Series History (17-9 Notre Dame)
The nation’s eyes will once again be treated to images of Touchdown Jesus and fighting leprechauns as #17 Stanford comes to South Bend to tangle with the #7 Fighting Irish. Stanford won a shootout last week with Arizona 54-48, while Notre Dame drubbed the Hurricanes 41-3 in Chicago last Saturday. The last three match ups in this rivalry resulted in wins for Stanford, but Notre Dame is firing on all cylinders and ready to out muscle the Cardinal and keep their national championship hopes alive. This series has been dominated as of late with Stanford pushing around Notre Dame in the trenches. The Fighting Irish have put together a string of stingy defensive performances with only giving up six or less in the past three games. Here’s what to look for Saturday in South Bend:
When Stanford Has the Ball
Jekyll and Hyde: The offense is riding high after putting up 54 against Arizona last week. QB Josh Nunes passed for 360 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Wildcats. RB Stepfan Taylor provided balance in the offense by rushing for 142 yards and two scores for the Cardinal ground game. Stanford will continue to take a balanced approach into Saturday, but the offense will live and die with which Josh Nunes shows up, the one who was brilliant against Arizona, or the one who looked like he was over-matched against Washington on the road? Notre Dame’s defense will be blitz heavy, so it will be up to Nunes to find his tight ends and make precision throws into coverage. The offense will try to establish the run game early, in order to open up some play action opportunities against the stingy Irish D.
When Notre Dame is on Defense
Gold Standard: 3, 6, 3. That’s the amount of points the Notre Dame defense has given up in their past three games. In the long football history of the school, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better three game stretch than what the 2012 Fighting Irish defense has accomplished. The key for the defense will be pressure early against the QB. Nunes looked rattled in Seattle against Washington, and getting an early turnover would undoubtedly shake Stanford’s confidence to put points up. The Irish defensive live has to contain the Cardinal running game in order for the linebackers to drop into pass coverage, which will help the inexperienced Irish secondary break up the middle passing routes the Cardinal TE’s live and feast on.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball
Fundamentals: The 41 points that Notre Dame’s offense put up against Miami last week was impressive, but not a bellwether signal that the Irish have all their ducks in a row on the offensive side of the ball. Aside from Navy and Miami, the Irish have yet to put up three touchdowns on the scoreboard in 2012. Sophomore QB Everett Golson showed consistency out of the shotgun formation last week, and the ground game churned out 376 yards. While the stats from the Miami game are impressive, this isn’t the Miami defense the Irish offense will be encountering Saturday. The Notre Dame offensive line has been manhandled by Stanford in the past three match-ups, and Notre Dame will probably use Golson in the shotgun formation for the majority of the snaps. I’d look for Notre Dame to use screen plays to combat the blitz and boost Golson’s confidence in case the offense needs to open up later on in the game. The Irish OL and WR’s have to hit their blocks when the Irish decide to run a pitch to a RB or TE out of the shotgun. This play was really effective versus Miami and I’d look for the Irish to use it often in the first half against Stanford. It’s imperative for Golson to audible out to a draw or a pass if it looks like the linebackers are expecting the pitch to the right or left side.
When Stanford is on Defense
Short Memory: After last weeks poor perfomance against Arizona, the Stanford defense needs to regroup quickly against a talented Notre Dame offense. Arizona exposed Stanford’s weakness against the spread offense, the same type of offense the Cardinal will be matched up against in South Bend. Linebacker Chase Thomas has been a beast, and had a key interception in overtime against Arizona. Look for Stanford to use the 3-4 allignment, and have a LB as a spy for Golson. I expect them to negate the Irish running game, but could be susceptible to the big play on a quick dump or screen pass if the linebackers are all out blitzing. The defense has shown the ability to get into the backfield, and hurrying Golson could result in a quick interception for the Cardinal secondary.
Laying the Wood (Facts that will knock you off your feat)
- Notre Dame has yet to have trailed in a football game this year.
- Stanford has won the past three meetings against Notre Dame.
- Notre Dame’s defense has not allowed a touchdown in three straight games.
- The Stanford defense gave up 400 yards last week, the most since 2009.
- The Notre Dame-Stanford game alternates with Notre Dame hosting during even numbered years and Stanford hosting during odd numbered years.
- The winner of the game gets the Legends Trophy. It is presented by the Notre Dame Club of San Francisco.
The Football Mentalist Predicts
Overall, I don’t think Notre Dame’s offense is as good as it looked against Miami. I don’t think Stanford’s defense is as bad as it looked against Arizona. The teams match up pretty evenly, but I think Notre Dame might be a little overconfident after last week against Miami. Upset special.
Stanford 23 Notre Dame 14
Josh Adams is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him @Joshthescribe.