"We are facing an outstanding football team in a great stadium," head coach Walt Harris said at his Tuesday press conference. "This is a game you will probably never forget when you get to play there. "I'm sure this game will be a sellout. Coach [Charlie] Weis has got his team rolling; they are an outstanding team. Brady Quinn is playing extremely well and coming through his senior year. [Rhema] McKnight has done a really nice job. On defense, I'm impressed with how well they run and the speed of their corners. It will be a big challenge for us, but we're not really concerned about Notre Dame - that can't be our focus. Our focus has to be on ourselves and doing the things that we do and are asked to do."
Where does Harris start? On defense, they are the third worst in the nation, surrendering 458 yards a game. If that wasn't bad enough, Stanford has incredibly allowed teams to convert 39-of-65 third down conversions. This totals up to a mind-boggling 60 percent, dead last in the country. That percent is so bad that the second to last team in third down conversion defense, North Carolina, is eight percentage points better than the Cardinal.
Stanford does have one piece of motivation: last November's thrilling contest with Notre Dame. In the game, the Cardinal scored a touchdown with 1:46 remaining to give themselves a 31-30 advantage. But Quinn and the Irish marched right down the field and took the lead when Darius Walker ran it in from six yards out and then scored the two-point conversion on a direct snap. Final score: Notre Dame 38 Stanford 31. The upset bid had ended. Less than a year later, the same situation remains with the Cardinal in the role of the huge underdog.
"That shows us that we can play with those guys," offensive lineman Josiah Vinson said about last year's contest. "Coach [Tom] Freeman told us we're not playing the Four Horseman and we're not playing Joe Montana. We're playing this team who we have played with before and were ahead with a minute and a half to go last year. Sure, on one hand that's encouraging, but on the other hand, it's a new year and there are no guarantees in football. We have to prepare and bring everything we have."
The Cardinal have been hit hard with injuries, especially on offense. Stanford had 10 returning starters coming back on that side of the ball. But seven of these 10 have missed time because of injuries. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said at his Tuesday press conference that when this happens, the offense lacks continuity, a key for any team. The Cardinal have had three freshmen see extensive minutes on offense. It's been tough going for the players.
"It's been a big adjustment period," Vinson said. "We have guys that I'm sure have been preparing to play but everyone else didn't expect them to play that much, and now they're playing key roles. But we're not making excuses for that because we are who we are. We are the Stanford football team and we just play. We don't make excuses for who we've lost. We just play with who we have."
"In an ideal world, we would like to have veteran players to be the starters and the freshmen to be the backups," Harris said. "As the freshmen talent and execution grows, the emphasis on execution becomes greater through more practice time. Unfortunately, with our situation, they don't have to get much practice time in order to get playing time right now. In general, we are inexperienced and there are some areas where we have to get better at: bigger, stronger, more athletic."
A win on Saturday could erase a lot of early pain for Stanford. It could erase the 35-34 defeat to San Jose State. It might make the Cardinal forget about the 37-7 pounding that a visiting Navy team gave them in Palo Alto. A victory on the road to a team like Notre Dame in their house could give this team the boost they need to pick up the pieces from an early disastrous part of the year.
"I feel like it is real exciting, but more than that, I feel like we are looking to go there to make a statement that we are a good team to be reckoned with," linebacker Clinton Snyder said. "That is more important to us right now than anything else."