Notre Dame Football: Stanford Preview

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Notre Dame Football: Stanford Preview
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Carlo Calabrese waits.

Stanford Run Offense vs. Notre Dame Run Defense

The main concern facing Stanford's offense this season was replacing Toby Gerhart. So far, the running game hasn't missed a step, averaging 242 yards per game.

The Cardinal are led by the two-headed running back combination of No. 33 Stepfan Taylor and No. 25 Tyler Gaffney.

Taylor is averaging 10 carries and 52 yards per game, while Gaffney is averaging eight for 46.  Gaffney also leads the team with three rushing touchdowns.

Quarterback No. 12 Andrew Luck has also been productive with his legs.  Discounting sacks—of which the Stanford offense has only given up one this year—Luck is rushing four times per game for 47 yards.  Those numbers are aided by a 52-yard run, the longest on the team this year.

Fullback No. 48 Owen Marecic, who doubles as a starting inside linebacker, will also get into the act on offense.  Marecic is averaging two carries for six yards per game.

Rounding out the Stanford rushing attack are running backs No. 15 Usua Amanam and No. 32 Anthony Wilkerson, both averaging five carries per game.  The small, shifty Amanam is averaging 30 yards per game; big back Wilkerson, 18.  Yes, when your team averages 42 rushing attempts per game, there are a lot of carries to go around.

The story of Notre Dame's run defense, and the team as the whole, is that they're making fewer mistakes—but the mistakes are bigger.

Despite seemingly better tackling, the Irish are giving up 199 yards per game on the ground.  Manti Te'o leads the team in tackles with 33 (11 per game) and tackles for a loss with 3.5.  He and fellow inside linebacker Carlo Calabrese (23 tackles) will face a tough test against Stanford's run game.  As will nose tackle Ian Williams, who Brian Kelly recently described as "dominant."

Conversely, the outside linebacker play has been disappointing at best.  Darius Fleming, Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, and Steve Filer all have the ability to be starters at this level, yet have combined for just 37 tackles on the year—four more than Te'o has by himself.

 

Notre Dame Run Offense vs. Stanford Run Defense

Despite a pass-happy attack in the Michigan State game, Notre Dame is still averaging 31 carries and 133 yards per game.  Armando Allen, as expected, has established himself as the feature back, averaging 15 carries and 84 yards per game.

Cierre Wood saw limited action against the Spartans, but still has his coaches' confidence.  Wood is averaging five carries and 24 yards per game.  Jonas Gray has only four carries on the year, and most of that was due to Allen's hand injury last week.  Allen, by the way, should be at full strength for this week's game.

Quarterback Dayne Crist is averaging five carries and 20 yards per game.  Slot receiver Theo Riddick has two carries on the year, both in the Michigan game.

Stanford's run defense is giving up a less-than-stellar 138 yards per game on the ground, but are still maintaining a respectable 3.8 yards per carry against.  Apparently Stanford opponents have been trying to mimic Stanford's offense by running 38 times per game.

Stanford's leading tackler is free safety No. 3 Michael Thomas.  Irish fans are well aware of the red flag that is having a safety as your leading tackler.  Yet, Thomas does have a team-leading three tackles for a loss, so that total could be an indication of how much he is moved around and used in run support.

Inside linebacker No. 57 Max Bergen and outside linebacker No. 44 Chase Thomas are next on the team in tackles with 14 and 12, respectively.  The Cardinal team is averaging over six tackles for a loss per game, so they do like to get into the backfield.

 

Stanford Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

Quarterback Andrew Luck is being hailed as a future Heisman candidate.

So far, he hasn't disappointed.

Luck is averaging 23 pass attempts per game, which may not seem like much compared to the 42 running plays per game for the team.  But Luck does make the most of those chances, completing 64 percent (15 completions per game) for 224 yards.  He also has 10 touchdowns to zero interceptions, and an efficiency rating of 192.3.

The Cardinal are expected to be without receiver No. 8 Ryan Whalen, who was the team's leading receiver in each of the past two year, and tied for the team lead in catches this year.  Whalen has a dislocated elbow.  In his absence, No. 89 Doug "This is war!" Baldwin becomes Luck's primary target.  Baldwin is averaging three catches, 65 yards, and one touchdown per game.

In Whalen's absence, No. 81 Chris Owusu steps back into the starting lineup.  In his lone appearance this season, Owusu had three catches, two for touchdowns.

Stanford has done a good job of spreading the wealth in the passing game.  Thirteen Cardinal have receptions, but no one other than Whalen, Baldwin, and Owusu are averaging more than one catch per game.

