Stanford vs. Notre Dame: Complete Game Preview
Saturday's showdown between the Stanford Cardinal and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame marks the 27th installment of the series, with the Cardinal having won the previous three meetings.
The matchup also marks just the second time that both teams have entered the contest ranked in the AP Top 25.
With each team being ranked—Stanford checks in at No. 17, while Notre Dame checks in at No. 7—there is a significant amount of hype surrounding the game. Even ESPN's College GameDay will originate from South Bend on Saturday morning beginning at 9 a.m. EDT on ESPNU.
Before you tune into the show, make sure to check out my preview.
Let's get started.
Who: Stanford at Notre Dame
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (EDT)
Where: South Bend, Ind.
Stadium: Notre Dame Stadium
Radio: IMG Notre Dame Radio Network
Internet Stream: NBCSports.com (http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/38985841)
Depth Chart for Notre Dame
QB—Everett Golson, Tommy Rees
RB—Theo Riddick OR George Atkinson III OR Cierre Wood, Cam McDaniel
WR—TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels
WR—Robby Toma, Davonte' Neal
WR—John Goodman, Daniel Smith
TE—Tyler Eifert, Ben Koyack
LT—Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley
RT—Christian Lombard, Nick Martin
C—Braxston Cave, Mike Golic, Jr.
LG—Chris Watt, Conor Hanratty
RG—Mike Golic, Jr., Conor Hanratty
DE—Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day
DE—Stephon Tuitt, Tony Springmann
NG—Louis Nix III, Kona Schwenke
LB—Prince Shembo, Ishaq Williams
LB—Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese
LB—Manti Te'o, Jarrett Grace
LB—Danny Spond, Ben Councell
CB—Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown
CB—KeiVarae Russell, Josh Atkinson
FS—Zeke Motta, Nicky Baratti
SS—Matthias Farley, Chis Salvi
Depth Chart for Stanford
QB—Josh Nunes, Brett Nottingham
RB—Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson
FB—Lee Ward, Patrick Skov
WR—Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Jordan Pratt
WR—Drew Terrell, Kelsey Young
TE—Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo
LT—David Yankey, Kyle Murphy
RT—Cameron Fleming, Brendon Austin
C—Sam Schwartzstein, Conor McFadden
LG—Kevin Danser, Joshua Garnett
RG—Khalil Wilkes, Dillon Bonnell
DE—Henry Anderson, Josh Mauro
DE—Ben Gardner, Charlie Hopkins
NT—Terrence Stephens, David Parry
LB—Chase Thomas, Alex Debniak
LB—Trent Murphy, Kevin Anderson
LB—A.J. Tarpley, Joe Hemschoot
LB—James Vaughters, Jarek Lancaster
CB—Terrence Brown, Alex Carter
CB—Barry Browning, Wayne Lyons
FS—Ed Reynolds, Devon Carrington
SS—Jordan Richards, Harold Bernard
What Happened to the Fighting Irish Last Week
Last Saturday, Notre Dame took its show on the road to Chicago's Soldier Field for the annual Shamrock Series game, in which the Irish defeated Miami 41-3.
Tommy Rees started the game at quarterback due to Everett Golson being disciplined for a violation of team rules (Golson was late to a team meeting because he was meeting with a professor). Because the violation was trivial in nature, Golson relieved Rees after the first series of the game.
From there, Golson led the Irish offense to 41 total points on 17-of-22 passing for 186 yards, as well as 51 rushing yards.
The Irish defense was equally as impressive, limiting a potent Miami offense to just three points. Those three points were the fewest scored in a single game by the Hurricanes since 2008.
For a full recap of Notre Dame's 41-3 victory over Miami, click here.
What Happened to the Cardinal Last Week
A week ago, Stanford survived a scare from a pesky Arizona squad, defeating the Wildcats in overtime, 54-48.
No, that final score is not a typo, as some may assume. The teams combined for 1,234 total yards, transforming the game from an expected defensive struggle into an offensive shootout.
Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes doused any talk of a quarterback controversy in Palo Alto, completing 21-of-34 pass attempts for 360 yards and two touchdowns. Nunes also recorded three rushing touchdowns, giving the junior quarterback 11 total touchdowns on the season.
For a full recap of Stanford's victory over Arizona, click here.
What It Means to Both Teams
For the first time in the modern era of college football, two schools ranked in both the AP Top 25 and U.S. News and World report university rankings will square off on the gridiron.
While the game won't have any academic effect on either Notre Dame or Stanford, it will on the path to the BCS National Championship game, which the Irish are currently on.
A victory over Stanford would boost Notre Dame's BCS resúmé, and it would keep the Irish's undefeated record intact. And considering that Stanford provides the truest test for the Irish thus far, a victory would go a long way in silencing any remaining doubts about Brian Kelly's squad.
On Stanford's side, a victory over the seventh-ranked Irish would push the Cardinal back into the BCS conversation, despite an ugly loss to Washington two weeks ago.
Key Player for Notre Dame
Key Player: Irish offensive line
I'm straying away fom choosing an individual player this week, opting to crown Notre Dame's offensive line as the most important "player" for the Irish this week instead.
To beat a physically dominant team such as Stanford, Notre Dame must win the battle at the line of scrimmage. If the line fails to establish a push up front, the Irish will struggle to run the football, which they must do well to defeat 17th-ranked Stanford.
After being outclassed by Purdue's defensive front in Week 2, the Irish offensive line has steadily improved week by week, culminating in last week's demolition of Miami in which Notre Dame rushed for a season-high 379 yards.
Granted, that figure came against a porous Miami defense, but improvement has been noticeably made.
Key Player for Stanford
Key Player: Josh Nunes, QB
Filling the shoes of legendary quarterback Andrew Luck is an impossible task, but Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes has done just enough as Luck's successor to secure the starting job. For now.
Consistency has been Nunes' most significant weakness thus far, as evidenced by his performance against Washington two weeks ago. Against the Huskies, Nunes completed under 50 percent of his passes and passed for a measly 137 yards.
However, Nunes bounced back well from that embarrassing outing, passing for 360 yards and two touchdowns in a 54-48 victory over Arizona last week.
How Nunes fares against a stingy Notre Dame defense will likely determine Stanford's chances at pulling off the upset in South Bend.
Notre Dame Will Win If...
Notre Dame will win if it controls the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Stanford has physically dominated Notre Dame in the previous two meetings of these schools, both Cardinal victories.
Stanford is likely to follow the same blueprint laid out by Notre Dame's previous opponents, which is stack the box in an effort to sell out against the run. The Cardinal defense prides itself on the stopping the run, forcing young Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson to make some big throws throughout the course of the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Irish must continue to be stout against the run. The cornerstone of the Stanford offense is running the football, giving the Cardinal opportunities to take strikes downfield through play action.
Stanford Will Win If...
Much like Notre Dame, Stanford will be victorious if it wins the battle in the trenches.
The notion that football games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage is evident within Stanford's schemes, which are centered around the running game.
If the Cardinal successfully take away the run from Notre Dame, the Irish will be forced into trusting young quarterback Everett Golson to take some shots down the field. Golson did so well against Miami, but the Hurricanes ranked 116th nationally in passing defense entering last week's game.
Making the Irish one-dimensional is the formula for success for David Shaw's Stanford squad.
Stanford enters Saturday's contest having won three consecutive games over Notre Dame. Those wins came with Andrew Luck under center for the Cardinal, but Luck has since entered the NFL, where he is the current starting quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts.
In year one of the post-Luck era, the Cardinal offense has taken a backslide. Luck's successor, Josh Nunes, faces a steep learning curve that has brought about ugly inconsistencies.
Facing one of the nation's best defenses won't help Nunes move along that learning curve, leading me to believe the Irish will walk away with a coveted victory.
My Prediction: Notre Dame 28, Stanford 17