Notre Dame brings begrudging respect into rivalry with familiar foe
Stanford is Mike McGlinchey’s favorite enemy.
Maybe that’s like calling the flu your favorite illness, but still, it’s something. It’s not a term of endearment, exactly. More like begrudging respect.
“You know you’re going to get a team that prides themselves on being the best at what they do,” Notre Dame’s graduate student left tackle said on Tuesday. “You kind of line up and expect it to be a technique-on-technique, effort-on-effort game. That’s the fun part about it. I’ve known them for the last three years of playing and five years of watching them play, and they haven’t really changed, other than just shuffling new players in and out.
“I feel like, having that kind of a game and having that kind of a knowledge of your opponent just makes it more fun, because they feel the same way about us. We’re going to line up. We’re going to see whose technique’s better. We’re going to see who can play a little bit harder and a little bit tougher. Normally the toughest line on the field wins the game, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
But trying doesn’t always translate. Specifically, No. 9 Notre Dame (9-2) has lost two consecutive games in the rivalry and hasn’t won a game in Palo Alto, Calif., since 2007.
More broadly, Notre Dame hasn’t won its regular season finale — which is played annually in the state of California against either Stanford or USC — since 2012.
Plus, football games aren’t the only thing the Irish risk losing.
“They recruit smart, tough, well-coached, disciplined players,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly noted this week.
In other words, they recruit a lot of the same players as Notre Dame.
In the 2017 class alone, No. 20 Stanford (8-3) snagged wide receiver Osiris St. Brown, the younger brother of Irish junior wideout Equanimeous St. Brown. The Cardinal also poached former Irish cornerback commit Paulson Adebo and signed a slew of players with Irish offers, including five-star offensive lineman Foster Sarell and four-star athlete Connor Wedington.
To make matters worse, if it weren’t for Stanford, highly touted 2018 defensive end and Cardinal commit Thomas Booker would likely be headed to Notre Dame.
On the other side, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush, running back Josh Adams, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Sam Mustipher, right guard Alex Bars, tight end Durham Smythe and the aforementioned Equanimeous St. Brown — all offensive starters — each received scholarship offers from Stanford.
Basically, there’s a lot more on the line than the Legends Trophy.
“They’re very strong. They’re very tough,” McGlinchey said. “They’re as good as it gets in terms of programs. They’re going to line up and see if we can beat them. There’s no kind of fancy stuff behind it. It’s just line up, play football. Our technique versus theirs, and let’s see what happens.”
And, while Saturday’s result is still in doubt, the manner in which it’s reached is all but certain. Each of the teams’ last five games has been decided by seven or fewer points. The average differential is 5.2 points, with an overtime thrown in for good measure.
These are similar programs, with similar players and similar outcomes.
Even similar stars.
Take Adams, for example. Notre Dame’s 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior has 1,337 rushing yards with 7.8 yards per carry. Stanford running back Bryce Love — another true junior — has him beat, with 1,723 rushing yards, 8.8 yards per carry and 16 touchdowns in 10 games.
On Saturday night, with a New Year’s Six bowl bid on the line for Notre Dame and a Pac-12 championship game appearance hanging delicately in the balance for Stanford, both teams will try to win in similar ways.
In a battle of familiar foes, the more physical team will triumph.
McGlinchey, and his coach, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There's some guys that are a little sore, but it's all hands on deck,” Kelly said on Tuesday. “I mean, let's go. You've got one game. Today is their last day of school. They've got a few days off. You know, rub some dirt on it.”