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Irish look to stretch winning streak to four games

Notre Dame won its third straight game last week to go to 3-2 on the season and in the process were able to beat a ranked team for the first time this season.

The offense continued to show improvement, especially the offensive line and Quarterback Drew Pyne. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees allowed him to throw the ball more and and the ND receivers ran some deeper pass routes. As I mentioned last week, Rees has gotten tight end Michael Mayer more chances to get the ball. It showed last week as Mayer set a new ND record as he caught the 141st pass of his career during the game - the most by a ND tight end in the history of the program. Mayer - when he is done his career, and many think this is last season despite being a junior - will be on top of a list that contains some pretty good Irish tight ends over the years.

Mayer finished with 11 catches - a record for a tight end in one game - for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the Fighting Irish in all major receiving categories with 33 receptions, 351 yards and five touchdown catches this season.

The Irish are getting better on offense and while the defense still has a lot of problems to solve, it’s hanging in and last week came up with the plays it needed to make near the end of game to preserve the victory.

The 28-20 win over BYU wasn’t really that close. ND was in control most of the second half but again got too relaxed in the fourth quarter and allowed the Cougars to stay within striking distance. That is one thing the Irish defense has to learn. They have struggled to finish off an opponent and have allowed them to “hang close.”

The win also preserved ND’s unbeaten string in the 11 Shamrock Series games played to date. The game was a sellout in Las Vegas. Head coach Marcus Freeman called the Irish support at the game, “unbelievable.” He added, ‘The amount of fans, the noise. This truly felt like a home game.”

More on the game later.

Tonight, ND faces a Stanford team that is struggling but has a solid base. The Cardinal bring a 1-4 record into the game with losses to USC, 41-28; Washington, 40-22; Oregon, 45-27; and Oregon State, 28-27 (on a last second score by Oregon State). The lone win has been the season opener against Colgate, 41-10.

Although the Irish will be heavy favorites tonight because of Stanford’s record and it is a home game for ND, the Cardinal will be a challenge for the Irish defense.

Despite the four losses, the Cardinal passing game is one of the best the Irish will see this season. QB Tanner McKee leads the attack with 98 completes in 154 attempts with five interceptions and 10 TDs. Top receiver is Michael Wilson with 17 catches for 352 yards and four TDs. The rushing attack is led by Casey Filkin with 356 yards on 82 carries and three scores.

ND leads the series, 21-13, and had won the last three. The game will be televised nationally by NBC-TV with a 7:30 p.m. airtime and a 7:40 p.m. kickoff.

IRISH NOTES ... Audric Estime led the Irish running attack again last week with 97 yards on 14 carries. Logan Diggs added 93 yards on 17 carries and Chris Tyree 42 yards on 11 carries. Pyne had 22 completions on 28 attempts for 262 yards with one interception and three touchdowns. The interception was his first as a starter. Backing up Mayer in the receiving corps was Jayden Thomas with 74 yards on three catches and Lorenzo Styles with 39 yards on three catches ... Punter Jon Sot had a average of 56.5 yards on his two kicks. Blake Grupe was 2-for-2 on field goals, the longest 26 yards ... Defensively, Brandon Joseph had six tackles followed by Justin Ademilola and JD Bertrand, five each and Jack Kiser four. Tariq Bracy had one interception ... Speaking of Bracy, he sustained a right hamstring injury in the closing minutes of the BYU game. He is listed as doubtful for tonight. He is a key loss for the Irish as they face that potent Stanford passing attack ... Stanford’s McKee is ranked second nationally in deep-passing efficiency according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-6 McKee has gone 11 of 18 for six touchdowns and no interceptions on passes that traveled 20 yards or more down field ... Junior defensive tackle Howard Cross III is expected to play this week after missing the BYU game with a high ankle sprain. Cross is tied for second on the team with 23 tackles ... The ND’s secondary has allowed too many long completions this season, something that has to be fixed, and quickly ... Starting middle linebacker Bo Bauer suffered a knee injury during practice this week and is lost for the season. Prince Kollie and Junior Tuihalamaka will alternate and fill in for him. Kollie had his best game last week and appears ready to have his role expanded .... Stanford’s problems have been on the defensive side. The Cardinal have a tough time stopping the run game, giving up over 200 rushing yards per game at an average of 5.6 yards per carry. On the ND side, the Irish have rushed for more than 500 total yards over the last two games ... A key tonight will be ND’s ability to run the ball and get points on their possessions. Running the ball has been a big plus in the three wins so far this season and ND should be able to keep it going against the undersized Cardinal front. Of course, if ND keeps the ball for long periods behind its running game, it keeps the ball out of the hands of McKee and also wears down the Stanford defense. ... ND is a 15+ point favorite but I don’t think that is the case. In my preseason picks I have the Irish winning tonight and I will stay with it. But I’m concerned with the Cardinal deep passing attack and ND’s ability to defend it.