This game has huge BCS implications for both teams involved. Somehow, Stanford's national title hopes are still barely alive after the wild weekend that saw four of the top ten teams fall last week. 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 cannot make it to the inaugural Pac-12 Championship after Oregon beat Oregon State today. However, 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. Obviously they will have to stop Andrew Luck and the passing game, but what else will have to be done to get the big road win?
Here are five big halftime adjustments the Irish must make:
1. Keep an Eye on Stepfan
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.
Notre Dame needs to make sure to not focus only on Luck tonight. If they only key on him, without mixing up blitzes or pressures, Taylor will burn them. It's going to be a tough offense to defend, and it may come down to an offensive shootout.
2. Pressure Luck
That being said, Luck is still the main guy for this offense. He is the consensus number one pick for next year's NFL draft for a reason. He is smart, strong and accurate. But he's still human. The key to upsetting his rhythm is giving him some mixed blitzes that will get his feet moving.
When he played against Oregon, whenever Oregon sent a twisting blitz where a linebacker would come a second late, Luck got a little frazzled and ended up throwing an interception. He was off all game, and it was thanks largely to the scheme Oregon presented. Notre Dame needs to bring a similar defensive game plan.
3. Don't Let the TE's Beat You
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. The linebackers for the Irish really need to key on these guys and take away the passing lanes.
If Luck is going to beat you, make him use the guys he's less comfortable throwing to. If the ball is in the air to the tight ends, they need to be draped on as much as possible. Their wide receivers are good too, but the tight ends are the ones you need to keep an eye on.
4. Win 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' super-fast receivers and running backs. So, Notre Dame needs 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 play-makers a little time to maneuver, they will be able to put up some points.
5. Mix Up the Play Calls
One thing the Stanford defense does do extremely well is recognize the offensive formations and set their guys accordingly. If Notre Dame relies just on the pass or just on the run, Stanford is going to adjust and shut them down.
Notre Dame needs to try and mix up the play-calling as much as possible. Don't always run on first down. Don't always pass on third down. Maybe try running a gadget play or something to keep the defense on its heels.