Notre Dame, ranked No. 16, finished the regular season strong with a 45-24 win at Stanford, securing their third straight 10-win season. The Irish had lost five straight games in Palo Alto, including the last-second heartbreak in 2015 which squashed Notre Dame’s chance at the playoff as well as the 18-point loss in 2017 that finished the November in which the Irish quickly fell from No. 3 in the country.
The Stanford team opposite Notre Dame in 2019, however, was a much less daunting opponent than in years past. With a 4-7 record and no wins in November, Stanford entered the matchup with injured offensive linemen, safeties and pride. They would not make a bowl game for the first time since the 2008-09 season. In many ways, the Notre Dame game was their bowl game.
“Obviously we have not won at Stanford in quite some time,” said head coach Brian Kelly before the matchup. “So the focus is playing well on the road against an opponent that certainly has our respect.”
But the first quarter saw a sluggish Notre Dame team. Playing in a near-empty stadium on an uncharacteristically cold, cloudy California day, the Irish took some time to get going. The Stanford offense charged down the field for an opening drive touchdown, as the Notre Dame defense did not force a single third down.
The Irish answered with a touchdown of their own to even the score at 7-7. Senior quarterback Ian Book connected on some chunk plays, including a 20-yard pass to tight end Cole Kmet and a 16-yard touchdown pass to running back Tony Jones Jr. Book finished the day with 255 passing yards and four touchdowns on 17 of 30 passing.
When asked about the early struggles, Kmet said, “Whenever we play Stanford, it’s always kind of like that, trying to get something going. But we obviously wore them down throughout the game.”
Facing a 17-7 deficit in the second quarter, Notre Dame special teams provided a spark that the team desperately needed. On Stanford’s fourth-and-1, freshman defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey blocked the Cardinal punt and the Irish recovered. The play set up first-and-goal for Notre Dame, and soon after Book found tight end Tommy Tremble in the end zone to cut the Stanford lead to three.
“It was definitely a game-changer,” said senior defensive lineman Ade Ogundeji. “Special teams definitely got a spark for us in that first half.”
Following another Stanford punt, the Irish marched 76 yards in just three plays to take a 21-17 lead into halftime. Book connected with senior wide receiver Chase Claypool on a 41-yard touchdown pass — Claypool’s 11th touchdown of the season.
The Notre Dame defense buckled down in the second half, allowing just seven points and forcing four straight Stanford punts in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Book found Claypool in the end zone yet again, as the senior finished with three receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
On a Notre Dame punt late in the third quarter, senior long snapper and Patrick Mannelly award-winner John Shannon recovered a fumble to set up a 42-yard field goal by junior kicker Jonathan Doerer, putting the Irish up 31-17. The play, as well as his performance all season, earned Shannon the game ball.
After a five-yard rushing touchdown from sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy, Notre Dame had a commanding 38-24 lead with just one minute remaining. Stanford head coach David Shaw called multiple timeouts to give his team one last possession. Ogundeji sacked Stanford quarterback Davis Mills and jarred the ball loose. Senior defensive end Khalid Kareem fell on it in the end zone, and the Irish won 45-24.
“It’s a great way to finish November,” Kelly said. “Great to get to that 10-win plateau for the third time, pretty significant.”
The accomplishment marked the first time Notre Dame had such a threeyear stretch since 1991-93 under Lou Holtz. The Irish were also just one of eight teams to do so in 2017-19, along with Alabama, Boise State, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State and UCF.
Following the win, the Irish awaited their postseason fate. According to most college football reporters and experts, their destination was already set: the Camping World Bowl.