve Stenstrom completed 21 of 32 passes for 215 yards and Glyn Milburn rushed for 119 yards on 20 carries as 18th-ranked Stanford posted a road upset of No. 6 Notre Dame, 33-16. Stanford scored 33 unanswered points after spotting Notre Dame a 16-0 lead in the second quarter to hand the Irish their only loss of the season.
1994 - Steve Stenstrom completes 37-of-59 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-15 loss at Notre Dame. The 59 pass attempts rank third on Stanford's all-time single-game list.
1997 - Anthony Bookman (142) and Mike Mitchell (135) each rushed for more than 100 yards in Stanford's 33-15 win over Notre Dame at Stanford Stadium. The Cardinal defense sacked Irish quarterback Ron Powlus four times and held Notre Dame to just 298 yards in total offense.
1999 - Mike Biselli's 22-yard field goal as time expires lifted Stanford to a 40-37 win over the Irish in a nationally-televised, post-Thanksgiving Day game at Stanford Stadium. It was one of four Biselli field goals on the afternoon. Todd Husak completed 24-of-34 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns and Troy Walters caught eight passes for 183 yards, the 11th-best receiving performance in school history.
2009 - Playing in his final game at Stanford Stadium, Toby Gerhart rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and threw for another as Stanford rallied for a 45-38 victory, snapping Notre Dame's seven-game winning streak in the series.
2010 - Nate Whitaker kicked five field goals to tie a Stanford single-game record and the Cardinal defense limited the Irish to just 44 yards rushing and one offensive touchdown to break a seven-game losing streak at Notre Dame, 37-14. Owen Marecic scored a pair of touchdowns within 13 seconds of one another (first as a fullback on a short dive play, then later making an interception for a score from his inside linebacker position).
2011 - Andrew Luck set the school record for the most career touchdown passes and eclipsed his own single-season mark, throwing for 233 yards and four scores to lead fourth-ranked Stanford past No. 22 Notre Dame, 28-14, in his home finale. Luck topped John Elway's record of 77 touchdown passes and helped the Cardinal build a 21-0 halftime lead. The victory vaulted Stanford into an at-large BCS bowl bid for the second straight year.