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Stanford defense vows to toughen up against Notre Dame

(MCT) — Last weekend, victory did not thrill Shayne Skov as much as it festered.

Winning, 54-48, in overtime after giving up 48 points in regulation was like emerging least deformed from an acid spill. So when Stanford coach David Shaw offered Skov a “good game” afterward, the emotive inside linebacker took issue with the “good” part.

“He said, ‘That wasn’t great,’” Shaw recalled in a phone interview. “I said, ‘But what happened at the end on defense?’ He said, ‘We came through at the end.’ I said, ‘That’s right. That has to be one of our hallmarks. When we need our defense, it shows up for us.’”

That defense needs to be much more like itself on the road Saturday against No. 7 Notre Dame (5-0). Maybe the light show against Arizona, which featured a combined 102 points and 617 total yards for each team, turned fans’ heads. It turned Stanford stomachs.

The 17th-ranked Cardinal (4-1) thrive only with an unflagging, gristle-tough, saber-toothed defense. So as another week of preparation began with a team meeting Monday, the satisfaction of a victory was tempered by film of mistakes that produced a simple review: That’s not us.

“We have to learn from our mistakes, because this defense can be very, very good, if not one of the top in the country,” defensive tackle Terrence Stephens said. “If we’re not happy with the standard, we’re going to call it out. And usually nine times out of 10, we’re not going to be satisfied.”

As Stephens made clear: The Arizona game was not up to standard. Stanford hadn’t allowed more than 17 points to any team, and even after Saturday, the Cardinal still boast the nation’s No. 6 run defense (77.2 yards allowed per game) and are tied for fourth with 8.6 tackles-for-loss per game.

“Our defense has been our backbone,” Shaw said. “And we anticipate it still being that way going forward.”

The backbone of the backbone is a snarling linebacker corps even better-stocked than the group that traumatized the Irish last November.

There is Chase Thomas, who now has 231/2 tackles-for-loss between 2011 and 2012. There is 6-foot-6, 251-pound Trent Murphy, who once wrestled an 800-pound cow and lived to say he would do it again. And now there is Skov, who didn’t make the 2011 Notre Dame game after a Week 3 knee injury.

They have allowed 100-yard rushers in consecutive games, they surrendered multiple big plays last weekend, they missed chances for big plays of their own — all Cardinal sins, based on the unit’s core beliefs. So they are surly.

“We put all the pressure on our shoulders to stop the run and get our defense pumped up and get ourselves ready to go on every play,” Thomas said. “Because we can’t be slacking off.”

Stanford has seen and conquered formidable USC, and that is the effort it must replicate to have a chance against a presumably reinvigorated Irish offense. Thomas began that process Saturday night, reviewing the Arizona game film — twice — to seek and destroy the numerous mistakes.

Then it was a Monday reminder to teammates, especially on defense, to remember who they are.

“No one should have to get you fired up this week,” Thomas said. “Big-time rivalry game. We’re going to be fired up and ready to go. We don’t like Notre Dame. So it shouldn’t take much to get us going.”

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