Saturday afternoon, with "Touchdown Jesus" in attendance, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going to commit atrocities against the Stanford Cardinals, and they will come from both sides of the ball.
Here's a quick look at how they'll accomplish that task.
When the Irish Have the Ball
The Cardinals bring with them one of the best run defenses in the country, allowing fewer than 80 yards on the ground to opposing offenses. But they have a weakness, and there aren't many teams as well-equipped to exploit it than Notre Dame.
Stanford's excellent group of linebackers is super-aggressive against the run, and because of that, Notre Dame is sure to have its fair share of running plays go absolutely nowhere.
But that aggressiveness results in over pursuit, and both Josh Riddick and George Atkinson III are excellent cutback runners—not to mention that they become very susceptible to the read-option, something that QB Everett Golson can take advantage of when he's under center.
When the Cardinals Have the Ball
Stuck with the unenviable task of replacing Andrew Luck, Stanford QB Josh Nunes has had an up-and-down season in his first year running the Cardinals offense. Unfortunately for him, he gets to face a Notre Dame defense that allows 7.80 points per game—only 0.80 points behind Alabama for the top spot in the nation.
While he has the weapons to exploit the seams in Notre Dame's zone, Nunes' throws downfield have been inconsistent and he locks on to his receiver often, things that the Fighting Irish have the wherewithal and talent to exploit.
They'll need to be aware of play-action passes, but their ability to stuff the run makes that less of a worry. While Stepfon Taylor is an excellent running back and Stanford loves to go with double-TE formations, the Irish front seven is big enough and quick enough to take away the Cardinal's advantage.
Louis Nix clogs up the middle of the line as well as anyone in the country, and their linebackers and defensive ends do a very good job of holding the edge, limiting the room that Taylor might look for outside.
For every perceived advantage that Stanford has, Notre Dame has an equal or better answer for it. Nunes' inconsistency, coupled with the NFL-caliber defense that the Irish are playing, makes this far less even of a matchup than the numbers would have you believe.
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