On the season, 10 balls have gone to tight ends, led by old friend (and starter) No. 88 Konrad Reuland with five catches.  Six passes have gone to running backs, led by Stepfan Taylor with four.  The fullbacks have yet to make a reception.

Notre Dame is giving up 246 yards per game in the air.  More concerning is that Irish opponents have completed 68 percent of their passes.  Despite this, the Notre Dame corners have gotten better at breaking up passes, recording 15 official passes defended and 13 official breakups.  In addition, Darrin Walls, Zeke Motta, and Ian Williams have interceptions.

Motta has been praised for his effort, but Coach Kelly said that the safety needs to work on being in the right place at the right time.  The good news for Motta and fellow safety Harrison Smith  is that Jamoris Slaughter should be back for this game, returning this thin unit to full strength.

The Irish are averaging just under three sacks per game.  Darius Fleming and Ethan Johnson lead the team with two apiece.

 

Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. Stanford Pass Defense

Dayne Crist's numbers won't win him the Heisman, but he's been effective for a first-year starter.  Crist is averaging 21 completions on 35 attempts per game, a 60 percent rate.  Dayne is averaging 284 yards per game, and has seven touchdowns on the year to two interceptions.

Kyle Rudolph has been Crist's main target, averaging seven catches and 96 yards per game.  Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick aren't close behind, averaging five catches per game (with Riddick's numbers helped largely by his performance against Michigan State).  Floyd is averaging 76 yards per game, but has two key fumbles against his name.  Riddick is averaging 60 yards per contest.

TJ Jones and Armando Allen are averaging three catches per game.  Jones, Rudolph, and Floyd are leading the team with two touchdowns apiece.

Despite three new offensive linemen (including both tackles) and a new starting quarterback, the Irish have given up only five sacks through three games.

The Cardinal have switched to a hybrid 3-4 look, and it's been quite productive so far.  The team has recorded 11 sacks in three games, led by outside linebacker Chase Thomas with 3.5.  Thomas is one of seven linebackers or lineman who has recorded a sack for Stanford this year.

Cornerback No. 9 Richard Sherman is fourth on the team in tackles (nine), first in passes  broken up (four) and defended (five), and has one of the team's three interceptions.  It sounds like he's in charge of covering opponents' top receivers, and at 6'3", he's more than capable of giving Michael Floyd all he can handle.

Stanford is holding opponents to a measly 90 passing yards per game.  Of course, that number is skewed by the fact that Cardinal opposition has attempted only 68 passes (and completed only 34) on the season.

 

Special Teams

Another old friend, No. 39 Nate Whitaker, is Stanford's placekicker.  He's a perfect three-for-three on the year, although all of his attempts have come from 23 yards or less.  Notre Dame's David Ruffer is also perfect, connecting on all five of his attempts with a long of 46.

No. 36 Daniel Zychlinski punts for the Cardinal.  Two of his six punts have gone over 50 yards, with a long of 64.  He's averaging 48 yards per kick.  Stanford is giving up 28 yards per punt return, a number marred by a 70-yard touchdown. Notre Dame's Ben Turk is averaging just 37 yards per punt, but Turk is all about hang time rather than length.  None of Turk's 16 punts have been returned.

Usua Amanam and Doug Baldwin return kicks for Stanford.  Amanam is averaging 35 yards per return with a long of 60; Baldwin 21 with a long of 24.  David Ruffer also kicks off for the Irish.  He's averaging 66 yards per kick with three touchbacks in 17 tries.  Notre Dame is giving up 20 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 26.

Cierre Wood is Notre Dame's primary kick returner, although he's "on notice" to step up his performance.  Wood is averaging 20 yards per return with a long of 38.

Nate Whitaker has been booming kickoffs for the Cardinal.  His 26 kicks have averaged 68 yards, with eight going for touchbacks.  Stanford is giving up 25 yards per return, giving opponents an average start on the 35.  Notre Dame should definitely win the hidden yardage battle in that regard.

Doug Baldwin also returns punts for Stanford.  He's averaging only eight yards per return with a long of 22.  Armando Allen should be back to returning punts for Notre Dame.  He's averaging an impressive 24 yards per return with a long of 38.

 

Notre Dame Players to Watch

Michael Floyd, Carlo Calabrese, Darius Fleming, Jamoris Slaughter, Cierre Wood, Armando Allen

 

Prediction

Notre Dame 31, Stanford 28

 

This article originally appeared on Kanka's Sports Page

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