The Stanford Cardinal and Notre Dame Fighting Irish renew their annual rivalry on Saturday, as eighth-ranked Stanford takes on an Irish squad that has three losses and is nowhere near the powerhouse of a season ago.
The Cardinal will dominate with their grinding running game and exact revenge for their heartbreaking loss to Notre Dame last season.
Last year was a sour loss for Stanford, as the Irish forced overtime on the back of two controversial penalties, then stopped Stanford on four straight runs in OT to win it. The game ended when review officials upheld Notre Dame's fourth-down stop, but some questioned the decision after the game, including Fox officiating consultant Mike Pereira.
This year sees the tables turned. Stanford is clearly the superior team and justifiably a two-touchdown favorite (per Odds Shark). The Irish took a significant dip in their national standing with their loss at Pittsburgh three weeks ago. While they have beat both Michigan State and USC, those wins came at home. Two of their three losses have come on the road and they face another hostile environment in sunny California.
Stanford has allowed only 18.9 points per game this year to rank 13th in the nation in that category. Back on Nov. 7, Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff could only weep after dealing with Stanford's defense and coming away a 26-20 loser. Stanford's defense is mean.
Not only is the Cardinal's defense stingy, their offense is designed to control the clock with a potent ground game. Stanford's 203.7 rushing yards per game ranks 32nd in the nation.
If you want to see what happens when Stanford plays angry, look no further than its 63-13 demolition of California last week, which came on the heels of a tough 20-17 loss to USC. There is no doubt that last year's loss to Notre Dame is still fresh in the minds of nearly everyone on that campus, so look for Stanford to cover the 14-point spread.
Running back Tyler Gaffney has been a beast this year, galloping for nearly 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 5.2 yards over 251 carries. As if that weren't bad enough, Stanford is now using wideout Ty Montgomery in its ground game, too. Montgomery has 50 catches for more than 800 yards this season, but also scored on a 31-yard run in the first quarter against Cal. He had four touchdown catches versus Cal to give him nine on the season.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan tossed a pair of picks in Stanford's loss to USC, but he shined against Cal. He is Stanford's version of Chiefs QB Alex Smith. Hogan is a game manager who is there to facilitate the ground attack and control the clock—and he still has over 2,000 yards and 18 TDs this year.
Stanford not only runs the ball well, but its defense has allowed just 984 rushing yards for third in the nation. Notre Dame, by contrast, has allowed nearly twice that amount in rushing at 1,843 yards.
All told, this is a matchup nightmare for the Irish, who will be facing a superior defense and a superior offense. Stanford averages 33.4 points per game to 27.7 points per outing for Notre Dame, and the Irish have done most of their damage against inferior competition.
Stanford will dominate the line of scrimmage on Saturday to avenge 2012 by crushing Notre Dame. While the game will not be a shootout, the Cardinal will put on a fearsome performance to close out their schedule.