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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Opponent Preview | Stanford

June 28, 2024

Head coach Troy Taylor went 3-9 in his first season at Stanford. One of those losses was to his former program, Sacramento State.

It had to be a tough pill to swallow when he had gone 30-8 at Sacramento State before taking the Stanford job. That’s the reality of the situation he inherited, though.

Taylor deserves credit for even winning three games. To say that David Shaw left the cupboard bare is an understatement. The Cardinal were young at just about every position and their only NFL Draft pick was kicker Joshua Karty.

Stanford fans, all 37 of them, should have some hope after seeing the job Taylor did, though. He finally brought their offense into the modern era and his success at previous stops suggests they’ll be very good on that side of the ball once they are able to recruit and develop the right pieces.

That’s probably not happening this season, but with most of their roster returning, they should be improved on that side of the ball. They are bringing almost everyone back on defense as well, but that’s a steeper hill to climb. They finished 117th in DF+ and 132nd in points per drive.

Taylor has to deal with a tough schedule in a new conference. They travel to play Syracuse, Clemson, and NC State in addition to Notre Dame. Although they will be better in year two, it might not be good enough to make the jump from three wins to a bowl game because of the schedule.

However, everyone should expect them to be frisky like they were at the start of their matchup with the Irish last season. Taylor has them moving in the right direction, but this isn’t a place where they can plug in a ton of transfers to speed up the rebuild.

Post-Spring SP+ Ranking

They are 84th in the post-spring SP+ projections. They are 71st on offense, 94th on defense, and 36th on special teams.

Key losses

I mentioned Karty being drafted and normally a kicker isn’t going to get listed in this category. He was one of the best in college football, though. The one thing they could count on over the last few miserable seasons was him.

TE Benjamin Yurosek (Georgia) missed the back half of the season with an injury and decided to move on to another program rather than leave for the NFL. He would have been the closest thing to a sure-thing as an NFL Draft pick on their roster.

S Alaka’i Gilman has moved on to Utah. Alohi’s younger brother was their best safety last season.

Edge Lance Keeley (Arizona) played 455 snaps as a starting edge for them in 2023.

RB EJ Smith (Texas A&M) is a talent who could have thrived if there was a better offensive line to run behind.

Key additions

DL Clay Patterson was briefly at UNLV, but decided to transfer after the spring to Stanford. He was All-Ivy League at Yale last season and was a third team FCS All-American in 2021 when he racked up 11.5 sacks.

Jaivion Green was a backup corner at Washington the last two years, but is moving to safety at Stanford. He should compete for playing time this fall.

LB Jahsiah Galvin led FCS Northern Iowa in tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2023. He’s expected to be in the two-deep and possibly beat out the returning starters at linebacker.

Early enrollees are fairly new at Stanford, but they had a handful of them this year. The one who arrived with the greatest expectations was QB Elijah Brown, a 4-star prospect out of Mater Dei. It already looks like he could be the backup this season and if they aren’t liking what they see from the returning quarterbacks, he could be the starter by the time they visit South Bend.

WR Emmett Mosley made plays this spring as an early enrollee and was already repping with the ones. The Notre Dame legacy will be a contributor for them.

Top returners and returning production

They are second in returning production (4th on offense and 9th on defense).

The Action Network created a metric called Transfer Activity and Returning Production (TARP). That metric puts extra weight on experience and gives extra credit to fifth and sixth year seniors on a roster. They have Stanford 35th in TARP on offense because most of the players returning are still very young.

The top returning player on either side of the ball is WR Elic Ayomanor. He had 1,022 yards receiving and most of those were piled up in the second half of the season. He brought in 14 contested catches and had a phenomenal performance in Stanford’s win against Colorado. He finished with 294 yards and a good chunk of those were when he was matched up with Travis Hunter (two TDs against him).

Ayomanor was much quieter against Benjamin Morrison and Notre Dame, but he just might be the best receiver the Irish face this fall. He missed the entire spring with an injury, which is something to monitor. He suffered a knee injury in 2022 that made him miss the season.

WR Tiger Bachmeier went for 36 for 409 as a true freshman. He had flashes of explosive ability.

