How does No. 5 Notre Dame beat Stanford? By following these four keys to the game.

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (23) and Georgia Tech's Tariq Carpenter (2) exchange uncalled face masks during the Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

These keys to the game will likely decide if AP No. 5/CFP No. 6 Notre Dame (10-1) can beat Stanford (3-8) on Saturday in Palo Alto, Calif. (8 p.m. EST on FOX). 

Run and run some more 

This isn’t your older brother’s Stanford team. This Cardinal defense simply cannot stop the run. Stanford entered the week with the No. 127 rushing defense among the 130 FBS teams in allowing 241.7 rushing yards per game. Only two teams – pass-happy USC and Washington State – have failed to rush for at least 200 yards against the Cardinal this season. 

Notre Dame should prioritize its running game and let running backs Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, Logan Diggs and Audric Estime roam free. Sprinkle a little bit of quarterback Tyler Buchner in there for good measure. It would provide a fitting conclusion to a regular season in which the Irish made significant strides in improving its rushing attack. 

Secure an interception advantage 

When Stanford wins, Tanner McKee doesn’t throw an interception and the Cardinal defense intercepts the opposing quarterback. In his nine games this season, starting quarterback Tanner McKee has throw seven interception. None of them came in the three Stanford wins. The Stanford defense only has five interceptions all season, but three of them came in victories. 

Notre Dame needs to avoid that winning formula for Stanford. Quarterback Jack Coan must be careful with his throws, and the Irish secondary should look for opportunities to steal one from McKee and the Stanford receivers. 

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Let Mayer make plays 

Notre Dame’s star tight end was snubbed this week when he wasn’t named one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and tight ends coach John McNulty were among the Twitter chorus expressing displeasure for Mayer’s exclusion. 

Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer (87) runs for a touchdown during the Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

What better way to respond than with a big performance against a Stanford team that also like to consider itself Tight End U? Mayer needs one more touchdown catch to tie Cole Kmet and Ken MacAfee for Notre Dame’s single-season record for touchdown catches by a tight end (six). Maybe Mayer can even break the record this Saturday. 

Bring your own energy 

Even good Stanford teams struggle to bring a hostile atmosphere to its home stadium. The environment Saturday for a struggling Stanford team might be more similar to a scrimmage than a big-time college football game. In the first five home games this season, Stanford Stadium has hosted an average of 36,507 fans per game. Last week’s reported attendance against rival California, a season-high 49,265, was only slightly larger than the smallest crowd Notre Dame has played in front of this season: 48,584 at Virginia. 

The Irish can’t let their energy match the potentially sleepy atmosphere. With a potential spot in the College Football Playoff still on the line, Notre Dame shouldn’t need an extra motivation from the crowd. 

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.