#8 Notre Dame is looking to close out its season on a high note Saturday night against #21 Stanford. In recent years, what used to be a one-sided rivalry in favor of the Irish has leaned the way of the Cardinal. Stanford has won 6 of the last 8 games in this series. Notre Dame has not won a game at Stanford since 2007.
However, the motivation level may be a bit higher for the Irish in this one. Stanford already has 3 losses, but still can play in the Pac-12 Championship game assuming a Washington win over Washington State. With Bryce Love banged up, some Stanford fans are calling for him to rest and be saved for the more important conference championship game. On the other side, Notre Dame can essentially clinch a New Year’s Six bowl appearance with a victory. While it’s not the same as making the playoffs, winning a NY6 Bowl would give the Irish their first major bowl win since the 1993 season. With that being said, I have never seen a David Shaw coached team lack intensity or toughness. Especially on the road, this will be a stern test for Notre Dame. Let’s take a look at the matchups in this one.
Notre Dame Offense vs. Stanford Defense
After an incredible 710 yard day against Wake Forest, the Notre Dame offense has struggled to regain a rhythm. An 8 point showing against Miami was followed by a lackluster first half against Navy. While it seemed like Brandon Wimbush was improving in the middle part of the season, his performance against Miami certainly damaged his confidence. Additionally, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown could be less than 100% after suffering a head injury last week. Wimbush will have to rely on Kevin Stepherson, who provided two scores in the win over Navy.
On the ground, the Irish will need a strong game from Josh Adams. It’s certainly clear that Adams has been playing through injury at least since the Wake Forest game. However, in his first two years in an Irish uniform Adams saved his best performances for Notre Dame’s west coast finale. If Adams is less than 100%, the Irish will need to supplement the run with Dexter Williams, who should be good to go after off and on injuries. No matter who is carrying the ball, Notre Dame needs to rely on its veteran offensive line to get back to the way they dominated during the Irish’s 7 game win streak earlier in the season.
Stanford’s defense is highlighted by defensive tackle Harrison Phillips. The senior DT leads the Cardinal in sacks, TFL, and is 2nd in total tackles. Despite the presence of Phillips, the Cardinal defense has allowed 4.69 yards per carry on the season. Similarly to Miami, Stanford’s defense relies on forcing turnovers. The Cardinal have forced 21 turnovers, including 14 interceptions. Justin Reid leads the team with 5 INTs on the year. While this defense has played well the last two weeks, it is not at the same level of recent Stanford teams. If Notre Dame can get back to running the ball consistently and avoid turnovers, they should have some success
Edge: Notre Dame
Stanford Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense
Outside of the fantastic play of Bryce Love, the Stanford offense has had its struggles this season. Starting quarterback Keller Chryst provided a minimal threat in the passing game. Recently, Chryst was replaced by sophomore KJ Costello. Costello has proven to be a much more consistent passer than Chryst. Of course, the main concern for Notre Dame will be Bryce Love. Even with a gimpy ankle, the junior running back remains a home run threat. When Love leaves the game, bruising back Cameron Scarlett will enter. Like Notre Dame, the Cardinal will mainly try to move the ball on the ground.
Following the NC State game, it appeared Notre Dame had an elite defense. The next three performances were far from elite. However, the talent is still there for the Irish to shut down a Stanford offense with Bryce Love below 100%. The threat of Love breaking into the secondary will put much of this game into the hands of Notre Dame’s front seven. Jerry Tillery, Jay Hayes, Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Drue Tranquil all must be at their best. In the secondary, recent starter Troy Pride must continue to make progress at the corner spot. At this point, Julian Love has become extremely reliable at the other corner spot and I wouldn’t expect many balls to be thrown his way. Had Notre Dame played Stanford a month ago, I’d expect a defensive domination. However, based on their performance the last three weeks, I have a tough time seeing Notre Dame shutting down any offense.
The Irish had a critical mistake on special teams last week as Chris Finke fumbled a punt leading to a Navy touchdown. Against a team as disciplined as Stanford, the Irish cannot afford a similar mistake. In a rivalry like this one, both Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome will need to be on top of their game. Yoon has been solid, but Newsome has lacked consistency at times. CJ Sanders returned a kickoff against Stanford for a TD in 2015, perhaps he could take back his first of the season Saturday.
For Stanford, kicker Jet Toner has been used often and is an impressive 19/23 on the season. Punter Jake Bailey is averaging a strong 44 yards per boot. Cameron Scarlett is the main kickoff return man for the Cardinal and averages an impressive 25.5 yards per return. Similarly to Notre Dame, the Cardinal haven’t had much success in punt returns.
I was very tempted to pick against Notre Dame in this game. The lack of success at Stanford and the way the Irish have looked the last three weeks does not bode well for Notre Dame. However, I do feel there is much more on the line for the Irish in this one. Plus, with Bryce Love less than 100%, Stanford is just not the same team. I’ll take the Irish in a tight one to clinch a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Notre Dame 27 Stanford 23
Tailgate Song of the Week
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Not only is Christmas right around the corner, but this is the most exciting time in the college football season. Rivalry weekend is filled with incredible games and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some major chaos this weekend.