Notre Dame is playing some of its best football of the season, coming off four straight victories including three in a row by at least 31 points. That hot stretch has propelled the Irish to a 9-2 record and a chance to reach double-digit victories for the third straight season with a win in the season finale against a struggling Stanford team.
The Cardinal are in the midst of the worst season in the consistently excellent tenure of David Shaw and will not be going to a bowl game for the first time since 2008. After losing to rival Cal on Saturday, Stanford enters its final game of the season 4-7 and without much to play for other than pride. Still, the Irish have struggled in recent years when playing at Stanford. They haven't won there since 2007 and coach Brian Kelly has never won in Palo Alto. The last time these teams met at Stanford, the Cardinal ran away from another 9-2 Irish team, winning 38-20. A victory this week would give Notre Dame an outside chance at landing a New Year's Six bowl bid if all the other chips fall correctly, though even with a win such a bid is a longshot based on the latest CFP rankings.
"(It's) a game that obviously we have not won at Stanford in quite some time," Kelly said of the matchup at his press conference today. "So the focus is on playing well on the road against an opponent that certainly has our respect. As I mentioned, they have beaten us at Stanford Stadium and certainly have beaten us (in South Bend). So our guys will have to play well."
Here are some more highlights from Kelly's press conference this afternoon, his last regular Monday presser of the season.
On the development of backup quarterback Phil Jurkovec and third-stringer Brendon Clark:
"They're here every step of the way with meetings and the ups and downs. So they're pretty sharp and astute. They see the scrutiny of the position and understand how important it is to be prepared and be ready.
"There's great conversation that happens in those (position) meetings that require you to stay on top of things, so when we're evaluating film in practice, (quarterbacks) Coach (Tommy) Rees is really holding Ian (Book) and Phil to a high level. So Brendon understands that you can't just come in here and just throw your way to the starting position. There's a lot of work that has to go into preparing.
"I think Brendon minimally walks away going, 'Wow, there's a lot to this.' There's a lot of preparation that goes into being the starting quarterback as well as all the expectations. So I think they leave this first year, and Phil does in particular, one step away from being a starter, knowing how much preparation goes into being the starting quarterback."
On the progress of Chase Claypool in his four years at Notre Dame:
"There were some growing pains along the way. I give him credit and his mom credit. Growing up he's had to overcome a lot of adversity as a young man. And I think that he's a strong young man in a sense that the adversity that he's had here, I think he's been able to fight through those things because of what he's had to experience growing up as well.
"We all have our stories. I think Chase's story will be one where he got knocked down a couple times and he got back up and he kept fighting. And that's what I like about him. He has had every opportunity to go in another direction and he has chosen the path that is going to make him successful. And that's a great story."
On Notre Dame trying to limit false starts on offense:
"The false starts are staying locked in, staying focused. The week before (Boston College) against Navy, we had a defense that was moving on every snap. We didn't have any false-start penalties.
"So (the offensive line is) a group that just has to stay locked in on every play. And sometimes we're thinking about too many things instead of staying on what's important. And we sometimes get away from staying on what's important.
"Occasionally you'll hear some ambient noise of a move call or things of that nature. But we duplicate that in practice as well. So I just think it's, get comfortable, be in the right emotional optimal zone. And those (other noises) really should be secondary."
On the biggest area of improvement for the Irish this season:
"I think consistency in execution. And we had a lot of younger players that really are just younger in terms of developing in their particular positions, whether it be (Jeremiah) Owusu (Koramoah) at rover or Drew White or any of the offensive line from Eichenberg to Jared Patterson. Those guys obviously have developed.
"So there's been development across the board in every position. But I think as a unit, as a whole, on both sides of the ball, including special teams, just the way that they have gone from practice to a practice mindset to a game mindset in the sense that getting ready for games is a whole lot different.
"You have to play physical. You have to play fast. There has to be a discipline. It's so much different than practice. And they really understand how to do that now. And that takes time."
On what winning 10 games three seasons in a row would mean for the program:
"I think that's what everybody's trying to build, a consistency within their program that where's the bar, where do you set the bar relative to expectations and what are your standards?
"Clearly we don't play in a conference. So we set high standards for the kind of play that we want from our football team each and every year. And we don't put a number on it. We simply say that we want to graduate champions. And we want champion performances from our football team in our program each and every year.
"What that looks like sometimes we don't have control over that. We don't have any control what bowl game we go to per se. We don't have control over who the top four teams would be even if we felt like we had a championship football team. So, it's building a standard and what that expectation should look like in terms of how your team plays week in, week out."
On his schedule for the week after the matchup with Stanford:
"The coaches will be recruiting for the week. We'll get back in on Friday. And I'll do some meetings on Friday with players and staff on Friday and Saturday. We will then prepare for what our schedule then starts to look like (for the bowl games). (Strength) Coach (Matt) Balis will lift with the team and have them in the weight room next week."
"(For recruiting) I'll actually travel further west (Note: Kelly likely means Hawaii) and then come back and kind of keep checkerboarding as I work my way back to South Bend."
On his favorite Thanksgiving side dish:
"I'd say for me it would be, I'd have to go with it's a toss-up. I'm going to go with squash."
- Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: The interior defensive lineman has a soft tissue injury in his leg that he suffered against Boston College. He did not return to the game after the injury and had an MRI on Sunday, though the problem is not believed to be serious. He is questionable to play against Stanford.
- Tommy Kraemer: The right guard was originally projected to miss 4-6 weeks after spraining his MCL against Michigan. Monday, Kelly announced that Kraemer will miss the rest of the season and the Irish are hopeful he can return to the team at full strength for spring practice.
- Jayson Ademilola: The sophomore defensive lineman, who has 24 tackles including four for loss this season, missed the game against Boston College with a sprained ankle, but Kelly said he should be ready to go against Stanford.
- Javon McKinley: The redshirt junior receiver has missed the last two games with a foot sprain sustained against Duke. Kelly said McKinley felt good the week before the Boston College game, but wasn't "explosive." The Irish will re-evaluate him this week, but it seems like he won't be 100% against Stanford even if he does play.
- In addition to Kraemer, right tackle Robert Hainsey, defensive ends Julian Okwara and Daelin Hayes, linebacker Jack Lamb and special teams standout Shayne Simon are all out for the season.
- Kevin Austin: The sophomore wide receiver is suspended this season and has been playing on the scout team. Claypool mentioned him as a potential successor at the No. 1 receiver spot and Kelly said Sunday that Austin has been "outstanding" in practice this year, meeting all the challenges the Irish have set for him.