Notre Dame Versus Stanford: Preview and Analysis
Luckily neither university pays attention to the voice of ESPN pundit Collin Cowherd. If they did today, the Irish may as well remain in South Bend after the often critical of the Irish host suggested Stanford was going to whitewash the Golden Domers by as much as 2 touchdowns plus or more.
Alot is at stake for both teams heading into Saturday.
For the Irish, a 9-3 season would suffice after the way the season started and went south with injuries at the midway point.
Stanford seeks to solidify their place in the PAC 12 Championship game and propell themselves firmly into the BCS spotlight.
Saturdays game will no doubt garner memories of last years thriller. With 2 goal line plays led by Manti Teo, Notre Dame kept Stanford and Stephon Taylor out of the endzone for a touchdown that would have sent the game into a second overtime-pending the extra point. In the midst of a cold, rainy night- the Irish prevailed after several replays indicated forward progress had been stopped. Notre Dame was victorious and would go on to play for the National Championship later in the season.
The image of the goal line stand and game itslef has remained ingrained in the minds of Stanford players still and many across the college football landscape.
This years results won't have the major impact like last years classic, but the rivalry brings so much more even when both teams no longer aspire to play for the title.
Heres what to look for:
For Stanford and coach David Shaw physical play will be the plan and remains the identity for the Cardinals.
Defensively Stanford allows a mere 348 yards per game and ranks 18th overall in points allowed at 18 per game. Against some of the nations top offenses, Stanford has played flawless. Arizona State was held to 28 points at a point in the season when they were scoring at will, and whats more impressive-Oregon scored only 20 points in a loss. Facing what appears to be a one dimensional Irish offense considering Tommy Rees shouldn't pose any passing problems, Stanford could very well hold Notre Dame to even lower totals.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan has a new weapon in Ty Montgomery with 822 yards and 9 touchdowns. Montgomery wasn't part of the loss last year, but is equally ready to face the Irish this week. Runningback Tyler Gaffney leads Stanford with over 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns and he will play a key role if Stanford is to have success against the Irish.
For the Irish and head coach Brian Kelly, simply getting out of California healthy has to be at the top of his list.
Several mid season and late season injuries have propelled several freshman into starting roles or shared played, linebackers have filled in at nose tackle and offensive linemen have worked out on the defensive side of the ball.
And now center Nick Martin can be added to the list of players lost for the remainder of the season. Through all the injuries and players stepping forward- Notre Dame has had success running the ball and playing solid overall when things could have blown up.
"I think it could be an absolute disaster, right, if you think about the entire right side as well as missing Chris Watt for a game," coach Brian Kelly said of the offensive line. "You're talking about three and four different guys going in there on the offensive line at times, and Coach [Harry] Hiestand has done an incredible job of putting this together as a unit. I'll go back to their summer workouts where they stayed together as a unit during the summer and really worked hard together, and I think that unit mentality has really served us well."
This is clearly not what Kelly had invisioned heading into the 2013 season.
At 8-3 Notre Dame is no longer BCS bowl material, but a win over Stanford could raise some eyebrows in the rankings, but alot has to happen for that to become a reality.
The standard for the Irish last year was run stopping defense and goal line stances. Ironically its what they face this weekend and for Tommy Rees, sustaining drives and zero turnovers will be the primary focus for offensive coordinator Chuck Martins offensive leader. Last week against BYU, Tommy played average but more importantly only threw 1 interception. An endzone pass to Troy Niklas fell short, where a pass to the corner cone would have resulted in a touchdown.
On defense yet another star is emerging for Notre Dame. Defensive end Jarron Jones has played like a seasoned player at times but clearly the last few games has put himself in the 2 deep rotation. Early in his career Jones' primary focus was off the field and centered more in the classroom. With maturity and time spelled learning the defense, the 1 time Ohio State commit has now solidified himself as a starter heading into 2014-and Kelly voiced as much after his blocked field against BYU- his second in 2013- and overall solid play:
"We knew about his size. We knew about his physical capabilities. It was a matter of him maturing and paying attention to detail. Once he's started to buy into that and understand how important it is, I think he's starting to blossom into the type of player he can be."
The Irish will keep it simple on the road: establish a run game with Tarean Folston and George Atkinson and utilize tight ends Troy Niklas and Ben Koyak- simple ball control style play.
This could set up again as a brawn versus brawn style game, potentially ending with late game heroics.
It will also serve as the stepping stone of sorts for 2014 as the Irish move forward regardless of the outcome and away from a season that fell vastly short of spring hopes.