SOUTH BEND, Ind.: Some losses are disappointing.
Others are so head-scratching people start asking questions.
On Saturday, the second-year coach and the 17th-ranked Fighting Irish will have a chance to reverse course when they visit the Cardinal for the rematch.
“For many of the guys that were here last year, I understand how disappointing that loss was for them, and there won’t be a lack of motivation this week,” Freeman said.
Stanford (3-8) is rebuilding after longtime head coach David Shaw stepped down after last season. New coach Troy Taylor has endured an up-and-down first season. The Cardinal has struggled on offense, producing a sparse 350.7 yards per game (92nd out of 133 FBS programs), while the defense allows 456.3 yards (130th). Yet it has still managed to beat Colorado and Washington State and stayed close against No. 4 Washington (No. 4 CFP) and No. 16 Arizona (No. 15).
“The one thing I’ll say about Stanford is they play extremely hard in all three phases,” Freeman said. “They play hard. I have a lot of respect for a coach who gets their team to play that hard.”
Notre Dame (8-3, No. 18) has gone 14-4 since losing to Stanford, with all four losses coming against teams that have been ranked among The Associated Press’ top 10 this season.
More importantly, the Irish seem to have solved the problem of losing to inferior opponents. Notre Dame is 5-0 with an average victory margin of 41 points against FBS teams still trying to become eligible for a bowl game.
It may take another shocking performance for the Cardinal to overcome an Irish squad favored by 25 1/2 points, per FanDuel Sportsbook.
But after Stanford built a 10-point halftime lead and hung on to win 16-14 last year, snapping an 11-game losing streak against FBS opponents at Notre Dame Stadium, there is no chance the Irish will overlook their regular-season finale.
“I know a lot of those guys over there, and I know how they’re going to work,” defensive coordinator Al Golden said. “I know the opportunity that presents itself by playing us. We’re on high alert, and we know exactly what we need to do.”
In retrospect, the Irish blamed themselves for what happened — fumbling twice and allowing the Cardinal to sustain long, clock-churning drives — and handing over the crystal cup Legends Trophy for the first time in four matchups. It honors the first meeting between these programs, in the 1925 Rose Bowl.
“There were so many winnable moments,” defensive tackle Rylie Mills said. “You kind of look back, and you’re like, ‘Damn, here, here and here (we) could have won that game.’ ”
This time, Freeman intends to make sure his team is ready to play.
And he will undoubtedly rely on what happened last year to remind his players of how quickly things can go awry.
”The schematic aspect to it won’t matter,” Freeman said. “The motivation to understand how important this game is will matter. I want to make sure they understand it, especially those guys that weren’t here. It’s important. Everybody gets motivation in different ways, but part of our motivation is going to be for the respect of this rivalry.”
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