This game has huge BCS implications for both teams involved. Somehow, Stanford's national title hopes are still slimly alive after the wild weekend that saw four of the top ten team fall last week. And Notre Dame could, believe it or not, sneak into the BCS at-large picture with a big upset in Palo Alto.
Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck, Stanford can not make it to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship after Oregon beat Oregon State today. But they can still sneak in to a big BCS game if they complete a one-loss season.
Notre Dame is looking at one of the better seasons in recent years with eight wins, and have a chance for nine if they can pull off the upset at Stanford Stadium.
Here are five big halftime adjustments the Cardinal must make:
1. Stick to the Plan
Andrew Luck's favorite targets are the tight ends. They have three big, fast tight ends with sure hands, who he targets a LOT. That's really the bread and butter of the Stanford passing game. They need to continue to keep throwing to those guys like they have in the first half.
Also, the Cardinal needs to continue to mix in the running game to open up those passing lanes for the tight ends. The only loss for Stanford was Oregon, and even their defense didn't really stop them. Their offense just outscored them. It's amazing that the Stanford TEs have been such a deadly secret for so long, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
2. Protect Luck
That being said, Luck is still the main guy for this offense. He's the consensus No. 1 pick for next year's NFL draft for a reason. He is smart, strong and accurate. But he's still human. He threw an unlucky (no pun intended) interception in the second quarter that actually ended up not hurting the Cardinal.
But Notre Dame is going to try and mix up some blitz schemes in the second half and get Luck uncomfortable in the pocket. When he's been pressured is the only time he's been fazed this season. The big O-line needs to focus on protecting that pocket so Luck can do his thing.
3. Don't Get Beat With Speed
Stanford's lone loss this season was against an Oregon team that absolutely kills with speed. Their defense didn't know what to do against the likes of the Ducks' superfast receivers and running backs. So, Notre Dame will have to turn to the speed game to win.
This defense hasn't yet shown an ability to get on their toes and chase down a fast ball carrier in the open field. If the Irish can get the ball on pitch runs to the outside or bubble screens that gives their playmakers a little time too maneuver, they might find some room to run. Stanford needs to be ready for open-field tackling.
4. Utilize Taylor
Andrew Luck isn't the only weapon on this Stanford team. Stepfan Taylor is one of the better runners in college football that nobody has heard of. He has big-play ability and will burst through a hole faster than you'd expect.
If Notre Dame only focuses on Luck tonight, Taylor will burn them. The offense needs to continue playing through the run like always and get Taylor some space in the backfield to make moves and find a hole. If they do that well, they are going to win this game.
5. Stretch the Field
The linebackers and secondary are going to key on these tight ends; they know that's where Luck likes to throw. So, the offense really needs to stretch the field with the running game and utilize the receiving weapons they also possess.
The reason Oregon upset Stanford a couple weeks ago is because they were able to take away that facet of the game. Stanford seemed to just consistently settle for short passes and runs. They still put points up, but they should learn from that loss that more than the tight ends need to get involved in the passing game.