Bowl-Bound Stanford Looks to Keep Rolling Against Irish

Nov 22, 2001

Stanford, Calif. - Tyrone Willingham's players know a victory overNotre Dame probably won't affect Stanford's bowl destination, no matter howconvincing.

Still, Willingham doesn't have much trouble getting his players motivated toplay the Fighting Irish.

'Everyone recognizes this game for the tradition and the excellence NotreDame symbolizes,' the Stanford coach said. 'The players look forward toworking hard and getting ready for that.'

Although No. 13 Stanford (7-2) has games remaining against the Irish and SanJose State, the Cardinal likely are headed to the Seattle Bowl after finishingno lower than fourth in the Pac-10 Conference.

It's not the high-profile destination the Cardinal desired, but it's betterthan staying home, as Stanford did in three of the past four seasons. Lastfall, a 20-14 loss at Notre Dame contributed to Stanford's 5-6 finish.

Notre Dame (4-5), meanwhile, must finish its season with victories overStanford and Purdue, two bowl-bound teams, to become bowl eligible. It's a tallorder for a team that has struggled through another mediocre season and istrying to avoid its second losing season in three years.

'We look at it as a challenge, but we look at it also as an opportunity,'defensive end Grant Irons said. 'They're two good football teams. We just wantto see where we are as a team.'

Stanford's aggressive passing game will benefit from the return ofquarterback Randy Fasani, while the Cardinal's league-best running game willget a boost from Brian Allen, who injured his ankle in last Saturday's victoryover California but is expected to play.

Notre Dame's defense must make a quick adjustment from facing Navy'swishbone last week to Stanford's versatile attack this week.

'I know for our players, they're glad to be back to seeing some formationsthat they recognize,' Notre Dame coach Bob Davie said. 'I don't think that'sa big problem. The big problem with them is just matching up and being able tohave an answer for all the weapons they have on offense.'

Notre Dame, on the other hand, has the second-worst passing offense in thenation. The Irish will rely on a running game that will pose tough challengesfor an up-and-down Stanford defense more familiar with the passing attacks ofthe Pac-10.

'To stop Notre Dame, you've got to have every guy on defense committed tostopping the run, not just the front seven,' Stanford cornerback RyanFernandez said. 'I know I'll have to make some tackles, and everybody elsewill, too.'

Stanford Stadium has been filled with more fans than normal as the Cardinaljumped into the national rankings, but even Stanford's players expect NotreDame's fans to have a strong presence in the stands in the Stanford seniors'final home game.

With 17 senior starters, the Cardinal should have a remarkable Senior Dayceremony.

'It'll be great, but you always want to leave with a win, or it's not asspecial,' Fernandez said.

By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer

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