Top Matchups for Fighting Irish Against Stanford
In Notre Dame's previous three meetings with the Stanford Cardinal, the Irish have been physically dominated.
That physicality has been a key aspect in Stanford claiming three consecutive victories over the Irish.
In Brian Kelly's third season at the helm, his squad has shown an increased level of physicality at the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the line.
The battle in the trenches is only one matchup to keep an eye on during the Irish's contest against Stanford on Saturday afternoon.
Let's take a look at the rest.
Notre Dame QB Everett Golson vs. Stanford Secondary
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson's development as the Irish starter has been a slow, gradual journey, but Golson's light on the horizon was visible last Saturday against Miami.
The redshirt freshman completed 17-of-22 pass attempts for 186 yards and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over.
Yet the most impressive feat from Golson's performance against the Hurricanes was his ability to run the football, as he accumulated 51 yards on the ground.
Against Stanford, the Irish offense will go as far as Golson can carry it, as the Cardinal ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense, allowing 77.2 yards per contest through six weeks of the regular season.
Following the common blueprint for corralling Golson, the Cardinal defense is likely to sell out against the run until the Myrtle Beach native can prove he's capable of moving the ball through the air.
Because Stanford's opponents have been forced to throw the ball, one would think the Cardinal's passing defense numbers would be skewed, but that's not the case as their secondary ranks 113th nationally against the pass.
This leads me to believe, that against the Cardinal, Everett Golson will take another step in his development as a passer.
Edge: Everett Golson
Stanford Rushing Offense vs. Notre Dame Front Seven
Stanford makes no effort to fool its opponents in how its offense plans to move the football. The foundation of the Cardinal offense is the running game, anchored by a stout offensive line and reliable running back Stepfan Taylor.
Head coach David Shaw—who served as former head coach Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator—will pound the ball down an opponent's throat to open up opportunities in the play-action passing game.
Therefore, if Stanford is unable to effectively run the football, points will come at a premium.
Moving the ball on the ground against Notre Dame's defense is a tall task, as the Irish defense ranks 17th nationally against the run, allowing an average of 106.8 yards per game on the ground.
And considering Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes has been painfully inconsistent thus far, establishing an effective rushing attack is crucial for the Stanford offense.
Edge: Notre Dame front seven
Stanford Tight Ends vs. Notre Dame Linebackers
Because Stanford lacks elite talent at the wide receiver position, the Cardinal involves its tight ends heavily in its passing offense.
Through five games, Stanford's leading receiver is tight end Zach Ertz, who has snagged 21 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
Ranking second behind Ertz is fellow tight end Levine Toilolo, who has hauled in 13 receptions for 278 yards and two touchdowns.
Both tight ends create extreme matchup problems, as Ertz checks in at 6'6", 252-pounds, while Toilolo stands 6'8" and weighs 265 pounds.
Against a Notre Dame linebacker corps that is suspect in pass defense, Ertz and Toilolo are likely to have a successful four quarters at Notre Dame Stadium.
Edge: Stanford tight ends
Notre Dame Pass Rush vs. Stanford QB Josh Nunes
Notre Dame's defensive renaissance has centered around pressuring opposing quarterbacks, as the Irish have racked up 14 sacks through five regular season games.
Putting pressure on Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes is key for the Irish defense, as the inconsistent quarterback will be prone to turning the ball over when ND defensive coordinator Bob Diaco dials up pressure looks.
Forcing Nunes into situations that may lead to turnovers will be crucial for an Irish victory on Saturday afternoon.
Edge: Notre Dame pass rush
During the past two season's under the leadership of Andrew Luck, the Cardinal was virtually impossible to defeat.
Yet the one team that had Stanford's number in 2010 and 2011 was Oregon—a team that prides itself on spreading defenses across the field and exploiting mismatches.
While the Irish offense isn't anywhere near the caliber of Oregon's, it still possesses enough skill position talent to exploit Stanford's defense.
An Irish victory seems to be the overwhelming choice. I'm picking Notre Dame over Stanford, as well.
Notre Dame 28, Stanford 17