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Stanford vs. Notre Dame: 5 Keys to a Cardinal Victory

Kevin LeeCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2016

Stanford vs. Notre Dame: 5 Keys to a Cardinal Victory

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    In what is one of college football's biggest games this weekend, No. 17 Stanford (4-1) travels to South Bend to take on No. 7 Notre Dame (5-0). Saturday's matchup is pivotal for both teams, and the presence of ESPN's College Gameday crew only adds to the atmosphere.

    The Fighting Irish will try to stay perfect and improve to 6-0.

    Stanford will provide them with one of their biggest challenges of the season so far.

    The Cardinal look to prove a point and show that they're still one of the best teams in the nation despite losing to the Washington Huskies a couple of weeks ago.

    The Cardinal also can make history with a win. They'd be the first team to beat USC and Notre Dame four consecutive times.

    Notre Dame, on paper, will be Stanford's second-most difficult opponent so far this season, but the way they match up with the Cardinal will likely make this game more difficult than the one against USC.  

    Stanford is arguably very similar to the Michigan State Spartans. They both love to run the ball with their star running backs and have very tough defenses. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, Notre Dame managed to beat the Spartans 20-3.

    David Shaw and the Cardinal will need many things to go their way in order to upset the Irish.

    Here are five keys to the game for Stanford.

Dominate on Defense

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    Stanford's defense is supposed to be one of the best in all of college football, but it sure didn't look that way last week against Arizona.

    Allowing the Wildcats to put up 48 points on the scoreboard and record 617 total yards made the defense look pretty mediocre. In fact, Stanford currently ranks 117th in the nation in passing defense, allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game.

    However, when it mattered most, the Cardinal were able to get crucial stops and eventually win in overtime. The defense really needs to step it up this week to have any chance against the Irish.

    Stanford's front seven will be facing one of the biggest offensive lines they've seen all season. They'll need to turn in a dominant performance and shut down Notre Dame's talented trio of running backs, consisting of Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III.

    Penetrating into Notre Dame's backfield and pressuring the quarterback, whether it be Everett Golson or Tommy Rees, will be key to shutting down the passing game and forcing bad throws. Golson has yet to prove that he can make the right decisions, throwing three interceptions while only recording 3 passing touchdowns. 

    In what I think will be a low-scoring affair, each team's defense will probably decide who the winner will be. Stanford needs to be the more dominant and physical on defense in order to upset the Fighting Irish.

Stepfan Taylor and the Running Game

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    It's quite evident that the focus of Stanford's offense is the running game, specifically star running back Stepfan Taylor. The offense will be going up against the toughest defensive line and linebackers they've seen all season.

    Headed by Manti Te'o, the Fighting Irish rank second in scoring defense and haven't allowed a touchdown since the Sept. 8 game against Purdue.

    It will be hard for Stanford to run the ball since they essentially broadcast when they want to run.

    They bring in extra linemen and tight ends, basically challenging defenses to try to do something about it.  With such a strong offensive line, they've been successful in doing this so far, but it will be much more difficult against such a potent defense. 

    The Cardinal need to somehow find a way to establish the running game early in order to stand any chance against Notre Dame. If they're able to do that, Stanford's passing game will benefit and be able to utilize play-action more effectively.

Josh Nunes

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    Josh Nunes rebounded last week and threw for a career-high 360 yards and recorded two passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. This earned him Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, a week after his horrid showing against Washington, which made people question whether or not Nunes should be starting.

    It certainly helps Stanford's cause that Nunes is probably feeling great after bouncing back from Stanford's only loss this season. 

    Nunes will have to be exceptional and not let the quarterback of two weeks ago, who struggled to complete the simplest of passes, make an appearance.

    Leading the team to a quick score may be a huge factor against Notre Dame.

    Incredibly, the Fighting Irish haven't trailed all season, so coming out and scoring a touchdown early may affect Notre Dame psychologically. They haven't had to make a comeback so far, and doing so now, against a defense like Stanford's, may be too much to overcome.

Tight Ends

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    In last year's game against Notre Dame, Stanford's tight ends led the Cardinal to victory, recording three of their four touchdowns. Coby Fleener is now gone and playing with Andrew Luck for the Indianapolis Colts, but Stanford still has one of the best tight end duos in the nation.

    Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will likely be Josh Nunes' main targets in South Bend, and when you have tight ends that are 6'8" and 6'6", why not? Expect more passes than normal to be thrown in their direction this week as wide receiver Ty Montgomery is injured.

    The loss of Montgomery is huge for Stanford.

    He was an extremely dangerous kick returner and one of Stanford's best deep-threats in a receiving corps that really doesn't pose much of a threat. Jamal-Rashad Patterson will start in his place. 

    Patterson is known as one of Stanford's fastest players but hasn't caught many passes this season. However, he did make a few key receptions last week against Arizona. Hopefully he can be an unexpected surprise for the Cardinal this week.

    Because of Stanford's lack of dangerous wide receivers, Notre Dame will be able to focus on shutting down the tight ends, but the big question is, will they?

Composure

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    In only their second road game of the season, the Cardinal will need to play their best football to overcome Notre Dame. We all know what happened when Josh Nunes played his first road game of the season. He can't let being on the road affect him this time around.

    Stanford needs to be focused for all 60 minutes of the game. It only takes a couple big plays to lose, and now they surely know this after losing to the Huskies. 

    One of the Cardinal's biggest weaknesses is being consistent.

    One week Nunes is horrible, and the next, he records five touchdowns. This goes for the defense as well. They can't afford to have another game like the one against Arizona.

    Stanford sorely needs both the offense and defense to step up and not let up. They need this win to stay relevant and build some momentum into next week's big game against Cal.

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