SOUTH BEND, Ind. — On Saturday, the Stanford Cardinal (2-4, 0-4 Pac-12) broke their 11-game FBS losing skid, scraping by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-3) 16-14. While there were many factors that contributed to Stanford’s unexpected victory in South Bend, Ind., there are three that stand out above the rest.
1. Elite Secondary Play
Coming into the season, many believed Stanford’s secondary would be among the best in the Pac-12. The back end is loaded with seniors and fifth-years, including cornerbacks Ethan Bonner and Kyu Blu Kelly and safetys Patrick Fields and Jonathan McGill.
At the beginning of the year, the unit didn’t play up to their hype, as high powered offenses like USC and Washington picked them apart. However, they played their best game of the season against Notre Dame.
Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne completed under 50% of his passes and threw for just 151 yards. Stanford did a good job of limiting star tight end Michael Mayer’s production. The Cardinal threw all sorts of coverage at Mayer, including zone, man and bracket. In the end, Mayer just had five catches in the game.
Not only did they play well in coverage, but the secondary also made some stops behind the line of scrimmage. In total, they tallied 3.5 tackles for loss. If they can continue to play like this the rest of the season, Stanford has the chance to be competitive in more games than previously expected.
2. Winning the turnover battle
Stanford won the turnover battle 2-0 in this game, which is the first time the team has accomplished that this season. Although junior running back Casey Filkins fumbled the ball two times in this game, the Cardinal were able to jump on it and prevent Notre Dame from getting short fields. The lack of turnovers from the Cardinal likely prevented the Fighting Irish from winning this game, as they just had to score three more points to win. Stanford must continue to win the turnover battle in order to have a chance at winning more games from here on out.
3. Balanced receiving core
Junior quarterback Tanner McKee evenly distributed the ball to his receiving threats on Saturday. Senior Elijah Higgins led the way with 81 yards, while fifth-year Michael Wilson followed with 66 yards. Fifth-year Brycen Tremayne and Filkins weren’t too far behind with 48 and 46 yards, respectively. Coming into the year, Stanford was expected to have a very balanced passing attack. However, each game this season it feels like only one receiver shines while the others falter. In this game though, it seemed as though all the receiving threats were playing sharp, sound football. If the receiving game can continue to improve, it’s possible Stanford can pull off some upsets that didn’t seem possible otherwise.