The 25th-ranked Irish (8-3) head into Saturday’s game at No. 8 Stanford (9-2) as two-touchdown underdogs. Kelly said he believes the Irish have a chance if they have a turnover or less, an effective running game, can eliminate big plays and hold the Cardinal to no more than 20 points.
It’s a stout task: Stanford is third in the nation against the run, giving up just 89.5 yards a game, and averages 33.4 points a game. The Cardinal also have won 15 straight at home, the second-longest streak in the nation, outrushing opponents 1,268 yards to 433 yards at home so far this season.
Last season, the Irish outrushed the Cardinal 150 yards to 147 yards, the first time since 2006 they had the rushing advantage in the annual game. The last Irish running back to score a rushing touchdown against the Cardinal was Armando Allen in 2008. The only other rushing touchdown came in 2011, when backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix ran in for a touchdown with 23 seconds left.
Kelly believes the Irish showed a toughness in last week’s 23-13 win over BYU that should help them this week.
“We need to continue to build on that and develop that, and that’s the way we’ve got to play this game of football,” Kelly said Tuesday.
The Irish will be trying to do it with injury-depleted lines. Center Matt Hegarty will make his first start of his career. He replaces Nick Martin, who is out for the season after tearing his medial collateral ligament against BYU. The Irish earlier had to move freshman Steve Elmer to right guard after losing Christian Lombard to a season-ending back injury last month. Left guard Chris Watt is playing with a posterior cruciate ligament tear.
On defense, the Irish had to depend heavily last week on Jarron Jones at nose guard even though he had been demoted to scout team last month. The Irish have been dealing with injuries all season along the defensive line.
Kelly said he’s not worried about the Irish front lines tiring against Stanford, a team known for grinding down teams.
“I think we have trained ourselves year round to get to this point, where even though we may be thin in some areas, we play a lot of players,” he said. “We’ll move them in and out. We did on Saturday. You saw our units moving players in and out and so I’m not concerned about wearing out.”
Notre Dame’s last win against a top 10 opponent came last year, when the fifth-ranked Irish won at No. 8 Oklahoma 30-13. Earlier last season they won at No. 10 Michigan State 20-3. Before that, the Irish had lost nine straight games to top 10 teams, including a 28-14 loss to No. 4 Stanford in 2011.
Stanford has won three of the last four and Kelly described it as “a great rivalry.”
“Both teams want to be the smartest, toughest football teams in the country. Stanford right now is ranked eighth in the country. We are ranked 25th,” he said. “We get a chance to decide it on the football field and so last year we were able to get Stanford. Now we’ve got a chance to settle it again on Saturday.”