Written By: Nick Shepkowski
Coming off an impressive second half showing against Purdue which made the Irish 3-1 on the young season, Notre Dame welcomes the Stanford Cardinal to South Bend this Saturday afternoon. Coming one week before the Irish visit Chapel Hill, and likely their toughest opponent before USC, this turns into an immediate trap game for the Irish in my eyes. So, what does Notre Dame have to do on Saturday to be ensure a 4-1 record when they travel to North Carolina next week?
In order to win Saturday the Irish will have to slow down the Cardinal running game, something Notre Dame failed to do in their only loss of the season at Michigan State. Stanford is just as much run-dominated as MSU, but the Cardinal lack the talent MSU offered. Toby Gerhart will get the bulk of the carries for the Cardinal as he enters this weekend with 74 carries for 421 yards this season, an average of 5.7 per. Stanford will also look to Anthony Kimble who enters with 248 rush yards on the season and an average of 5.3 yards per rush. Simply put, Stanford is going to try and use the run to beat Notre Dame and keep the game as low scoring as possible. It will be up to the defense to be able to answer the call and stop Stanford. Force them into third and longs, obvious passing downs because:
Led by quarterback Tavita Pritchard (61/108 for 691 yds, 4 TD, 4 INT) do not expect to see the Cardinal relying on their passing game to win the game. Pritchard is an average college quarterback at best and will cough the ball up under pressure, so I would like to see a score or two set up by way of the interception on Saturday for Notre Dame. Get to Pritchard and make him make a mistake or two, its bound to happen...again.
The wideouts Stanford brings to South Bend are not quite as talented as the grouping we saw a week ago from Purdue, but they bring more depth at the position. Ryan Whalen is the go-to receiver, but four other receivers (Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Tony Gerhart, and Austin Gunder) all have eight or more receptions. These wideouts will leave a mark if not taken seriously, but are a very average group that the secondary should be plenty-able to handle.
On offense we will likely see Notre Dame attempt to run the ball as they try to find the same success they had in the second half of the Purdue game. Armando Allen enters the weekend as the number one tailback after his coming out party last weekend. Let's hope this wasn't a one time thing for 2008 and that Allen can begin to be counted on to pick up yards. A week ago he wasn't trying to be fancy, just using his speed and outrunning defenders. Depending on whether or not the offensive line shows up to play the same way, Allen and company may be in for another big day on the ground, Stanford has allowed over 3.5 yards per rush three separate times already this year, going 1-2 in those games. As usual, Robert Hughes and James Aldridge should also see carries.
What about the passing game of Notre Dame - how will it effect the outcome of Saturday's game? Any time you have playmakers left and right like Notre Dame has in Tate, Floyd, and Kamara, expect them to be a major part in the contest. Arizona State was able to pass the ball all over the field against Stanford and won going away. This week we will use the run to set up the pass and see close to the same results, I have to figure. Stanford does not offer the same kind of athletes that Notre Dame does in the position matchup here and, if given time, Jimmy Clausen could be in for another big afternoon.
Notre Dame enters this weekend with the best kick coverage in the nation, in large part because of the play of everyone's favorite grinder, Mike Anello. Sadly, the field goal unit is amongst the worst statistically. The good news is that Brandon Walker made a field goal to put the Irish up by three possessions last week. Let's hope that helps his confidence and carries over to this week. Aaron Zagory enters Saturday as a true weapon on special teams for Stanford as he has been good on 6 of 7 field goals this season. Give the edge to Stanford there.
In order to win Notre Dame can't get caught looking ahead to North Carolina next weekend and I am scared to death of this occurring. If the Irish are able to not entirely stop, but simply contain the running game of Stanford, it should be a runaway. If not, the Irish may be in for a scare.
I expect to see Notre Dame struggle defensively in much of the first half before they find success in slowing down Stanford. However, I do not see any way that Stanford slows down Notre Dame enough to win it at the end.
Nick (4-0) Says: Notre Dame 39 Stanford 27
Mark "Freshly-50" (4-0) Says: Notre Dame 42 Stanford 24
Sidenote: Anyone else want to see David Grimes catch a touchdown pass to make up for last year's BS that occurred out west?