SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame wants to slug it out with Stanford.
The seventh-ranked Fighting Irish (5-0) were pushed around by the Cardinal (4-1) the past two seasons, and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is challenging his players to go toe-to-toe with No. 17 Stanford today.
“The theme all week has been, we’re going to be in for a physical, hard-nosed, four quarters, of just one of those good old-fashioned backyard brawls. It’s going to be that kind of game,” Kelly said. “We got our guys thinking about that on Monday and kept building through the week. That’s really been the theme this week for our football team.”
Asked about Stanford trying to intimidate opponents, Kelly cut off the questioner.
“They don’t try. They do,” he said.
Notre Dame is off to its best start in a decade, but Stanford has dominated the long-running series of late. The Cardinal have won three straight for their first winning streak against the Irish.
Each school has tough academic standards that can make it harder to recruit top athletes. But it also attracts some players, such as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who considered going to Stanford.
“You want to get the best educational experience, and what better place to do that at than Notre Dame and Stanford?” he said.
Te’o has had two of his best games against Stanford. He had 12 tackles in a 28-14 loss last season and a career-high 21 tackles in the 37-14 loss during his sophomore season.
“I love playing against this type of team,” Te’o said. “It’s just football, and they’re going to keep running, running, running until you stop them.”
One of Te’o’s big responsibilities today will be stopping Stanford tailback Stepfan Taylor, who is 14th in the nation in rushing at 111 yards a game. Overshadowed the past three years by Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart, Taylor is on pace for his third straight 1,000-yard season.
“He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s a powerful runner, and he keeps his legs moving, which makes it hard for opponents to bring him down,” Te’o said.