TE Sam Roush (28 catches) stepped up when Yurosek went down. He looks like another future NFL tight end for the Cardinal.

QB Ashton Daniels was hot and cold to say the least. He threw 11 touchdowns against eight interceptions, but four of those touchdowns came against Colorado when Ayomanor was playing like a video game character with a super boost.

Daniels is a good athlete who can move the chains as a runner and showed some promise, but he struggled with some decision-making on straight drop backs (seven interceptions) and forced the ball into tight coverage often.

QB Justin Lamson was a change of pace running threat who completed only 43.2% of his passes. He led them in rushing (334), but it will be interesting to see what Taylor does at quarterback this fall with the addition of Brown to the mix.

Former Notre Dame commit RB Sedrick Irvin averaged 4.35 yards per carry in limited action as a freshman, but is the projected starter for them as a sophomore. He’s small, but has some juice if he gets space.

C Levi Rogers is the best offensive lineman on the team and the only one who would be considered above average heading into the season. They have more experience returning, but they weren’t very good.

LB Tristan Sinclair was hit and miss for them. His 71 tackles were second on the team and he was a tone-setter with his physical play, but he had the third worst PFF grade out of any Power 5 starting linebacker with only five total havoc plays.

LB Gaethan Bernadel led the team in tackles after transferring from Florida International. He also only had five havoc plays, but did provide some pass rush as a frequent blitzer.

Edge Tevarua Tafiti had 6.5 havoc and is a promising talent as pass rusher.

Edge David Bailey should have been the obvious choice as the top returning player on defense. He made Bruce Feldman’s Freaks List after a very good freshman season, but followed it up with an underwhelming 2023. Though his five sacks led the team, three of the game came in week one against Hawaii. He had eight pressures that day as well, but only amassed 16 the rest of the season with him losing his starting job.

They desperately need someone like him to be who everyone thought he’d be. He could be in line for a bounce back. He had two sacks in their spring showcase.

S Scotty Edwards was solid for them and had two interceptions. Him and CB Collin Wright at least give them some stability in the secondary. Wright ended up being their best defender and was the only player on the team with double digit havoc plays (11).

Three big questions

Can they find playmakers on defense?

They were 133rd in Havoc rate, dead last in the country. They were also 128th in PFF coverage grades. The talent simply wasn’t good enough to compete at a high level, which is why there can’t be too much celebration with so many players returning.

Defensive coordinator Bobby April had success developing edge rushers at Wisconsin and he’ll need to get more from Tafiti and Bailey this season. If either of those two don’t make a leap this fall, it’s uncertain who can provide playmaking for them.

Can they block anyone up front?

They did a very poor job of it last season. It’s hard to blame them because they had four offensive lineman leave who would have started. That forced a bunch of players to play who either weren’t good enough or who weren’t ready to start yet.

They finished 117th in havoc rate against, 111th in run block grade, and 120th in pass block grade. Daniels was pressured on 44.6% of drop backs.

Being better up front would completely change what they can accomplish on offense, but it can be a long road to go from bad to average.

Will experience translate to better play?

They’ll be better by default because of that experience. Just about everyone is back, but I’m not sure it matters if the players simply aren’t good enough.

Over 10 NFL Drafts from 2012-2021, Stanford averaged 2.2 players per year who were selected in the first three rounds. In the last three years they’ve had one player selected in those rounds and they don’t have anyone projected there next spring.

Talent is still a problem for them and that limits how high the ceiling can be this season.

How they’ve recruited

They only signed 14 blue-chips in the last four recruiting cycles. That's a massive drop from when they signed 33 in the 2017-2020 recruiting cycles. That’s not even getting into the lower ranked gems they always seemed to identify and develop, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

Seven of the 14 are from the 2022 class and that includes Bailey, Roush, and Tafiti. That’s partly why those players are so crucial to Stanford being better this season. They need those guys to hit because there are some other former blue-chips on the roster who couldn’t even earn snaps on a very bad team last season.

Stanford will have a difficult time getting back to being a program that routinely competed for conference championships because of the changes in college football. They can still be a lot better than they are now and should continue to build up the roster as long as Taylor sticks around.

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