In his seven years at the helm of the Stanford program, David Shaw has a 4-2 record against Notre Dame. That includes a perfect 3-0 mark in Palo Alto, highlighted by a thrilling 38-36 victory that came down to the final play in 2015.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” Shaw said on Tuesday. “It was like a dramatic experience. … It was a back-and-forth game. Both quarterbacks were outstanding, both running games were outstanding and made some big plays. Both defenses stepped up and made some huge plays.
“It was one of those games where the last team with the ball was going to have a chance to win. … It was a great college football game.”
The last seven games in the rivalry have been decided by an average of just less than a touchdown, with an average score of 24.5-17.8.
Even though the programs are rivals, Shaw appreciates the respect both teams have shown each other after going to battle.
“They’ve been tight games, they’ve been hard-fought games,” Shaw stated. “They’ve been hotly contested games both during and after the games sometimes. But they’ve been physical.
“What I appreciate, too, is they’ve also been unbelievably respectful. There’s a lot of respect earned on both sides. … There’s a lot of handshaking after the game because both teams go out there and spill their guts to try and win.”
Heading into this year’s matchup, Shaw sees a “completely different” Irish defensive unit.
“They’re still very physical,” he explained. “They believe in knocking you back. They believe in coming off the ball and penetrating. They are very versatile with their blitz packages, they run into things really late.
“They try not to show you what they're doing, but everybody is a viable blitzer. The corner’s a viable blitzer, both safeties, the linebacker walks all the way out on the slot and before the snap he comes in full speed. So now not only is everyone a blitzer, everybody’s also a viable dropper. … They do a good job of mixing and matching to keep you off balance.
“Up front defensively, it’s hard to win the line of scrimmage as we try to do most games. This one is going to be hotly contested. The guys win the line of scrimmage most games. Secondary-wise they are very sound. They don’t give up a lot of big plays. Everybody on their defense is a physical tackler as you would expect from a Brian Kelly team.”
Shaw will see a familiar face at quarterback Saturday night in Notre Dame junior Brandon Wimbush, who the Cardinal tried to recruit.
“He’s dynamic with the ball in his hands,” Shaw said. “… He can throw the ball. He can throw the ball well. He’s not the biggest guy, so sometimes he pushes and finds windows to throw the ball.
“But if you don’t keep him contained in the pocket he can hurt in you with his legs … He presents that run-pass option that you have to be cautious of.”
Like Stanford, Notre Dame rides a strong rushing attack led by a Heisman candidate. The Cardinal were introduced to Josh Adams in 2015 during his freshman season when he rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
“He ripped off one that was like 60 yards,” Shaw recalled. “It was absolutely beautiful. Big, physical guy and runs through contact. He’s gotten banged up here and there.
“Fortunately for him and unfortunately for us, he’s healthy now. He’s one of those guys in the backfield that can break a run at any time.”
Per Shaw, Notre Dame complements Wimbush and Adams with additional playmakers.
“Not to mention, they have guys on the outside,” Shaw said. “Equanimeous St. Brown is a size and speed mismatch on the outside. Combine that with their tight ends, so it’s a great combination of scheme and athletes that present issues in all phases.”
On Saturday, Notre Dame will look for its first win on the road against Stanford since 2007 and its second 10-win season in three years.