Stanford vs. Notre Dame: Irish Ground Game Will Dominate Cardinal Defense

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Stanford vs. Notre Dame: Irish Ground Game Will Dominate Cardinal Defense
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Theo Riddick has been the most consistent back for the Irish this year, and he'll need another big game this week.

If you are a fan of old-fashion, grind-it-out football, you will want to watch the No. 17 Stanford Cardinal battle the No. 7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has a loaded backfield, and fans should expect the Irish run game to overwhelm the stout Cardinal run defense.

Today’s football consists of too many screen plays, and teams are always passing the ball. Whatever happened to the football of old when it was the run game that was the star of the show?

The good news for football fans is that real football is here in the form of the Fighting Irish against the Cardinal.

Stanford has won the last three meetings against Notre Dame, and the Irish have won against the Cardinal when they have been ranked. Furthermore, according to Tom Coyne of the Associated Press, Stanford has a history of upsetting undefeated Notre Dame teams. The Cardinal defeated the Irish in 1990 and in 1992. Notre Dame was the top team in the nation in 1990 and No. 6 in 1992.

The Fighting Irish will not have to worry about another heartbreaker, as the third time will be a charm.

Notre Dame has one of the best defenses in college football. Linebacker Manti Te’o leads a defensive unit that has not allowed a touchdown in its last three games. The defense has held Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan and Miami (Fl.) to a total of 12 points.

The dominant defense will keep Notre Dame in the game, but it will be up to the run game to take the Irish to 6-0.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Notre Dame can't afford to run for just 53 yards this week like they did against Purdue.

The Fighting Irish have had varied degrees of success with their run game this season. Against Purdue and Michigan, the running backs struggled and the line failed to open any holes.

Senior running back Theo Riddick led the team with a measly 53 yards on 19 carries against Purdue. But his yards were still helpful, and Notre Dame was able to convert on 11 third downs, which were crucial to the team’s 20-17 victory.

The game against Michigan, though, was won by the defense. Riddick once again led the team with only 52 yards on 17 carries, but the rock-solid defense held the Wolverines to just six points. The Irish won 13-6.

These two games were polar opposites of the other three games. Against Navy, Michigan State and Miami (Fl.), Notre Dame averaged 280 yards on the ground.

Navy never knew what hit them, as the Irish ran rampant for 293 yards in a 50-10 victory. The offense reached 27 first downs, and it was 7-for-10 on third-downs conversions.

The reason for their success was a three-headed rushing attack led by Riddick. He led all rushers with 107 yards and two touchdowns.

George Atkinson III also had a solid game with 99 yards and two touchdowns.  Cam McDaniel, who is part of the beastly defensive unit as a corner, completed the trifecta with 59 yards.

Notre Dame’s duel with Michigan State was another good day for running, as the Irish compiled 172 rushing yards. But with an offense that went 1-for-11 on third downs, the credit for the 20-3 win goes to the defense, as it once again kept the opposing offense out of the end zone.

How many rushing yards will the Irish gain against No. 17 Stanford?

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The standout game for the Fighting Irish came in their most recent game in a contest against the Miami Hurricanes. In a 41-3 mauling, the Hurricane defense just got out of the way and let Notre Dame run for 376 yards.

Atkinson III and senior back Cierre Wood both eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Wood had his best game, by far, as the 6’1”, 215-pound back tallied 118 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Everette Golson thought it would be fun, so he also got in on the run success with 51 yards of his own.

Coach Jim Kelly said after the game, per Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com, “We really took a hard look at where we were offensively” and “we felt like we found a way to run the football today and our game plan was situated on running the football."

The Irish have three very good running backs in Riddick, Atkinson III and now Wood, and they will need each one against the Stanford defense. The Cardinal have allowed less than 20 points in four of their five games, and they have held opposing offenses to under 100 yards on the ground in three of those games.

San Jose State could only muster 72 yards against Stanford in Week 1, but that was a good day compared to how Duke and USC fared. Duke running the ball for 27 yards is not going to shock anyone, but the Cardinal dominated No. 2 USC, holding the offense to 26 yards on 28 attempts.

This would seem to be too much of a challenge for the Irish offense. How is anyone supposed to run on a defense allowing one yard per carry?

Washington and Arizona both answered that question, and they left the door open for Notre Dame to come in and trounce the Stanford defense.

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
The Cardinal are mean, they hit hard and they are ready for some physical football.

Washington pulled off a huge upset, as the Huskies upended the Cardinals 17-13. This was the week after Stanford had upset the USC Trojans.

Washington jumped on RB Bishop Sankey’s back, and he carried the offense with 144 yards on 20 carries. The Cardinal defense had held the Huskies to four third-down conversions on 17 tries, but Washington kept with the run game and completed the upset.

Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey also carried his offense. His 132 yards on 29 carries, 68 receiving yards and three touchdowns helped the Wildcats score 48 points on Stanford. Unfortunately, he did not have the backing of a solid defense, and the Cardinals won 54-48 in overtime.

Said Irish coach Brian Kelly to the AP about the Stanford game: "The theme all week has been we’re going to be in for a physical, hard-nosed four quarters, of just one of those good old-fashioned backyard brawls. It’s going to be that kind of game."

And he is right, but the Washington and Arizona games have exposed that the run can be used effectively against Stanford, given the chance. With the backfield the Irish possess, and the amazing defense ready to silence the Stanford offense, Notre Dame will ride its run game to 6-0. 

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